My good friend Will landed in Atlanta this weekend for a sold-out concert and a little catching up. It's been a long time since we spent real quality time together, and I must admit my cooking skills have come a long way since our junk food-fueled college days. He practically begged to witness my kitchen prowess in action (I guess he needed to see to believe), so I handed him an apron and allowed him to experience a day in my food-writing life.
I've been wanting to experiment with banana fritters for ages, so armed with a bag full of bananas and a large pot of coffee, we set to work.
I always begin my recipe developing process by examining many possible flavor combinations and various cooking techniques. For this recipe I asked myself what would taste good with bananas? Coconut? Cinnamon? Then I thought about the type of batter I wanted. I've had a lot of success with a savory flour-cornstarch recipe I developed; I decided a sweet variation might be great for my fritters. All the while, Will sat ever-so-patiently as I weighed all of these options, carefully scribbling notes into my binder while asking the questions out loud.
Next we headed into the kitchen, where I pulled out all of the necessary ingredients I needed to move forward. (Just a note, this is about the time in the process when things start getting a little "mad scientist." Will seemed to take it all in stride.) I had initially planned to dredge banana slices in my tempura-like batter, so I took a few minutes to think about the size and shape of the each slice: Should it be one inch? Two inches? Straight across or on the bias? All of these things have to be taken into consideration when creating a recipe. At this point, I think my eighth-grade science teacher would have been proud. Who knew the scientific method would come in handy?
But then the real fun began: I whipped up a trial batch, carefully noting my measurements at every addition. "Not bad, but maybe needs a little something." I added a bit more sugar as well as a pinch of salt. "Yes, that's a little better, but still something else." I threw in a handful of shredded coconut and continued on. "Oh, yes, these are amazing! I believe we need to eat some more." To some, that may have been the end of the line, but ever the culinary explorer, I persevered. It's all in the name of research, I tell you — I swear!
A while back I had seen a fritter recipe in an old community cookbook that was more like deep-fried banana bread than actual fried bananas. It was an interesting concept, so I decided to check it out for myself. I kept my same flour-cornstarch batter ratios intact, but this time I added chopped bananas directly to the mix. And then I mashed and I mashed. It was a bit too dry, so I gradually added milk until it resembled my favorite banana bread recipe. I plopped little balls of dough into the fryer, eagerly awaiting the results. "Eh, not so sure about these." I pondered on how to boost up the flavor. "What about some more sugar and a splash of vanilla? And a pinch of salt, of course? Mmmm, so much better. But what about coconut? Don't forget to try it with some coconut!"
And this is how my morning progressed. We snacked and sampled and snacked some more. The tough question ended up being which recipe to choose — both versions were just so very good. We weighed hard on the decision, even calling in more troops to help us decide. In the end, the mashed banana batter won, but only by a nose.
To wrap up the testing, I typed up an actual recipe using my notes. Using this, I cooked up one final version to make any necessary tweaks before it found its way to you. It's all in the name of accuracy ... and a splash of deliciousness, too.
Coconut Banana Fritters
Makes approximately 16 fritters
Clean peanut or canola oil, for frying
1 cup chopped, packed ripe bananas (approximately 2 medium)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut (or up to 1/2 cup, if desired)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup milk, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Powdered sugar, for serving
Fill a Dutch oven or cast iron pot with a few inches of peanut or canola oil and heat on medium-high until it reaches 375°F.
In a large bowl, stir together the bananas, flour, cornstarch, coconut, sugar, baking powder, and salt, followed by the egg yolks, milk, and vanilla. Combine the mixture using a potato masher until it becomes a thick yet viscous batter, adding more milk — tablespoon by tablespoon — if necessary.
Using a springform ice cream scoop to form the fritters, carefully lower 4 to 5 dollops of batter into the hot fry oil at a time (I gently slip the scoop into the oil, then release the batter by squeezing the clamp a few times). Cook, flipping once, until the fritters are a nice golden-brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon or spider, shaking off excess oil back into the pot, and place on a paper towel-lined sheet pan to cool.
Continue with the remaining batches, making sure to return the oil to 375°F in between batches. Let fritters cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar and serve warm.
(Image credits: Nealey Dozier)