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By JANET K. KEELER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 13, 2002

A weekly serving of food news and views

explanations from the inside out

funnel cakes vs. elephant ears

funnel cake

elephant ear

The Florida State Fair, which continues in Tampa through Monday, is your best bet right now to sample this traditional fair food. We photographed these, then gobbled them up on opening day last week.

The funnel cake, a deep-fried fritter of sorts, is a product of the Pennsylvania Dutch, who called it drechter kuche.

The name funnel comes from the technique used to make the cakes -- the batter is poured through a funnel into hot oil.

Funnel cake batter, which is similar in consistency to pancake batter, is poured into the oil in a circular pattern and then fried until golden brown. When the lacy cake, about 8 inches around, cools just slightly, it is adorned with a variety of toppings, the most popular being powdered sugar or fruit toppings such as apple or strawberry.

How is a funnel cake different from an elephant ear, another deep-fried fair staple? The elephant ear is fried, flattened dough inspired by the fry bread of the American Indians of the West and named for their big ear shape. Navajo fry bread is served sweet, with powdered sugar or honey, or savory, with chili con carne or cheese on top.

Since funnel cakes and elephant ears are so popular at fairs and flea markets, why don't we see them for sale at mall food courts? Because both must be eaten soon after they are made. They don't hold up well sitting under warming lights. Pretzels made the transition from pushcart to mall better. At most fairs, they are made to order.

this web site cooks

Put on your shades when logging on to this site. The bright pink, purple, red and orange assault on the home page is enough to make you dizzy. However, the solid baking information makes the temporary shock worth it. From quick breads to cakes to pies, you'll find tips and recipes to turn out fabulous baked goods. Check out the 10 most asked baking questions, and you're likely to find an answer to something you've been wondering about.

eating out

Food critic Chris Sherman dines at Mattison's in downtown St. Petersburg. Read his review in Weekend on Thursday.

constant comment

"I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them." -- Nora Ephron, Heartburn

cooking class

If you have trouble getting a clean slice of cake, do like the pros: Put a sharp or serrated knife in hot water before slicing, and take the time to thoroughly wipe off the blade between each cut. (Tap the knife on the edge of the container of water to make sure it isn't dripping wet.)

crockpot cleanup

It's a great time to pull out the slow cooker and make a hearty stew, only there's the problem of cleanup. A New York company has the answer: disposable plastic crockpot liners. Simply follow your recipe as usual, serve your meal and throw the bag away. A pack of 20 costs $7.99. Available at

a kitchen classic

photoReynolds Cut-Rite Wax Paper debuted in stores in 1927, the same year Charles Lindbergh made his successful transatlantic flight to Paris. Now, 75 years later, Reynolds says one out of every two American homes has a roll of wax paper in the kitchen. What's the most creative way you've used wax paper? Your innovative idea could be worth $7,500 in Reynold's Kitchen Classic Contest. For entry details, log on to or call toll-free 1-800-745-4000. Deadline is Dec. 30.

more sweets

Growing restaurant dessert sales are sweetening career opportunities for pastry chefs. As a result, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., plans to double the size of its baking and pastry programs, increasing the number of students from about 160 to 320 a year.

is it done yet?

An epic question cooks of all levels continually ask is, "When is it done?"

That's the observation of Rick Smilow, president of the Institute of Culinary Education, who says he talks to chef-instructors every day at the institute, formerly known as Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. Here are some tips from the institute's instructors:


  • A clam or mussel is done when the shell opens.
  • Custard is done when only a nickel-size area is still "jiggly" in the center.
  • Braised short ribs are done when they begin to "fall off" the bone.
  • Sponge cake is done when it just starts to pull away from the sides of the pan.
  • Tomato sauce is done when the white foam disappears completely and the oil rises to the top.
  • Dinner is done when the wine is finished.

-- Compiled by Janet K. Keeler, from staff and wire reports

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