I’m just going to come out and say it: I love apple fritters. Okay, sure, when the Autumn leaves turn to a kaleidoscope of New England colors, who doesn’t like apple fritters -- those bronzed pillows of sweet dough, sugar and bite of apple goodness. But that’s not what I’m talking about. This is something different – familiar and common yet totally unexpected. It’s apple fritters the way you think you don’t want them: produced in large batches in an industrial kitchen while delivery trucks sit in the pre-dawn darkness out back, waiting. They are the 7-Eleven minimarket apple fritters of New Jersey. And they are uncommonly delicious.
I know what you’re thinking. But no, I haven’t been commissioned by 7-Eleven’s department of baked goods. And in truth, I don’t want to like these apple fritters; I really don’t. But some things simply defy logic and force me to acknowledge that, much as something should not be good; surely cannot be good; it is, indeed, good. Really good. Okay, in fairness to the dubious expression reflecting back at you from your screen, my bold statement does not apply to all apple fritters at all 7-Eleven’s strewn across towns, train stations and highway stops the world over. But in New Jersey and reaching into the edges of Eastern Pennsylvania, there are little-known bakeries making apple fritters for 7-Eleven that I will put up against any cider mill special in New England.
Let’s start on the outside of the fritter. They’re pretty ugly. Gnarly shaped to the point of suspect trepidation, they are usually tossed haphazardly into a corner of the store’s glass display, overshadowed by seductive doughnuts and crullers lined up just so which in comparison to the fritter beside them evoke a lonely hollowness of heart with every bite (Sorry 7-Eleven, just keeping it real). But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in this fritter’s case, the convolutions of the crust. Because the very imperfection of this apple fritter’s appearance is one of the keys to its perfection. With each bend, lump or awkward protrusion of the slightly crispy outer surface comes hearty apple and pastry flavor with an air-kiss of smoky caramelization. With its inconsistent color – some edges tinged a little too much, others maybe not quite enough – comes a food that looks like it was cooked in a dented pot of dark oil on a pushcart along a street in Vietnam or Guatemala. Because this fritter is like street food the way foodies love it: unpredictable, unattractive, and freaking fantastic.
But the magic doesn’t stop there. The inside of 7-Eleven’s fritters are neither empty pillows like one might assume, nor dry and mealy like one might loath. Typical bakery fritters are often too skimpy on apples and too heavy on dough. The result is a dry loaf of fried bread with a mere suggestion of apple -- like two dudes passing each other on the street and simply mumbling “Hey.” But when you break through the tensile crust of the 7-Eleven fritter you discover moist dough -- simultaneously sweet and savory -- chunky with apples and a hint of cinnamon. Rather than the passing hand-waive of wannabe fritter dudes, these bad boys are like the bro-hug of college roommates who recall those days as the best of their lives. There is density to this pastry, heft in its weight, firmness with every succulent chew. This is not your average, empty calorie coffee accompaniment; this thing is the breakfast you’ve been craving. Which just goes to show that, while good food isn't everywhere, you might find good food anywhere -- even in a most unlikely place as a New Jersey mini-market.
Making Apple Fritters at Home
There are more than a few ways to make apple fritters and many recipes can be found online. But fair warning: many home cooks just drop dollops of wet apple/flour batter into hot oil, resulting in golf balls of greasy dough and mushy apple. Not the 7-Eleven pros; they do it the harder way – and so should you. Start by rolling out a healthy doughnut dough, spreading cooked apples and sugar on it, dusting with cinnamon and flour and rolling into a long tube. Cut the roll in opposing diagonals, resulting in a fairly uniform collection of doughy apple cuts, and mold together in individual handfuls to flatten and carefully deep fry. And forget about drizzling a thin stream of glaze on your cooked masterpiece; 7-Eleven dips the entire meteorite-shaped fritter into that milk and confectioner’s sugar glaze. The opaque elixir dries, forming a crackly sheen over the lumps and bumps, with little prizes of coagulated sweetness hiding unpredictably in the shadowy crevices. It’s the perfect finish that’s sweet without masking the flavor of the pastry or making your teeth ache. Cool, eat and swoon.