For one week every spring the local Catholic church, an otherwise unassuming dot on the landscape of my suburb, turned their property into magical kingdom of lights, music, cotton candy and so many rides it was impossible to remember that all other weeks of the year it was just an empty field next to a parking lot. I was obsessed with this carnival… from afar. My parents, citing such horrifically dull things as having their children live long, healthy lives, questionable safety practices and clearly a focused interest in ruining everything, refused to let my sister and me go, even though my best friend, who went to school there and ostensibly had parents also invested in keeping her safe, got to go every night. Worst weeks, ever. This story should end here but as we drove to my parents house last month and I saw the carnival all set up again, I realized two things: 1. I wasn’t remembering it with rose-colored glasses, it’s actually, objectively amazing. 2. This miiiight be the source of my ongoing obsessing with carnivals.
I can’t help it. I haven’t met a balloon race, ali baba, bumper car, ferris wheel, haunted house, carousel, mini-zipper, graviton or hurricane I didn’t like. Give me all the strung lights, popcorn in red and white boxes and musical reels that haven’t changed in 50 years. I delight in the vague creepiness of clowns and it’s basically no surprise that only one days into summer, we’ve already taken the “kids” (sure, okay) to Jenkinson’s and Coney Island.
This means I’ve also had at least two opportunities in the last month to confront my absolute weakness: funnel cake. Fried dough is my undoing. Knots of barely sweetened golden-edged cake blizzarded with powdered sugar is the kind of thing I go about my life safely immune from but then the aroma of it in the air at the boardwalk smacks me in the face and there is nothing else. I have managed to resist funnel cake for the better part of 20 years but something happened at the Jersey Shore a few weeks ago and my husband and I, forever trying to keep our chin count to one-per-person, decided we’d go for it but only eat half. Of one funnel cake. Together.[I’ll pause while you fall off your chair laughing.]
I wish I could tell you that at last sating my chronic craving for funnel cake did the trick. I got mine, right? Nope. I smell it now and it’s worse because it’s in recent memory and I knew that even the lousiest one didn’t disappoint. The news gets worse from here: should you decide you want to make funnel cake at home, it’s almost comically easy, a one-bowl batter comprised entirely of ingredients you already have (unless you only keep whole wheat-flour around because: no. not here.) and it takes about 3.5 minutes to cook. It doesn’t even absorb enough oil (maybe 1 to 2 tablespoons per cake) to convince you this can’t be a regular thing. My inner adult thinks this is the worst news she’s ever heard. My inner 10 year-old that wants to go to the fair is doing cartwheels. She’s way more fun; I say we hang out with her.
See you soon: I mentioned last week that I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a traffic jam of (awesome) life events and (exciting) deadlines this month and I am going to do the responsible thing (vs. the occasional going-AWOL thing) and bid adieu for exactly three weeks. When I return, my deadline will have passed and a shiny new design of this site will kick off everything that comes after. We will cook all the best summer food. We will drink frozen things. You will not need to miss me, however, because if you choose to follow @smittenkitchen on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, or even subscribe to the weekly newsletter, I’m going to make sure you still have the perfect things to cook every day of the week. I’m also on Snapchat but that’s usually just to embarrass myself. Nobody needs to see that.
One year ago: Herbed Summer Squash Pasta Bake
Two years ago: Frozen Coconut Limeade
Three years ago: Espresso Granita with Whipped Cream
Four years ago: Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken
Five years ago: Linguine with Pea Pesto
Six years ago: Bread and Butter Pickles and Blue Cheese and Red Potato Tart
Seven years ago: Neapolitan Cake, Cheese Straws and Strawberries and Dumplings
Eight years ago: Fresh Ricotta and Red Onion Pizza
Nine years ago: Dilled Potato and Pickled Cucumber Salad
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: The Browniest Cookies
1.5 Years Ago: Deep Dark Gingerbread Waffles
2.5 Years Ago: Breakfast Slab Pie
3.5 Years Ago: Cashew Butter Balls
4.5 Years Ago: Parnsip Latkes with Horseradish and Dill
Adapted, just barely, from Taste of Home
To me, the glory of funnel cake is in the contrast — a simple, barely sweet batter against a whiteout of powdered sugar, that somehow together makes a messy knit of doughnut strands that are, at most, moderately sweet. Thus, it’s essential to keep the sugar in the batter to very little (I use a little less than the original) and not skimp at all on the powdered finale. I understand that it can be served with jam, whipped cream, sprinkles or chocolate sauce but for once, this doesn’t interest me at all.
Wikipedia informs me that in southern Germany, a similar confection is called Strauben; in Finland, tippaleipä is served at May Day (Vappu) celebrations, so I just added both to my “Let’s Go Here Next” list.
Finally, it’s not a popular ingredient, but as someone usually asks, I deep-fat fry sweet things in canned shortening such as Crisco. Because it is solid at room temperature, doughtnuts and the like feel and taste ungreasy to the touch as they cool, plus it’s completely flavor-free.
Yield: About 6 8-inch cakes; we halved it (so we had 3 instead) and, for once, I didn’t regret it. Because funnel cake doesn’t really keep beyond the first day, there’s no reason to make much more than you’ll need.
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup milk (non-dairy milks could easily be subbed here)
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or a small scraping of fresh vanilla bean seeds
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
Oil for deep-fat frying (I needed about 1 1/2 cups for an 9-inch skillet)
Confectioners’ sugar to finish
In a large bowl, whisk eggs with sugar, milk, water and vanilla. Sprinkle salt and baking powder over the batter, then flour, and whisk it until batter is smooth.
You can use a funnel, pitcher, squeeze bottle or plastic bag with the corner snipped off to pour your batter into the oil in a thin stream.
— Are you going to use a funnel? If so, check to make sure your batter is the right consistency to fall through by holding it over your bowl and ladling a little in. I was using one with a 1/2-inch opening and my batter was a tad thick. If yours is, whisk in extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it’s right. You might need 2 or 3.
— Are you going to use a plastic bag with the corner snipped off? Don’t worry about it then, you can always cut the hole a little bigger if the batter doesn’t fall through easily.
Heat 1-inch of oil in a heavy skillet that’s the size you want your cakes to be to between 350 and 375 degrees F. With your finger over the opening so it doesn’t fall out, ladle batter into your funnel or a plastic bag. I like to put in only as much batter as I’ll need for each cake (1/2 cup for the 8-inch round size) so I can put the funnel down without having to stop it up somehow between uses.
Let batter squiggle and scribble all over oil. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes on first side, until golden underneath. Flip with tongs and fry on the second side for about 1 minute, until golden all over. Remove from oil and blot briefly on paper towels. Ensure that the oil temperature is still correct, then fry remaining cakes. Transfer each to a double layer of paper plates and blizzard on the powdered sugar. Eat with your fingers.