Last year when I was in Beijing to do research for the tofu book, my friend Lillian Chou, food editor at Time Out Beijing, dragged me and stylist Karen Shinto to a McDonald’s. We were there to eat tofu but she insisted that we first try the fried fruit pies. “You can hardly get them anymore in the States so eat up girls!” Lillian said. I hadn’t been in a McDonald’s in years (primarily to use the rest room) yet there we were eating fried pineapple pies at McDonald’s in China.
It was surreal but truth be told, it was good. In fact, the fried pie took me back to my childhood, when my family would buy deep-fried fruit pies at the supermarket. We didn’t know they were bad for us. We got them on super duper sale along with the occasional Twinkies nearby. My favorite was the fried apple pie.
That experience in Beijing, my longing for fried apple pies, and a frozen package of spring roll skins leftover from the Chef’s special crunchy shrimp balls led me to create this spring roll. I should also mention that I have an abundance of apples right now – thanks to generous neighbors and my overbuying at the farmer’s market. I live in an apple farming area. You’ll be seeing another apple recipe or two later.
At first I thought of recreating Southern American-style deep-fried apple pies and found recipes by Paula Deen and Edna Lewis online. I realized that the biscuit-like leavened flaky pastry reflected what Southern cooks had on hand. Shoot, why not make a spiced, chunky apple sauce-like filling and stuff it inside what I had on hand – spring roll skins! (Gluten-free folks could use one of the gluten-free dumpling doughs and deep-fry the empanada-like result. It would look more like a traditional deep-fried fruit pie.)
I tried it out the concept this afternoon with tart-sweet Pippin apples, adding crystallized ginger, cinnamon, star anise, and vanilla to tilt things toward Asia. A little powdered sugar balanced the filling, which I purposefully made not oversweet to let the fruit shine.
“Add some vanilla ice cream and it’s all over,” my husband said. Sips of bourbon aren’t bad either. I imagine making these through the holiday season as they are festive and fun.
Fried Apple Spring Rolls
Any tart-sweet apple will do for this recipe, such as Pippin and Granny Smith. You can tweak the flavor at the end of the filling cooking time. For a pineapple rendition, use the filling in the Spiced Pineapple-Filled Pastries recipe (page 195) of Asian Dumplings; make 1 1/2 times the recipe to yield enough for these spring rolls.
Makes 12 to serve 4 to 6
4 tart-sweet apples (1 1/3 pounds total)
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (use maximum for a richer flavor)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
2 pinches salt
Generous 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cassia
1/2 star anise (4 robust points)
3 to 4 tablespoons small dice crystallized ginger
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, dark rum, or bourbon
12 large Shanghai spring roll skins (also called lumpia wrappers)
1 egg, beaten well
Canola oil for deep-frying
Powdered sugar for garnish
1. Peel, core, and dice the apples. You should have about 4 cups. Set aside.
2. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook the butter, lemon juice, and sugar until melted. Add the salt, cinnamon, star anise, ginger, and apples. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have softened and collapsed to roughly half of their original volume, 10 to 12 minutes. It should mash down as you stir but there should be some visible chunks left. As the mixture cools, it breaks down a little more than what you see here:
3. Remove from the heat, cool for about 5 minutes, then retrieve and discard the star anise. Stir in the vanilla. Taste and add extra sugar or salt for a balanced sweet-tart finish. Set aside to cool completely before using. Makes 1 1/2 packed cups.
4. For each spring roll, place a skin on your work surface. (I had large square skins so I placed it one with of the corners pointing toward me.) Position 2 packed tablespoons of filling in the lower third of the skin. Shape it into 3/4-inch-wide log. Bring up the bottom to cover the filling, give it a full roll to secure.
5. Heat 1 to 1 1/4 inches of oil in a wok, saucepan, or deep skillet over medium-high heat to about 350ºF on a deep-fry thermometer. (If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, stick a dry bamboo chopstick into the oil; if bubbles rise immediately to the surface, the oil is ready.) Slide in few spring rolls and fry for about 3 minutes, turning as needed, until golden brown and very crisp. Remove from the oil and drain. Return the oil to temperature before frying more.
6. Let these cool 5 minutes before dusting with powdered sugar and eating. Though best straight soon after frying, these can be pre-fried several hours before serving and reheated in a 350F toaster oven for about 5 minutes until hot.
Related VWK posts and sites
- Fried Oyster Spring Rolls recipe
- Crunchy Shrimp Balls (aka Chef’s Special Balls) recipe
- Gluten-Free Asian Dumpling Dough: Best Uses will link you to the dough options
- McDonald’s fried apple pie locator – a bit outdated but you can get a sense of where they are served.