If the Internet has its say, my reputation will be forever entwined with the deep-fried Twinkie.
Do a Google search for "deep-fried Twinkies Janet K. Keeler" and you'll get 10 pages of links, all leading to a recipe I developed nearly 10 years ago for the Taste section. That's the year that state fairs across the nation embraced the Twinkies-boiled-in-oil trick, following the lead of Christopher Sell of the ChipShop in New York. A phone discussion that year with Sell, who is still selling this concoction and other deep-fried delights for $3.50 each, guided me on my quest to replicate the arguably fatal fair food.
I did quite a bit of experimenting to devise a recipe that translated the head-shaking abomination from commercial fryers to inexpensive home equipment. For me, the trick to getting the battered Twinkie to keep its shape in the hot oil was freezing it first. Surprisingly, the over-the-top treatment transformed the trashy Twinkie into something almost elegant, thanks to an artful draping of raspberry sauce.
News last week that Hostess Brands Inc., the maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread, filed for bankruptcy protection got me thinking about my beloved childhood indulgence. Sales are down, some 2 percent in 2011 over the year before according to the Wall Street Journal, but it's labor trouble that caused the Chapter 11 filing.
I love Hostess Twinkies though I can't even say when I last ate one. The spongy cake and fluffy filling always tickled my fancy more than the turnover-like Hostess pies (too much dough and gloppy fruit filling) or Ding Dongs (the chocolate coating tasted waxy to me). I was a Twinkie-phile.
I used to pedal my blue Schwinn to the store to buy a twin-pack, eating them both on the way home and licking the sticky residue from the white cardboard that protected them in the plastic wrapper. Mom didn't much approve of the Twinkie, all that sugar you know, so I had to bury the evidence at the bottom of the trash can.
That was more than 40 years ago, before the days of trillion-ounce Big Gulps and monster fast-food burgers. Even then, Twinkies weren't new, born in an Illinois bakery in 1930.
Today, the four-bite Twinkie almost seems quaint. A single Twinkie has 150 calories and 5 grams of fat. A Starbucks grande latte with 2 percent milk has 190 calories with 7 grams of fat. The chocolate glazed cake doughnuts that your co-worker picked up at Dunkin' Donuts this morning? Just one has 370 calories and 24 grams of fat.
That little Twinkie doesn't seem so diabolical now, does it?
Yes, I know we'd all be better off eating an apple or a bowlful of cherries. But as an occasional indulgence, the Twinkie isn't the worst offender. Still, somewhere along the way, the Twinkie got a bad rap.
Perhaps its fate was sealed in the late 1970s when San Francisco City Councilman Dan White's attorney played the junk food card. He argued that his client's overindulgence was to blame for his murdering the city's mayor and another councilman. The "Twinkie Defense" was born.
The Twinkie endures more torture at twinkiesproject.com, where some silly "scientists" record the results of all sorts of testing on my beloved cake product. That would include 10 minutes in a microwave oven at full power. Not pretty.
Steve Ettlinger's 2007 Twinkie, Deconstructed used the Twinkie's 37 ingredients as a springboard to study the processed food that crowds the nation's pantry.
The Urban Dictionary sites Twinkie as slang for an Asian person who "acts white, likes to listen to rock and sucks at math." There are crude Twinkie jokes in the 2009 movie Zombieland.
The Twinkie, with its seemingly infinite shelf life, is an easy target. It has a soft underbelly. Maybe that's why I like it so much. Come to think of it, maybe I'll stock my 2012 hurricane kit with a box of twin-packs. Won't they be a comfort when the wind is howling?
Let's keep that between you, me and Google. Mom doesn't need to know.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586.