It’s summer, and that means that I’m destined for at least one discussion involving the nuances between summer foods that are seemingly the same… but not. On the East Coast I’m usually caught up in a conversation about shaved ice of some sort. That might be snowballs, sno-cones, or “shaved ice”.
Just to clear this up: both snowballs and sno-cones are shaved ice, though around the east coast some people seem to call sno-cones by the name of “shaved ice” and some people seem to call snowballs by the name of “shaved ice”. But in Baltimore, they’re snowballs. They aren’t hard, they’re in a cup, eaten with a spoon, you can usually get over 50 flavors and they’re best topped with marshmallow (not Fluff, the good kind) or chocolate syrup.
With new friends come new discussions however, especially when that friend is from the Pacific Northwest. Apparently things just aren’t right over here in the Mid-Atlantic… So I found myself discussing fried dough. Specifically funnel cakes and elephant ears. You can see where this is going.
Fried dough can be perceived as many different things and comes with many names, but here in the Mid-Atlantic we eat funnel cake. We eat it at fairs, festivals, outdoor concerts and really anywhere else there’s a large crowd. It comes with powdered sugar and sometimes fruit toppings (like the kind you would find on pancakes). It’s delicious, no problem, right? Wrong.
My friend Sarah from Where My Love Takes Me argues that funnel cakes are just not right. Where are her elephant ears? Why can’t she get them here? Why does she have to go to a fair, and if she goes why will there only be funnel cake? Well it’s simple really. Because we’re in the Mid-Atlantic. We’re not in upstate NY, Michigan, Idaho or Washington. You just can’t get that here. And what’s wrong with a funnel cake?
So what IS wrong with a funnel cake? And what’s the big difference? Well, there’s nothing wrong, but it turns out there is one major difference. Generally the ingredients are similar: flour, salt, milk, sugar, vanilla, eggs, butter, shortening. Every recipe has it’s own variation. But the difference comes in with two ingredients:
Elephant ears are made with yeast.
Once you figure that out, you’re golden, (pun intended).
So what’s it going to be?
Funnel Cakes: (Images and recipe via A Beautiful Mess)
Funnel Cake Batter
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
oil for frying (I used vegetable, but canola oil or shortening is fine too)
Whisk together the first five ingredients. Now stir in the water, eggs and vanilla extract. Pour into a squeeze bottle (can be found at most grocery stores in the baking section).
In a heavy duty pot (I always use my dutch oven when frying) heat a few inches of oil to around 375°F. Oil never stays at the perfect temperature (at least, not for me), so feel free to let it hover a little on the cool side of 375°F. I found that when my oil was too hot, the funnel cakes fell apart while cooking more easily.
Once your oil is hot enough use your squeeze bottle to pour the batter. A few tips: Keep your squeeze bottle close to the oil (but watch out you don’t get spattered with hot oil!). If you hold the bottle farther away from the oil as you pour, the batter is less likely to stick together. Also try to squeeze the batter in circles quickly. You don’t want too much to start cooking before you have pour all the batter for one funnel cake.
Wait 20-30 seconds then use tongs or a slotted spoon to flip the funnel cake. Let it cook another 20 seconds and then remove to plate lined with paper towels (to remove excess oil). Repeat until you have cooked all your batter into cakes! Now you are ready to sprinkle on the powdered sugar and serve immediately while they are still warm. If you’re making a big batch, you can pop them in the oven (at a super low temp) to keep them warm while you cook.
Elephant Ears: (Images and recipe via Stick to Your Hips)
Beaver Tails, a Canadian version of elephant ears… kind of. (Images and recipe via Kitchen Trials)
¼ cup warm water, 110ºF
2½ tsp active dry yeast
¼ tsp sugar
½ cup cup warm milk, 110ºF
3 tbsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1¼ cups flour, divided
vegetable oil for frying (1″ depth in dutch oven)
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup sugar
½ tsp cinnamon, or to taste
Mix the warm water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and let stand until the yeast begins to foam and get creamy layer, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the milk, 3 tbsp sugar, salt, vanilla, eggs, and 3 tbsp vegetable oil until the sugar has dissolved.
Mix in about half of the flour, and knead with the dough hook until it pulls away clean from the sides of the bowl. If it’s too sticky add more flour, a tbsp at a time. Form the dough into a rough ball, place it into an oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Punch down the dough and tear off pieces about the size of a golf ball. Roll out with a rolling pin to about 1/8″ thick.
Heat 1″ of oil in a dutch oven or deep skillet to 375ºF.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, an set aside, along with the melted butter.
Gently lower the dough into the hot oil and fry until golden brown on each side, about 1 minute per side. Remove to paper towel to blot dry, then brush one side with the melted butter and dip buttered side into cinnamon sugar.