Make This Funnel Cake to Satisfy Your End-of-Summer Nostalgia

Baker Amanda Mack shares her recipe for everyone’s favorite state fair treat.

Photo: Kris Williams; Image: Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

Nothing says summer quite like a funnel cake, still warm and sitting on a grease-spotted paper plate, sprinkled with way too much powdered sugar. You probably bought it at a boardwalk or state fair, after falling victim to the pervasive smell of fried dough in the air.

For Amanda Mack, owner of Baltimore bakery Crust by Mack, it’s this intersection of food and memory that drives her business. “Lots of things I create are very nostalgic,” she says. “They are recipes that I’ve either recreated from my childhood, or things that make me feel closer to home.” So when the arts and culture festival AFRAM asked her to develop a funnel cake—the dessert that has always reminded her of summers in Baltimore—she was delighted.

Mack, a “grandma-trained” pastry chef, set up shop at Whitehall Mill Market just last summer, after a two-year run as a pop-up. In addition to concocting unforgettable baked goods, like her signature Old Bay chocolate chip cookies and shrimp crusts, Mack serves her community through social justice efforts, raising funds for other minority-owned businesses and actively supporting the Maryland Food Bank to assist food insecure families.

“I always knew that, in whatever capacity I served the people, that I would intentionally serve them beyond food,” Mack says. This philosophy also manifests itself in the way she hopes to nourish her customers from the inside out.

Mack recalls a time when a woman came into the shop to experience the best-selling carrot cake she had heard so much about. It had been 15 years since the woman had carrot cake—that is, ever since her grandfather passed away. When she got back to her car to eat the cake and bask in the moment, there were immediate tears; it tasted just like the carrot cake her grandfather used to make.

“The fact that people are able to come in and share those stories with me shows that what I’m doing, and the heart and soul that I’m putting into it, can actually be tasted, felt, and experienced,” Mack says.

And this is exactly what Mack hopes to achieve again with her funnel cake—to share with customers a moment in time that was once very special to her. “AFRAM always felt like a family reunion of sorts, or a big cookout with all my friends and family, even though I didn’t know any of the people there,” Mack explains. “It’s where I had funnel cake for the first time. You might think it’s very basic...just flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt...powdered sugar dusted on top...quickly deep fried until golden brown...but it’s something that always takes me back to a certain place when I have it.”

Although funnel cake is usually enjoyed at such special events, it’s pretty easy to make at home—the perfect way to toast the last days of summer.

It’s important to get your hands on a vessel that has a nozzle or spout, which will give you maximum control when pouring the dough into the pan. “This will make it feel more like a funnel cake and less like a lumpy pancake,” Mack says.

And when it comes to toppings, Mack believes texture is key. “I'm very much into chocolate, almonds, dried fruit, caramel, nuts—anything that contributes flavor without weighing the funnel cake down and making it soggy.”

As for ingredients, Mack’s secret weapon is the vanilla bean paste. “If your local market has vanilla bean paste, spend the extra $3 and get it, because you can really taste the difference in quality.” But if you can’t seem to find it, vanilla extract will work just fine.

“Just don’t skimp on the refrigeration,” Mack advises. “It gives the dough a chance to rest and for the gluten to form so that you get those nice puffy bubbles in-between. That’s my favorite part. You have the crispy part, and then you hit a nice fluffy part covered in powdered sugar.”

Crust By Mack Funnel Cake Recipe

Yield: 3 large cakes or 6 mini cakes

Ingredients:
• 2 eggs lightly beaten
• 1½ cups buttermilk milk
• ¼ cup packed brown sugar
• 2 cups cake flour or White Lilly All Purpose
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1tsp vanilla bean paste with seeds
• ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
• vegetable oil for frying
• powdered sugar for dusting

Directions

1. In a deep-fryer, or medium skillet, heat about 6-8 cups of oil to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
2. In a large bowl, beat together buttermilk milk, eggs and vanilla. Whisk together flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Stir into the egg mixture until smooth and no lumps appear. Allow mixture to chill for 15 minutes before pouring it into a squeeze bottle or liquid measuring cup with spout. (Pro Tip: Use a squeeze bottle for maximum control.)
3. Once batter is in your desired container begin pouring batter into the pan, starting in the center, swirling to make a 6 inch round. Once floating and lightly browned, flip to evenly cook and then remove from grease and drain on paper towels. Then plate and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar! Enjoy immediately. (Pro Tip: Funnel cake should cook for a total of 2 minutes or until golden brown. Longer cook times yield a crunchier cake, which isn’t bad if you plan on using saucier ingredients like strawberries or pineapples.)

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Food & Drink team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram