The previous post on Fritos and Cheez-Its caused me to ponder homemade junk food as a category. I know it exists. I know there are a billion websites that perkily tell you that YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN FRITOS and that even the New York Times has provided its earnest readers with a recipe. I decided that in the name of being an honest writer, I owed it to my readers, all six of you, to report fully on what that would involve, and whether or not it is worth it.
I want to start by saying that I have made cheese crackers many, many times, using many different types of cheeses, and that while they never are quite like Cheez-Its, they are all good and they are all easy to make and they are all worth doing, once in a while, when you want to have something really snappy to serve at a dinner party or to give as a gift in a little glass jar. So that’s a subject for another time, perhaps. Here, I want to focus on Fritos, because, frankly, I just spent three hours working on Fritos. The kitchen is cleaned up, mostly, and the results are in.
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12326-homemade-fritos is the recipe I worked with. I followed the recipe, mixing up the ingredients precisely — I even took out the kitchen scale.
It takes very few ingredients. You’re looking at what it takes. Corn meal, salt, oil. Takes about 30 seconds to put that together. I didn’t include the boiling water in the picture because that’s stupid. But there was water mixed in with the corn meal, salt, and oil. Then I rolled out the dough, as instructed, between two sheets of parchment paper.
I scored the corn dough with a bench scraper and put the pan in the oven as instructed: 375° for 12-15 minutes. At 15 minutes, these things were nowhere near done. They looked flabby. I added another five minutes to the timer. Same. I finally set my stopwatch and left the kitchen and went about my business for a while and came back about 15 minutes later. Still looking kind of pathetic. The recipe says to bake until golden brown. The chips were starting to curl up a little at the scored edges, but… nowhere near golden brown. They finally began to get golden brown around the 35 minute mark. I took them out of the oven and this is what I had:
And they don’t even taste very good.
So then I thought, “Ok. The recipe gives you an option for baking and an option for frying. I should try to fry another batch.” So I embarked on a Plan B and Subset B-2, which was this: I’d mix up another batch of the corn batter, and fry half of it in hot oil (something I hate doing, frying things in oil), and bake the other half but in a hotter oven, at 425°.
The second round of baked “Fritos” came out pretty much the way the first batch had — quite unimpressive, with a slightly shorter baking time — and the fried Fritos were a whole other thing entirely. Because it turned out that I had no ability whatsoever to get a nice, neat, rectangular mini-slab of corn batter into the pot of hot oil. I gather that proper Fritos are extruded somehow, from some kind of big pipe into vats of hot oil, and I suppose that if I were more dedicated to this project I could have taken a pastry bag and a flat-tip nozzle and figured out a way to extrude my own Fritos, but seriously. Even I don’t have time for this. So I did the best I could, and what I had in the pot was this:
This looks like…. well, it looks like scrambled eggs, but what it ACTUALLY is, is a small batch of Crunchy Corn Gobbles.
Sorry for the fuzzy photo, but trust me, it’s not any more attractive when in focus.
This would be a variant form of Dried Corn Gobbles, available as one of the Six Tempting Toppings at Akbar’n’Jeff’s Frozen Yogurt Hut:
Now, Crunchy Corn Gobbles don’t taste bad, certainly not compared to my baked homemade Fritos, but they aren’t exactly good, either. God knows they’re not worth making an effort to produce. I’d rather eat a Peanut Butter Chunklet.
I spent most of my morning working on this. I still have to wash the greasy frying pan (and I’ve thrown out all that oil, because I just don’t think I’ll want to reuse it for anything), but this experiment is over and done with — finit0 — and the results are these pathetic things.
On the left, the first batch; in the middle, the Crunchy Corn Gobbles; and on the right, the second baked batch, which are sort of leathery and awful. Two batches of homemade Frito batter, and, even if these things tasted good, which they don’t, it still wouldn’t be enough to make for a satisfying snack for two or three people.
The moral of the story is, my instincts were correct. Fritos are like Grape-Nuts. Don’t try this at home. Pay the corporate people their money, and just buy the thing that tastes the way it should.
I think I’ll buy myself a Snickers bar on my way to pick up my daughter at school. After all this work, and so little payback, I could use some junk food that works.