photo by rogerjones

I miss carnival season. I can't resist the fat-laden, sugar-coated treats. I blame it on the music and flashing lights. The food often helps me divert my children away from the "win a goldfish" game, too. "Hey kids. How about some cotton candy?"

Each year brings new treats that I have to try, and there are always the old-time favorites, such as funnel cakes and caramel apples. I'll stand in a long line with the sun beating down just to get my yearly fix. I've discovered I can make these goodies myself, so I don't have to wait an entire year to enjoy them -- or tote around a goldfish in a baggie.

Soft pretzels

1 cup water, fairly warm but not hot
1 tablespoon yeast, dissolved in the water
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt (preferably sea salt)
3-1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking soda mixed with 1 cup hot water
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Mix water/yeast, brown sugar and salt in a food processor or large mixing bowl. Add flour and mix until dough is smooth. Add more flour if sticky. If possible, let the dough sit overnight in a bowl or plastic container in the refrigerator.

Divide the dough into 6 or 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope a little thicker than a pencil. Shape into an upside down U. Bring the ends together, and twist them. Flatten the ends. Press in the dough to secure the shape. Place on a greased cookie sheet.

Now let the pretzels raise for 45 minutes or until about double in size. Dip in the water-soda solution. Brush with beaten egg and water solution. Sprinkle with coarse salt, sesame seeds, and/or Parmesan cheese or cinnamon sugar.
Bake in hot oven 450 F for 12 to 15 minutes or until well browned. Brush with melted butter.
Servings: 6 large or 12 small


Caramel Dip

20 individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped
1/4 cup water
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/2 cup brown sugar

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt caramels with water, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, cream together cream cheese and sugar. Fold in caramel mixture. Serve with chopped nuts, whipped cream, apples, graham crackers, pretzels, bananas or vanilla wafers.

Funnel Cake

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
2-1/4 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
vegetable oil, for deep frying
confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Equipment needed to make funnel cakes:
Funnel (funnel should have an opening of at least 1/2 inch and be able to hold about 1 cup of batter)

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the brown sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the milk and vanilla extract and whisk again. Whisk in the dry ingredients until smooth.

In a deep, wide pan, heat frying oil to 375 F. Hold your finger over the bottom of the funnel or use a funnel cake dropper and fill it with the batter. Hold the funnel over the hot oil and remove your finger, then immediately start drizzling the batter into the oil, moving the funnel around to make a criss-cross or scribbly design.

Fry until golden brown on one side, then flip it over to fry the other side. Remove the cake from the oil with a slotted spoon or spatula, and drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle the cakes with confectioners' sugar and cinnamon. Serve immediately.
Servings: 8