My first funnel cake memory isn't of strolling the Midway at the Arkansas State Fair — it's eagerly waiting while my mother (and maybe one of my aunts) stood over a pot of bubbling oil frying and draining the crispy-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside confections as quickly as my dad, brother, cousins and I could eat them.
I'm positive it wasn't my first time eating a funnel cake because I remember thinking how cool it was that we needn't wait all year for the fair or another festival to take place to enjoy the delicious sugary fried treats.
And of all the many scrumptious treats available at the fair — smoked turkey legs; foot-long corndogs; giant pretzels; perfectly seasoned, whole-spiral cut fried potatoes; deep-fried Snickers; cotton candy; candied and caramel apples to scratch the surface — funnel cakes are still my favorite.
If not for the pandemic, the Arkansas State Fair would be Oct. 16-25. But not this year. Maybe next year — if we all do our part to control this virus — we'll once again be dazzled by the lights, aroma of corndogs, manure and deep-fried Oreos intermingling with the music and whirl of the rides and games.
Until then, remember you needn't wait a year to enjoy this sugary fried treat.
They're actually quite simple to make. The hardest part is dealing with all the oil left from frying them.
This recipe makes between 6 and 9 funnel cakes, depending on how large you make them. After each of us eating one or two, I still had plenty left from making the batch in the accompanying video. Just to see what it would taste like (and in the interest of no-waste cooking) I decided to serve the remaining funnel cakes savory rather than sweet. We topped them with a ladle of leftover turkey chili, and much to my delight, they were wonderful. The slight sweetness and the hint of cinnamon in the cakes complemented the tomatoes, meat and spices in the chili. Topped with a sprinkle of green onion and/or cheese it made a great fall supper.
About 6 cups vegetable oil or shortening, for frying
1 ½ cups milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
½ teaspoon salt
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting, optional
Heat the oil to 375 degrees in a deep, heavy pan with tall sides (I used a Dutch oven).
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon (if using) and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the egg-milk mixture and whisk until smooth.
Transfer batter to a squeeze bottle or batter dispenser. (If you have the right size funnel and a steady hand, you could pour the batter through the funnel, using your finger to stop and start the flow, but I don't recommend this method.)
Start from the center of the hot oil and, in a swirling motion, pour batter in concentric and overlapping circles to make a 5- to 6-inch funnel cake. (Batter will sink at first, then float. If the swirls start to break away from each other, just squiggle a little more batter to connect them.)
Fry cake on both sides, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove with a skimmer or large slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining batter, letting the oil return to 375 degrees between each cake. (This took about 2 minutes for me.) Serve warm, dusted with confectioners' sugar if desired.
Makes about 8 funnel cakes.