Sunday, June 30, 2013

Funnel Cakes

Summer means time for the State Fair, the County Fair, Minor League Baseball, and fun on the Boardwalk. Summer means time for Funnel Cakes. You can find the Funnel Cake stand by smell. That sweet, fried smell, wafting along begging you to come get one. And for me, summer isn't complete until I've had one. We went to the Boardwalk last week (that's why the lapse in posts) but the opportunity for a funnel cake escaped me. No worries, I'd have a chance at the baseball game. The game that I bought tickets for back in April. The game that almost got rained out by unforeseen, unseasonable thundershowers last Monday. The game that had very low attendance. The game where they closed up most of the food carts. And when I say most, I mean the funnel cake cart. Agh, I had been foiled again. Now the craving was set and I'd not be satisfied until I got a funnel cake. So, I just decided to make some. . .

Start with the set up: Line a rimmed cookie sheet with several layers of newspaper or plain brown paper bags. Lay two layers of paper towels on top of that.

Decided on your batter delivery method. Traditionally you would use a funnel to swirl the batter into the oil. That's where they get their name. Use a funnel and a wooden spoon with a handle big enough to stop up the hole in the funnel. Lift the spoon, batter flows out, drop the spoon into the hole, batter stops. Pretty simple. Even simpler is a squeeze bottle with the opening cut just a bit smaller that 1/4 inch. I prefer this method. Either works.

Set up your fry station. I like a small deep pot, this one is about 7 inches. Fill it about 1-1/2 inches deep with oil and clip on a thermometer. Set your lined cookies sheet next to this and also some tongs. Over medium heat, gently heat the oil to about 375°F.

Now, you can make your batter. You'll need: AP flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk (I would recommend whole milk), an egg, vanilla and some fresh lemon zest*.

*The lemon zest is totally optional. I loved the way it smelled when mixing into the batter but I'm not so sure it made a difference in the finished product. I really couldn't taste it at all. 

Start by stirring together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, vanilla and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until you have a smooth batter. It should be about the consistency of pancake batter, maybe a bit thinner.

Use the funnel to fill the squeeze bottle with batter.

When the oil is about 375°F, squeeze the batter into the pot starting in a circular motion and then criss-crossing back and forth until you have a "connected" cake. Cook on one side for 30 seconds to 1 minute until golden brown, then flip and cook another 30 seconds to 1 minute on the other side. If the cake isn't golden in 1 minute, then the oil isn't hot enough and you'll end up with an oily cake. Also, the batter will want to move towards the edges of the pot, so the finished cake will be about the same diameter as the pot. If you want a smaller cake, use a smaller pot or set a round metal cookie cutter into the oil and build up the cake inside of it.

Remove from the oil to the lined cookie sheet. Flip after a few minutes to blot the oil from both side.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy.

These tasted exactly like the funnel cakes I remember from the fair. The recipe was easy to follow and they turned out great. But. . .I probably won't make these again. Why? Well, for several reasons. 
First, I'm just not a big fan of frying. Don't get me wrong, I do like fried food, I just don't like making it at home. It's messy. I always feel like I need to take a shower when I'm done and my house smells like a fryer for a week. I'm also not sure how to get rid of the used oil. It just seems better to leave it up to the experts in the restaurants with their fancy industrial fryers and ventilation systems.
Second, I remember why I only get these once a year, they're greasy. Good, and sweet and fried, but greasy. Kind of a gut bomb. I don't foresee many occasions where I'll want to make the caloric commitment more than once a year at the fair.
Lastly, these don't keep. You need to make and eat them right away. The longer they sit, the soggier and greasier they get. Trust me, these need to be hot to taste good. So unless you've got a crowd ready and waiting to eat them, you're going to end up wasting the ingredients.
So, this is a good funnel cake recipe and if you find a need to make some funnel cakes, give it a go. For me, I think I stick to buying one at the fair.

Funnel Cakes
Makes approx. 8 7-inch cakes
1-1/2 C. all purpose flour
1 T. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1-1/3 C. whole milk
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. fresh lemon zest (optional)

vegetable oil for frying
powdered sugar for dusting

Heat 1-1/2 to 2 inches of oil to 375°F in a deep saucepan.
Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg, vanilla and lemon zest. Stir together the wet and dry ingredients until you have a smooth batter.
Load the batter into a funnel or squeeze bottle. Drop or squeeze batter into hot oil first in a circular motion then criss-crossing until you have a connected cake. Cook 30 seconds to 1 minute until golden brown then flip and cook another 30 seconds to 1 minutes. Remove to a paper lined cookie sheet to cool. Flip over after a few minutes to allow grease to drain off both sides. 
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

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