The pizzeria we passed every afternoon sold the zeppole I loved. Only a dollar fifty for six, they were fried to order then tossed into a brown paper bag with a heaping scoop of powder sugar.
I ate these too often, shaking the hot bag as I walked down the sidewalk home from school, feigning interest in football and pop bands just to have things to say to these kids whose passions were so different from my own loves of books and hamsters and extra-terrestrials.
Amidst the awkwardness I clutched my bag tightly, wishing I was home and alone with my messy nuggets of sugary fried dough and the next chapter in whatever book it was that week.
I tried, though. I offered them one, hesitantly tilting the steaming greasy bag in their direction until they shook their heads and recoiled, hands self-consciously smoothing down the sides of their little cheer skirts like women twice their age. Already possessing curves where they still had angles, I use to marvel at the way the fabric fell primly over the straight hips and imagined they way it would twist and flare out inappropriately over my own. Their refusal felt like judgment, leaving me simultaneously relieved and rejected as they flittered off to paint each others faces.
At home alone I delighted in the discovery of a seventh fritter added carelessly or secretly by the large-bellied grump behind the counter. Young enough to eat without guilt and thoughtless abandon, the little puffs would disappear quickly, while I, too, disappeared from my room into the pages.
Some weeks ago, I was consumed with the sudden desire to recreate them at home. Somewhere between the stove and the refrigerator, inspiration struck and I started mixing in things I didn't expect. The results were these orange snowballs you see above. Unlike the traditional zeppole of my youth, these fritters are redolent with autumn spices and sweet ground carrots. A cross between funnel cake and carrot cake, they are surprising and playful. Dust them delicately with sugar and serve while still practically too hot to touch. Make them for breakfast or forget dinner tonight and eat these instead. Warm cider and a novel, I think, would make a fitting companions.
Sweet Carrot Zeppole
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional if dough is too wet
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 vanilla bean (optional)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablspoons bourbon or dark rum
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups shredded carrots
coconut or vegetable oil for deep frying
confectioners sugar for dusting
1. Pour about 4 inches of coconut or vegetable oil in a medium dutch oven or pot with a heavy bottom. Set on medium heat with a thermometer in place to check the temperature. The oil will be ready for deep frying when it reaches 350 degrees. (should take about 10 minutes)
2. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves).
3. In the base of your electric mixer or by hand, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape in the seeds. Whisk until incorporated. Add the bourbon or dark rum and the heavy cream and beat quickly until incorporated.
4. Gently mix in the dry ingredients and mix well until fully incorporated.
5. Fold in the carrots. The dough should be wet, but still stiff enough to scoop and hold a loose shape in the oil. If it's too watery, sprinkle in some additional flour until it thickens slightly.
6. Check the oil with a candy/deep fat thermometer and see if it has reach 350 degrees. If so, use a cookie scoop or spoon to drop round spoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil in batches (about 2 tablespoons each), being careful not to crowd the pot. Let fry for about 2-4 minutes, or until the fritter is golden on all sides.
7. Remove the fritters from the hot oil and let drain on paper towels while you continue frying the rest.
8. Serve immediately, dusted with confectioners sugar.
Cook's note: The fritters should be eaten immediately, but the batter can be prepared up to 2 hours in advance and kept refrigerated in an air-tight container.