It’s possible you did, but unlikely you had as much fun as those who treated themselves to a giant plate of winding, puffy, crispy fried dough topped with a polar vortex–style blizzard of powdered sugar.
Jessica Kartawich knows a thing or two about delicious, doughy treats. She is one of the owners and founders of Leviathan Bakehouse, the new downtown spot that has so many gorgeous pastries to choose from that scrolling through its Instagram feed feels like a virtual visit to an art museum. But even this creator of high-end baked goods has a soft spot for the humble funnel cake. “Funnel cake was always my dad’s favorite fair food,” says Kartawich. “And like father, like daughter. It’s the one fair food I always feel compelled to get.”
People have been eating fried dough since medieval times, but the modern funnel cake is attributed to the Pennsylvania Dutch of the mid-20th century, when German immigrants ate them for breakfast. Historians generally agree that funnel cakes made their first public appearance at the Kutztown Folk Festival in 1950, with a recipe by Emma Miller. Today, with optional toppings like Nutella, ice cream, or pie filling, funnel cakes are a modern symbol of the decadence and fun to be found at state fair food stands.
Funnel cakes get their name from the method used to make them, which typically includes putting the batter into a funnel, then pouring it into hot oil in small, quick circles. The batter itself is very similar to a pancake mixture, so expect it to be runny. Too thick, and it won’t pour quickly enough to give you those familiar squiggles.
Before you get started, it’s time for some straight talk. Yes, you will find recipes online that say you don’t need a funnel. They’ll say you can pour it slowly from a measuring cup, or use a squeeze bottle. And, technically, that is true. But we don’t recommend it, especially if you’re not skilled at frying dough in oil. The best way to get the shape, consistency, and density you see at fairs and festivals is to use a funnel with a half-inch opening.
Some quick advice about shape and form—be cool. It’s not supposed to look like anything in particular. It’s narrow lines of dough circling and crisscrossing each other. Move your hands around in a circle, let the dough flow smoothly, and pull it out of the oil before it burns. If you do all that, you’ll have yourself a delicious funnel cake. Congratulate yourself on a job well done, and don’t forget to wipe the powdered sugar off your chin before your next Zoom meeting.
Read through the entire recipe before you get started, including the notes at the end. And we’d love to see your funnel cake creations. Post your pictures on social media and tag us at @IndyMonthly or use #INStateFairAtHome.
Funnel Cake with Lemon Glaze and Powdered Sugar
Makes four to five large or 10 fun-sized funnel cakes
(For best results, all ingredients should be room temperature.)
- 1 quart vegetable or canola oil for frying
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 lemons
- 1 to 2 cups powdered sugar for glaze, plus more for dusting
To make the funnel cakes:
- Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl and whisk until evenly incorporated. Set aside.
- Combine milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract in large bowl and whisk until smooth.
- Pour flour mixture into the bowl with the milk and egg mixture. Stir until smooth.
- Fill a large pot or deep skillet with approximately ¾-inch of vegetable oil. Heat to 350 degrees (monitor with thermometer, if possible).
- Hold a funnel with a half-inch opening in one hand. Plug the hole at the bottom of the funnel with one of your fingers. Pour 1/4 cup batter into the funnel. (Alternatively, use a squeeze bottle with a 1/2-inch opening.)
- Hold the funnel above the pot or skillet of oil in the center. Remove your finger from the bottom of the funnel, and let the batter fall into the oil, moving the funnel in quick circular motions. Leave the batter alone until it turns a golden color on the bottom (60-90 seconds, depending on the size of the funnel cake). Carefully flip with a wide spatula or tongs, and brown on the other side.
- Remove from oil and set on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
- Repeat with the rest of the batter, 1/4 cup at a time.
To make the lemon glaze:
- Zest half of one lemon into a medium bowl.
- Juice both lemons into that same bowl, straining any seeds.
- Whisk powdered sugar into the lemon juice and zest, adjusting quantity of powdered sugar based on your preference for thickness of the glaze.
To assemble the funnel cakes:
- Put funnel cakes onto a plate (individual plates or on a large platter).
- Drizzle lemon glaze over cakes.
- Sprinkle desired amount of powdered sugar on top.
- Cook one funnel cake at a time in the oil.
- While you can use tongs or a spatula to flip the funnel cakes, we found a wide spatula to be the easiest way to do it. The funnel cakes aren’t as sturdy as their elephant ear brethren, and using tongs often resulted in tearing the dough.
- Check the temperature of the oil between each funnel cake. If it’s below 350 degrees when you add the dough, the funnel cake may be soggy and oily.