Making deep-fried funnel cakes with their namesake kitchen tool -- the funnel -- is acceptable, but it's also messy. A plastic squeeze bottle is a cleaner and safer option. It also allows you better control over the batter as you form the funnel cake in the hot oil.
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- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
- 5 cups vegetable oil, peanut oil or vegetable shortening
- Powdered sugar to garnish
Blend all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.
Whisk together eggs and milk in a second bowl. Add brown sugar to the wet ingredients, mixing thoroughly to break up any lumps. Add vanilla for flavor, if you like.
Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Whisk the batter until you break up all of the lumps that are the size of peppercorns or larger. The batter should have a consistency similar to thick pancake batter. Add 1 teaspoon of flour if the batter is too thin; add 1 tablespoon of milk if the batter is too thick.
Clip a deep-fry or candy thermometer on the side of a heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Heat the vegetable oil, peanut oil or vegetable shortening in the pan to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour the batter into a clean squeeze bottle, then squeeze the batter into the preheated oil in varying patterns of zig-zags and swirls to create an overlapping web of batter. Use about 3/4 cup batter per funnel cake.
Cook the funnel cake until the underside is a rich gold color, or one to three minutes. Flip the funnel cake gently with tongs. Try to clamp onto a sturdy edge of the funnel cake where the batter is no longer wet to avoid getting wet batter on the tongs.
Cook the funnel cake until the reverse side is also golden, another one to two minutes. Remove it from the oil, transferring it to a wire rack to cool. Place paper towels under the cooling rack to catch dripping oil.
Allow the oil to return to 375 F before making the next funnel cake. Adjust the temperature of the burner as needed to maintain that temperature while the funnel cakes cook.
Dust the tops of the funnel cakes with powdered sugar to taste. Serve immediately.
Substitutions, Flavorings and Decorating Tips
Substitute granulated or powdered sugar for brown sugar, if you like, although brown sugar gives funnel cakes a slightly richer caramel flavor. Substitute heavy cream or half and half for milk to make the funnel cakes even more decadent.
Create flavored funnel cakes by adding one or two extra ingredients to the batter. Add 3 tablespoons cocoa powder to make chocolate funnel cakes. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa and 2 teaspoons red food coloring to make red velvet funnel cakes. Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to make cinnamon funnel cakes. Substitute apple cider or apple juice for some or all of the milk to make apple-cinnamon funnel cakes. Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon allspice and 1/2 cup canned pumpkin to make pumpkin funnel cakes.
Vegetable oil has a neutral flavor. Peanut oil has a slightly nutty flavor but yields funnel cakes with the darkest golden coloring. Vegetable shortening has a neutral flavor but yields the crunchiest texture.
Squeezable condiment bottles -- such as ketchup bottles -- work well for piping batter as long as you rinse them thoroughly beforehand. Pastry bags or piping bags -- the kind you use to pipe frosting -- are also suitable. .
Flavor powdered sugar to taste with cocoa powder or ground cinnamon before you garnish the funnel cakes. Or top funnel cakes with whipped cream, maple syrup, diced fruit, candied nuts, shredded coconut, jam or sprinkles.
Exercise caution when handling hot oil. Smother grease fires with a metal lid or use a fire extinguisher. Water causes grease fires to spread. Do not place cooked funnel cakes directly on paper towels. They trap the residual heat and moisture from the funnel cakes, causing them to soften.