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The Sweet, Crispy State Fair Treat That Gives Apple Peels a New Life

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Phoebe Lawless had been thinking about apple funnel cake for almost eight years. The idea, she tells me, began to bloom after opening her seasonal bakery Scratch in Durham, North Carolina. Fall meant apples, which meant apple pie, which meant apple prep, which meant apple peels. Lots and lots of apple peels.

“It felt ridiculous to compost them all,” she says. “But we never had a fryer.” There’s just not enough space. I would know—I’ve been baking at Scratch for two and a half years.

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The bakery started as a cup-of-coffee-and-slice-of-pie kind of spot. But one thing led to another and now there are duck egg sandwiches with bacon jam and sweet potato mayo, cheesy grits bowls with bok choy kimchi and pickled daikon, but no funnel cake. Phoebe tried an oven-baked version years ago, but it wasn’t working—one of those, "It’s not you, it’s my kitchen" standstills. The concept wasn’t right for Scratch—but it was for her new restaurant, The Lakewood, which opened in Durham a few months ago. Just in time for apple season—and the state fair. That week in October, a funnel cake craving descends upon all North Carolinians. So that’s when Phoebe rolled out the recipe.

Here’s how it works. Like Scratch, The Lakewood uses a cast-iron peeler/corer/slicer to prep apples. This tool essentially spiralizes the skins into long, thin ribbons. These are stockpiled in the walk-in (a room-sized fridge!). Come service, they’re dunked in a barely-sweet apple cider batter, then fried to order.

While classic funnel cake uses, well, a funnel to extrude the dough, the apple peels skip that step and create the shape for you. Their curly, swirly pattern becomes the cake’s skeleton—and not-so-secret ingredient. Imagine if an apple fritter and funnel cake rode on a Ferris wheel together, held hands, and fell in love.

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What’s more—you don’t actually need a fryer to make the recipe. On a large scale, sure. But at home, all you need is a small skillet. The Lakewood serves the cakes topped with sesame caramel ice cream. I make mine just like my annual order at the state fair: no extra fixings, just extra powdered sugar.

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Apple Peel Funnel Cake

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Makes 4 funnel cakes
  • Peels from 8 apples (see note above)
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
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Tags: funnel cake, apples, state fair