Funnel Cake

In Making Food on August 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Week 25
Funnel Cake

Last week, at the tail end of an emailed dinner invitation, a friend wrote the following two sentences at the end of his menu proposal:

“You look like a girl who can make a mean funnel cake. Just sayin’.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all it took. Within minutes, I was looking up funnel cake recipes and digging through the kitchen drawers for a thermometer suitable for deep-fat frying. (Having never deep-fat-fried anything before, I came up short.) Apparently all you need to do to galvanize me into action is to use the words “mean,” “girl” and “[some sort of pastry product]” in the same sentence.

A state fair staple, funnel cakes are pure Americana. Or so you’d think. They’re common, although more elegantly named and occasioned, in European cuisine — in Italy, they’re called furtaies, made with a grappa-spiked batter, and traditionally served at weddings. In Finland, tippaleipa are served at May Day celebrations. In Austria and Germany, they’re called strauben. And when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought strauben with them (you know, figuratively speaking), thereby setting the stage for the perennial American summer festival snack smackdown: funnel cakes vs. cream puffs.

And you know what? Funnel cakes are ridiculously easy to make.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking powder. In a small bowl, beat together 2/3 cup milk and 1 egg, then stir the wet ingredients into the dry until you’ve got a smooth batter. Lift the spoon out of the batter — if the dough falls off in clumps (or, worse yet, doesn’t come off the spoon at all), add more milk a bit at a time, stirring after each addition. Ultimately, you want the dough to pour smoothly and evenly off the spoon, so it’ll, well, pour smoothly and evenly through the funnel.

You can, quite literally, make these by pouring the batter through a funnel into hot oil, though you can also use a pastry bag, or even a zip-top bag. (If you use a pastry bag, you’d want to use a number 12 tip.) I have a bunch of pastry bags and this gigantic box of pastry tips from the time I made my sister-in-law’s wedding cake, and I hurriedly shoved them all, along with a zip-top bag full of funnel cake batter, into a bag to take to my friend’s place for dinner.

But on the way over, I started to think about how obnoxious it would look to pull out my 52-piece master decorating kit and sort through the tips for the #12 piece. (What kind of small talk do you make while looking for your #12 pastry tip? About what a pedant you are?) I also thought about what a redundant pain in the ass it would be to transfer the dough from the zip-top bag into the pastry bag. Plus, as my friend pointed out when I told him about my piping quandry, it’s a funnel cake. So I did the easiest, least messy, and most unpretentious thing possible: cut a tiny corner off the zip-top bag, and used that as a makeshift pastry bag.

While you’re debating whether or not you want to use a pastry bag and/or look like a pretentious snob — that is, the exact opposite of a person who would make funnel cakes for dessert — get the oil going. In a deep skillet or wide pot, heat 2 cups of oil until it’s hot enough. If you’ve got a candy/frying thermometer, this means 375. (If all you’ve got is a meat thermometer, don’t even bother pulling it of the drawer, since it won’t go high enough.) If you’re thermometer-less, it’ll take between 5 and 7 minutes over a medium-high flame; the oil should be shimmery, but not bubbling or smoking. Test whether it’s hot enough by dropping in a tiny bit of batter — if the droplet immediately rises to the surface, sizzles and begins browning, the oil’s ready.

Drizzle the batter into the hot oil in a random, curlicue fashion, keeping the bag relatively close to the oil. (If you pipe from too high above the oil’s surface, you’ll get all sorts of stray, unconnected, comma-shaped bits of batter. Delicious, but incoherent and not technically a funnel cake so much.)

Let it cook for 60 to 90 seconds, or until golden brown on the bottom, then carefully flip it over and cook for another minute or so.

Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate, let drain for a moment, then sprinkle with powdered sugar, or cinnamon sugar.

The above recipe’ll yield two dinner-plate-sized funnel cakes that will be 1) totally professional-looking (inasmuch as it’s possible for a funnel cake to look professional, that is) and 2) mind-blowingly good. Crunchy on the outside, fluffy/chewy on the inside, and the perfect chaser to a fully loaded hot dog.

  1. Do you think this batter recipe could adequately coat/stick to other things that should be fried? (And by other things, I mean Snickers bars, Oreos and other delicious foods that should be fried every once in a while.) Should I thicken up the batter a bit with flour or maybe cornstarch?

    • It might work — not sure. I’d think, if anything, you’d want to thin it — maybe with a little more milk or even some club soda. I’d guess you’d be looking for more of a tempura-style batter for coating and deep-frying; this dough might be a little heavy for that purpose.

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