When experts analyze summertime transportation patterns in Western New York, do they factor in the power of the funnel cake?
Not everybody heads to the fair to throw baseballs at milk bottles and watch bears being carved with chainsaws. Plenty of people come just for the eats they can't get anywhere else -- like corn dogs, deep-fried Oreos, and of course, funnel cakes.
The classic midway treat, where batter drizzled into a fryer coalesces into a crunchy-tender platter, lures eaters into their cars. Before they know it, they and their families are sticky with sugar, fighting off a carbohydrate coma, and quite a bit lighter in the wallet.
Now, imagine the food without the festival: a backyard party with corn dogs cooked precisely to your preferred shade of brown, funnel cakes fashioned while you wait, and a playful assortment of cookies and candy favorites to turn into deep-fried snacks.
There are downsides to having a festival food party at home, to be sure. Your cardiologist might get snarky. Plus, you will be deprived of seeing people with interesting tattoos and jewelry sticking out from surprising locations.
The upsides? Easy parking. Substantial savings. No lines for the bathrooms, and plenty of places to wash your hands. Not to mention complete control of your ingredients, portion size and time from fryer to plate.
Making festival food is not hard. Whisk together two batters -- one for the funnel cakes and fried treats, the other for corn dogs. Cut up fruit for the funnel cakes, or open a can of pie filling for the real festival gloppiness. Skewer a few hot dogs.
The frying is the only part that would give some cooks pause. It can be dangerous and smelly, and you have to dispose of the used oil. But if you don't hurry, strictly observe common-sense safety precautions, and use long-handled tongs, you can do it.
Consider your cooking vessel. A heavy-bottomed pot on a stovetop works fine, but it's not my preference. Sarah Rae Trover of thekitchn.com, whose simple and tasty funnel cake recipe I used, wrote that she employed an electric fryer to make hers outside on her deck. That way, the smell of frying didn't permeate her house.
That's how I spent a pleasant afternoon in backyard shade, watching funnel cakes crisp up in the bubbling oil while adults chatted and kids played a safe distance away, waiting for the next treat.
Wherever you fry, you're going to need lots of hot oil, and a frying or candy thermometer to monitor its temperature. Add fryables, and the oil's temperature drops before it recovers and climbs back to 350 to 375 degrees.
You'd like to minimize that drop, because foods fried at too low a heat tend to soak up oil and become excessively greasy. So don't try to fry too much at once. Too high a heat will burn the exterior before it's done all the way through.
The corn dogs went on skewers long enough to require a half-gallon of oil before I could submerge them properly. If I was worried about how much oil I used, I had choices. I could have cut down the sticks to make sure they fit sideways in the fryer, fried stickless corn dogs, or used little cocktail weenies and let people skewer the finished dogs themselves, if only for dipping.
Funnel cakes have no shortage of fans, but there is something about offering people their choice of cookies and candy to deep-fry that captures their imagination. Oreos are classic, but what about Nutter Butters? Mars bars are fried classics in the UK, but what about Baby Ruths or Twix?
The choices are yours. Just make sure you freeze the cookies and candy solid first, with a few hours in the back of the icebox. If you don't get a full coating of batter, some of the chocolate or filling will want to escape into the oil, diminishing its glory.
Once the party is over and the oil has cooled, you can use the batter funnel to pour it back into the empty oil bottle for disposal. Then take the bottle and carry it around the block a few times, just enough to raise your heart rate. Moderation is everything in life.
>Saveur's Corn Dogs
1 cup flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
8 hot dogs
8 wooden skewers
Sift together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and mustard into a bowl. Whisk together egg, milk and 2 teaspoons oil in another bowl. Add milk mixture to flour mixture, beating with a wooden spoon until batter is smooth.
Dry hot dogs with paper towels, then skewer them with wooden skewers. Try one out in your intended frying pot to judge how much oil you may need for hot dog coverage.
Pour oil into a large, heavy pot to a depth of 3 inches, or as much as you need for hot dog coverage.
Heat oil over medium heat to 350 degrees. Dip hot dogs into batter until evenly coated.
Gently place battered hot dogs in hot oil and fry, turning once or twice, until crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve with mustard and ketchup if you like. Makes 8.
>Sarah Rae Trover's Funnel Cakes
4 large eggs
2 2/3 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
5 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar for dusting
Heat oil in an electric deep fryer or cast iron pan to 375 degrees. You will need at least an inch and a half of oil.
Whisk egg and milk together. Whisk in other ingredients until batter is smooth.
(Fry Tip: Trover recommends that when frying more than 4 funnel cakes, or making the batter up to an hour in advance, increase the amount of baking powder by 1 teaspoon to help give it lift during its long wait before frying.)
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (or ziptop bag with a corner snipped off) and squeeze batter in a random, yet overlapping pattern. (It's all mainly a haphazard process, but crossing the batter back over itself will help it stick together when it's time to flip.)
Once it's floating and golden brown (usually 60 seconds in), flip using tongs, allowing the other side to cook. Continue cooking until desired color is achieved, then remove and set on a paper towel lined plate or rack.
Apply powdered sugar liberally to the top, add fruit toppings if desired and enjoy.
Yield: 4 or more 12-inch cakes.