By April Lisante
Summer is drawing to a close and if you didn’t make it to the boardwalk this year, you may be seriously craving some of the treats that make it so wonderful.
For some reason, we suspend all reality - and calorie - when we see the foods the boardwalk serves up. Deep fried, rolled in sugar, it doesn’t matter. The fact that we are consuming them while wearing bathing suits also doesn’t seem to matter one bit.
While the beachside pizza, cheesesteaks and hotdogs deserve some serious respect, it is the dessert selection that keeps me coming back for more.
More specifically the monkey bread, the funnel cakes and yes, the Butterbeer. The lure of these boardwalk desserts is twofold. Often, they are foods we would never normally eat on a daily basis, were it not for vacation. Also, they are foods we typically don’t make at home.
But I want to have these treats at home, now. So I delved into the origins and makings of these boardwalk favorites this week, to find out where they originated and how we can get some without heading to the beach.
Monkey bread is hard to find at bakeries around here. It originated in the 1950’s in California, especially among housewives who added it to their baking repertoire. It wasn’t until the New York Times wrote about it in the 1970s, and then California native and First Lady Nancy Reagan added it to the White House Christmas dessert menu in the 1980s, that it gained traction nationwide.
Often called bubble bread or pull-apart bread, it is basically a sweet dough rolled in granulated sugar and cinnamon, then stacked up and smothered with butter and more sugar and cinnamon before baking. Locals I spoke with who do make it at home swear by Pillsbury biscuit dough as their base.
One of the few local places to crank out fresh monkey bread is The Spring Mill Bread Co. in Wayne. For the past ten years, they’ve been making make a circular version using a white dough and cinnamon chips, topped with cinnamon. Of all the bakery’s offerings, it’s the best seller, according to owner Ed Kerpius.
“It’s sort of like a comfort food,” said Kerpius. “It’s our best-selling bread.”
Kerpius takes orders at www.springmillbreadwayne.com. For those who want to try it at home, the best recipe I’ve found – and used - comes directly from Pillsbury at Pillsbury.com. It throws walnuts in the mix, a nice twist.
Funnel cakes have been a childhood favorite linked to just about every fair, carnival and boardwalk around. Though it was originally called Drechderkuche, a Pennsylvania Dutch Country recipe first seen in the late nineteenth century, it quickly became known as a funnel cake, because the batter is swirled through a funnel and into the hot oil. Its quick preparation and the fact that it tastes best served right away made it perfect for outdoor carts, trucks and tents.
The secret to any funnel cake is not only the batter, but the oil. While peanut oil is ideal for frying, many now use canola oil to avoid allergy interactions.
Funnel cakes are also hard to find outside of a boardwalk or carnival, but one local woman, Darnella Robinson of North Wales, loves them so much, she left a career in finance two years ago to open her dream business, and says that with funnel cakes she is “amplifying love through a tasty treat.”
She calls her travelling funnel cake company Funellas Funnel Cakes, (www.funellasfunnelcakes.com) and she makes not only the traditional dough, but flavors her funnel cakes with chocolate, red velvet or pumpkin. Her basic batter includes a secret combination of wheat flour, nonfat milk, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla. And though powdered sugar is the traditional topping, she’s been known to throw some fruit or some saucy drizzles atop hers.
“I think everyone loves funnel cakes because it is a cake and you are getting it fresh every time,” Robinson said. “Ours is really light and cake-ish. That’s what people like.”
Robinson used to eat them when she was a child, then she made them for her own kids. Now, she travels to various events and festivals across Philadelphia and Montgomery County with her trademark tent, serving up the cakes.
Her secret is a good quality canola oil, and the perfect amount of fry time.
“You don’t leave it in long, just a couple minutes on each side,” she said.
One of the other boardwalk favorites that is also an elusive, yet tasty find is Harry Potter’s Butterbeer. Though Chestnut Hill typically has its share when the Witches and Wizards Festival arrives each October, it is hard to find Butterbeer the rest of the year.
It took a couple of years for chefs to develop a Butterbeer for the Wizardry World of Harry Potter down in Orlando, Fl. at the Universal Orlando Resort. That’s mainly because the literary creation was in the mind of author J.K. Rowling and had to be recreated according to some of her specifications. She wanted a non-alcoholic drink with no corn syrup or dairy. What chefs came up with is still a mysterious concoction with ingredients no one can identify for sure. What is known is that it tastes like shortbread and butterscotch, and maybe cream soda, but also a little bit like marshmallow.
Online recipes call for cream soda, butterscotch syrup, and a topping of whipped cream. I made a version at home that tastes pretty authentic with store-bought ingredients. But I also discovered Yuengling’s Butterbeer Ice Cream, so that makes it not only easier, but also lets you squeeze in ice cream, another boardwalk favorite, at the same time. The ice cream is made here in Pennsylvania and you can order it at www.yuenglingiceream.com.