Laurie, my elementary school's cafeteria lady, would periodically make funnel cakes and people would go nuts. Like, the kitchen was at one end of the cafeteria and the snack table was at the other end, and there would be a line of kids gathered around her pied-piper-style as she walked the stacks of funnel cake through the cafeteria. I'd never had them before and so I only saw them for what they were (fried dough, powdered sugar, craaazy shape), rather than overpriced and slightly-creepy carnie fare. When I left my school, I thought I was saying goodbye to funnel cakes forever, until I realized that a) Laurie was an adult, with a kitchen, b) that is how she made funnel cakes, c) I'm an "adult" with a kitchen, and d) therefore, I can make funnel cakes. Verdict: shockingly easy, shockingly delicious.
For some reason, I always just assumed that funnel cake was incredibly difficult and laborious to pull off. All that hot oil, getting the dough to form and cook properly--just seemed like a nightmare. But, I found a recipe online (NPR again!) that waxed poetic about funnel-formed cake and described the ease at making an at-home fryer. So, I bought a funnel, made sure I knew how to put out an oil fire, and never looked back.
Whipping up funnel cake is about as hard as making pancakes and as fun as eating them. I used to make them last year for semi-special occasions, but often any time was funnel time. For the fryer: The recipe called for a skillet with at least one inch of oil, which didn't seem deep enough for me. I used a deep pot with several inches of oil, which I then saved to use for future funnel cooking.
FUNNEL CAKE by T. Susan Chang
standard funnel, not too small
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
Vegetable oil for frying
Combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the 2 eggs.
Pour the milk and egg mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly until you have a smooth batter.
Heat to 350 degrees (use a deep-fat thermometer or cubes of bread to test: if the bread turns golden-brown in 30 seconds, the oil is the right temperature).
Fill the funnel with batter, holding your thumb over the opening.
Drizzle the batter out in a spiral, starting from the center of the pan.
Hold the funnel as close to the pan as you can to minimize splatters.
Let the cake cook until golden brown (about 45 seconds to a minute), then flip to the other side with tongs and brown the other side.
Drain on paper towels.
Sift confectioners' sugar over the cake and serve hot — it's best to serve them one at a time as you make them.