Fair's Fare

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There are three categories of people at the local state fair. Little kids are brimming with excitement, running from ride to ride, measuring themselves against the yardstick hoping to be tall enough, stuffing themselves with funnel cakes and cotton candy. The adolescents and teens are stuck in the middle: too cool for the rides, showing off their skill at the carny's rigged games, and making silent eyes at the opposite sex.

Then there's us. The moms, dads and grandparents are taking it all in, maintaining radar on all the kids' whereabouts, watching our dollars disappear, and indulging the kids with fair food.

My daughter bought an elephant ear. Ostensibly it was for her daughter Lily. She picked at it and said "disgusting." So did I. We continued to pick at it and talk about how disgusting it was until there was nothing but a morsel for young Lily.

Or was it not an elephant ear, but really a funnel cake? Who among us fair goers can tell the difference? Both appear to be discs of dough, dropped in bubbling fat, then slid onto a paper plate before le piece de resistance is finished with sucre en poudre. But there are subtle, but important differences between these delectable treats.

The short answer is that an elephant ear is fried, yeasted bread dough, formed into the shape and size of the ears-cum-wings of Dumbo the Flying Elephant. In marked contrast, a funnel cake is fried cake batter.

"Excuse me, sir! How would you like to shoot this basketball into the neck of a milk bottle and win a three-foot-high stuffed Minion?" I shot the carny a look, annoyed at the interruption. "Because obtaining a three-foot-high Minion is not 'winning,'" I replied, and went back to analyzing the intricacies of fried dough with my daughter.

Fried dough is known by various regional names. In Canada they are called beaver tails, stretched into a paddle shape to make them instantly distinguishable from elephant ears. They are then finished with various delectable toppings, such as the aforementioned powdered sugar, cinnamon, fruit, whipped cream, or even chocolate. There are also other cultural versions, such as Native American frybread, Italian zeppole, and my favorite, Greek loukamades or rounded fritters, served with honey and cinnamon.

Funnel cake recipes add egg, sugar and milk. They are so named because they are poured from a funnel directly into the hot fat, in a circular pattern that gives them their characteristic shape. Surprisingly, they are only 276 calories, with less than half of those from fat. Of course that is for a six-inch cake without toppings, which is the version made by Keebler elves. Once quadrupled in size, and finished with sweet, globby accoutrements, a funnel cake has enough nutritional value to keep a small army of grandchildren energized throughout the duration of the county fair, or at least until they clamor for a bag of pink or blue cotton candy larger than their heads.

The sweet things, they're so cute when they go to sleep at 2 a.m.

Momma's Fair Funnel Cake (food.com)

3 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

2 cups milk

3 2/3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

vegetable oil, for frying

1. Beat eggs and sugar together and then add the milk slowly--beat. Add the dry ingredients and beat until smooth and creamy.

2. Pour batter into a funnel and at the same time, use your finger to plug the hole. In a large cast iron pot, add 2 inches of oil to the bottom.

3. When the oil becomes hot, move your hand over the pot and slowly release your finger so the batter can start cooking.

4. Move the funnel around to make designs.

5. Brown on both sides--then immediately remove and drain extremely well.

6. Top with brown sugar, or honey, or cinnamon sugar, or powdered sugar as a topping.

The seventh direction is my favorite. It shows that only a classically trained chef can handle this intricate funnel cake recipe: "7. BE CAREFUL AND DO NOT GET BURNED!"

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. He can be reached at nroumel@yahoo.com. His blog is http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

Published: Mon, Sep 21, 2015

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