How Beignets Cured My Fear of Frying — for Good

Sometimes the best way to face your fears is to cover them in a cloud of powdered sugar.

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I have a MASSIVE fear of frying (yes, frying — it's not a typo). I can’t tell you where this fear stems from, or when it even started, but for whatever reason — whether it’s being used to crisp up fried chicken or to add a golden-brown hue to the outside of some delicious mozzarella sticks — if there’s a pot of hot oil on the stove, you can be sure to find me standing at least 12 feet away. Or in another room entirely.

It’s not that I don’t like fried food: The very first time I had a fried Oreo was a life-changing experience, and don’t even get me started on fried ravioli — absolute perfection on a plate! I just can’t seem to relax, or stay calm, around a hot pot of oil.

So, when my mom asked me to help her make beignets after dinner a few nights ago, I warned her I’d be providing more of a consulting role — I would help her make the batter, but once the oil started to boil, I’d be long gone. Or so I thought.

Having never made beignets from scratch before, we naturally turned to the Food Network Kitchen app for guidance and came across Erin McDowell’s Ricotta Beignets class. I already took, and absolutely loved, Erin’s Chocolate Cream Pie with Whipped Peanut Butter Cream class so I knew if anyone could show us how to get a taste of New Orleans right at home, it would be her.

Little did I know that Erin would also be helping me face my fears, too. About a minute into the class, Erin says the following: “This is a super fun and easy recipe and I’m also going to help everyone here get over their fear of frying today. If you’ve got one of those, we’re going to demolish it.”

It was as if she was looking straight into the camera and talking directly to me. While I had always hoped that eventually, after a few more years of frying up chicken cutlets and French fries, my frying phobia would eventually disappear, I never thought of demolishing it altogether. And that was a declaration I just couldn’t ignore.

Getting to work, my mom and I followed along as Erin walked us through her super simple batter, which is made with pantry staples like sugar, eggs, ricotta, flour, baking powder, orange zest and vanilla extract. Though traditional beignets don’t often use ricotta cheese like Erin’s do, this addition ensures that your beignets will come out light, fluffy and with “an extra tang of deliciousness.”

We then moved on to the moment I was dreading most: the frying. What I noticed first about Erin’s technique was that she kept her batter bowl super close to the Dutch oven that held her hot oil. This might seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve found myself frazzled from running back and forth from my stove and the countertop wrangling all my ingredients. Suffice to say, I was already super-impressed with Erin’s approach.

Erin also uses an ice cream scoop to gently drop her batter into the hot oil — another ingenious trick since one of the biggest issues I’ve always had with frying is figuring out a way to place food into my heated oil without causing a huge splash or splatter to come back my way. Using the ice cream scoop really kept my anxiety in check because it helped me maintain control over the batter and where I was placing it in the oil, and it also kept me focused on the task at hand — scoop out the batter, place it in the oil, repeat. After a few repetitions, it even became quite relaxing.

“I really want to make people realize frying isn’t as scary as people think it is,” Erin says before fishing a batch of her golden-brown beignets out of her oil. And honestly after dropping in and scooping out my very own batch of beignets, I realized she was right.

Though I may need some more practice before my fear is completely demolished, I'm happy to admit I no longer break out into a cold sweat whenever I think about frying food, so I think we're off to a really good start!

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