The Funnel Cake
If there is one snack that defines going to any sort of state or county fair, it’s funnel cake.
Huge chunks of fried dough that are super-greasy and topped with an entire bag of powdered sugar.
One cake will also set you back at least $5 which is kind of ridiculous.
When Betsy and I were at the fair last weekend, I was blown away by just how many funnel cakes shops there were. There must have been a dozen of them, all of them selling basically the same thing for the exact same price.
Can you say “COLLUSION”?
Anyway, I was excited to see it win the poll last week because I’ve never tried to make it at home. Turns out it isn’t too hard and is a pretty fun treat to make.
To make the Pate a Choux dough:
1) Add butter, salt, sugar, and water to a medium pot and bring it to a simmer over medium heat until butter is melted.
2) Weigh out bread flour and add to pan. Stir until flour is incorporated and the dough is thick. Turn heat down to low and cook dough for a minute or two. It should be slightly springy but hold its shape when poked.
3) Transfer dough to a metal bowl and let it cool for five minutes.
4) Start stirring eggs into dough one at a time. At some point start using a whisk to stir dough and mix in the eggs until they are well incorporated.
5) Add thick batter to a pastry bag.
6) Heat oil in a wide pan until it is 350 degrees. Then pipe in batter to make a small circle of strands.
7) Fry cake until it is lightly browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
8) Remove and let drain, then sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar and serve immediately.
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe.
Pate a what?
I would bet a pretty penny that the vendors at the fair use some sort of mix to make their funnel cakes. I just have a hard time believing that they are all making the batter from scratch and they all just happen to taste the exact same.
If you want to make a batter from scratch though, the best thing to make is a pate a choux which is French for Dough That You Cook.
Note: That is not what it actually means in French. Don’t email me.
Importantly, this is the same basic dough that you use to make gougeres like these.
Start the dough by adding the sugar, salt, water, and butter to a medium pan. Cook this over medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is lightly simmering.
For the flour, use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. The bread flour will hold more moisture.
Since this is a pretty finicky recipe, I recommend weighing the dough. You want about 5.7 ounces of bread flour which, if you don’t want to weigh the flour, is about 1.25 cups.
Once your butter is melted, stir in the flour and work the dough in the pan over the heat until it turns thick.
The final dough should hold its shape and not be sticky at all. There might be a bit of residue at the bottom of the pan which is fine.
This was my finished version and you can see where I poked it to test that it wasn’t too sticky.
Now we need to fold our eggs into the dough. Do not do this right away or you will end up with scrambled eggs and flour.
Instead, transfer the dough ball to a mixing bowl and let it cool for around five minutes. You should be able to stick your finger in it and hold it there.
You want about a cup of eggs which works out to be about 4 large eggs plus 2 egg whites.
Then just start stirring the eggs into the dough one at a time. At first it might be kind of hard to get the eggs to incorporate but eventually they should fold in and then you can use a whisk to make sure the batter is mixed well.
This was my finished version.
If you are at all confused about this process, check out Alton Brown’s videos (sound) on the dough. He does a good job of walking through it.
Cooking the Funnel Cakes
The carnival trucks just have a huge vat of some sort of batter that the scoop into an actual funnel and pour into hot oil, but this dough is actually a bit too thick to pour easily.
This is good because it’ll mean a better texture in the finished cake, but getting it into the oil in strands requires a pastry bag.
If you don’t have a pastry bag, I think you could just scoop the batter into a large plastic bag and snip the corner off with scissors. That would work just as well.
While you are working on your batter, you can start heating your oil. You want it to be 350 degrees so it helps to have a deep fry thermometer so you know exactly where you stand.
Once the oil is hot, just pipe in some of the batter directly into the oil.
The batter is pretty thick so you’ll have to really press on it to get it out of the bag.
I made my cakes smaller than the huge ones you get at the fair…
They will only need to cook for about two minutes per side until they are golden brown and crispy.
Then scoop them out of the oil and let them drain on a paper towel for a minute or two, dust them with as much powdered sugar as you can handle, and eat them as soon as possible!
I thought the texture of these were much better than the carnival versions. They had a crispy outside and light and fluffy interior. They also weren’t completely soaked in grease like you sometimes see at the carnivals.
It’s a good idea to master this dough because you can make a ton of stuff with it. These guys are just the tip of the funnel.