So a couple of weeks ago, in a fit of I don’t know what (parental duty? insanity? John Mellencamp-esque inspiration?), we packed the kids into the car and headed north to the Marin County Fair. All things considered, it ended up being a near-perfect day, with minimal crowds and the most fantastically sunny, warm-yet-breezy weather that we sorely lack down here in San Francisco during the summer months. We lazily walked the grounds, listened to a showy preteen girl belt out pop songs for the talent contest, hung out with farm animals. The baby napped in the stroller. I ate a second hot dog as a snack like some kind of aspiring Biggest Loser contestant. Family outing success!
Speaking of that hot dog snack, let’s talk about fair food. Is there anything better? I mean, you have to get on board with the whole thing before you even get there. Just give in, be in it to win it, and accept that you’ll be eating something fried on a stick more than once in a two-hour period. Ain’t that America?
Like any good county fair, this one had the fair food booths out in full force–you couldn’t walk 10 feet without smacking your head into a bag of cotton candy or a deep-fried Twinkie. We had ourselves a righteous fair food lunch of multiple types of sausages, BBQ-ed tri-tip, frozen lemonade, and a huge ear of roasted corn that my girl attacked with impressive swagger. And then of course there was lots of soft-serve ice cream. We like to do it up right.
However! There is an unexpected drawback to fair food. The first of bite of that sausage or roasted corn is kind of like a gateway bite. It’s delicious and vibrant and perfect and you’re surrounded by the fair sights and sounds and colors and smells and before you know it, you’re all LET’S EAT ALL THE THINGS. But you can’t possibly. Something has got to give (and I’m not talking about your pants–you did have the good sense to wear an elastic waist to the fair, didn’t you?). In our case, even with all of our best fair food-mowing intentions, we missed out on an essential–the funnel cake. Wha?! I know. John Mellencamp is going to come and take our American passports away at any second.
But I decided to make up for it here at home. Because what kind of mother am I if I let an entire summer pass without letting my child have a funnel cake? Priorities!!
Luckily, I came across the most genius idea for making super easy funnel cakes on Serious Eats using a pancake mix we always have on hand.
(Don’t judge me for using a box mix for pancakes. Yes, I know how easy they are to make from scratch, but have you tried this mix? It’s really, really good. And I learned a secret tip to add a little drizzle of vegetable oil to the batter and now I can make perfect pancakes after years of unexplained pancake failures. Plus I can make the batter all bleary-eyed without messing with measuring cups–I just dump some in a bowl, add water and mix, eyeballing the consistency. Everybody needs a good shortcut–this pancake mix is mine. Now you know.)
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room–FRYING. Dun-dun-duuuuhhhhnnnn. If you can get over any fear of frying you might have, you will absolutely love, love, love these funnel cakes. To be real, frying isn’t my favorite thing on the planet, either–it can be messy and tricky and feel like one big oily DJ-ing session, trying to adjust the heat while you’re flipping the goods and what not. And then there’s the whole Food Police issue about fried food being the devil and everything. I get it. But it’s really not too hard if you have the right equipment, and honestly, how often are you really frying things at home? So let’s just think of this as a fun experiment and a delicious treat and just stop being so judgy about the whole thing.
In other words, just put on your elastic waist pants, and get in it to win it. We’re makin’ fair food!
Ridiculously Easy Funnel Cakes
Adapted from Serious Eats
Makes 6 to 8 6-inch (or so) cakes
The original recipe amounts (which I’m posting here) call for 2 quarts of oil and frying the cakes in a Dutch oven. I suppose the deeper the oil level and more room in the pot to work with, the better, but I used my beloved, heavy medium-sized saucepan that’s about 7 1/2 inches in diameter and poured in oil just to a depth of about 1 inch, which probably amounted to a couple of cups, and things worked out fine.
To make this project as easy and fun as it should be, have everything ready before you begin frying. I highly recommend a plastic squeeze bottle for getting the batter into the oil–that’s the fun part, making all those loops!–and a slotted spoon and a thin vented spatula like a fish spatula for flipping and transferring the cakes with ease. And please, please save yourself the headache and use a candy or deep fry thermometer so that you know you oil gets to and stays at the right temperature while you’re frying.
These are are best eaten hot, so have your funnel cake crowd ready and waiting for their cakes as they come out of the fryer!
2 quarts canola oil for frying (or less–see note)
1 1/2 cups “complete” buttermilk pancake mix
1/2 cup water (I needed a bit more to get my batter to the consistency of cake batter)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Line a large baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, heat about an inch of the oil to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the pancake mix, water, sugar, and vanilla extract until very smooth–you’re looking for a batter about the consistency of cake batter, and it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon when you lift the whisk. Transfer the batter to a squeeze bottle with a 1/4-inch opening (or to be really traditional, pour the batter through a small funnel into the oil).
When the oil is up to temperature, holding the bottle about 5 to 6 inches above the surface of the oil, squeeze the batter into the pot, quickly working in a circular motion about 4 to 6 inches in diameter to form loops and swirls. Cook the cake for about 1 minute, or until an even golden brown on the bottom, before flipping it and cooking and additional 30 seconds on the other side. Remove the cake to the paper toweling to drain for a minute before dusting with confectioners’ sugar. Repeat with the remaining batter.
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