Summer Fair Food: 7 Ways to Fry, Bake, or Pop Your Own Favorites

Fair season is on its way, and vendors are getting their deep fryers ready. Some patrons visit fairgrounds just for the fatty food alone, but what they don’t realize is that they can make the same kind of fare right from the comfort of their own homes — sans the saturated fat. There’s a time and a place for everything, and certain things should be enjoyed in all of their glory (hello, deep-fried Oreos), but other fair foods can be turned healthier and made into a regular meal, rather than an indulgent one. We’re rounding up those options today.

Between homemade funnel cakes, caramel apples, corn dogs, and other fan favorites, we think your mouth will be watering by the end of this list. Fortunately for you, you won’t even have to wait until fair season to satisfy your reactivated fried food craving. You can preheat your oven now and start baking and cooking away.

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1. Baked Funnel Cakes

Perhaps the most sought-after food option at summer fairs is the famous funnel cake. Deep-fried dough heavily dusted with powdered sugar — what’s not to love? Funnel cakes are perfection but can only be eaten so many times before the fat starts to get to you in more ways than one. Luckily, unlike fried funnel cakes, you can enjoy baked funnel cakes all year round with this recipe from Recipe.comBy baking the dough instead of frying it, the funnel cake holds on to its traditional flavor while compromising some calories, and it doesn’t result in a stomachache or a night of fried food-induced cramps. This recipe proves you can have your funnel cake and eat it, too.

Ingredients:

  • nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a very large baking sheet with cooking spray; place a wire rack over waxed paper or a large tray. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, and salt. Bring to boiling. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Cool for 10 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition.

Spoon dough into a large resealable plastic bag. Using scissors, snip a 1/4- to 1/2-inch hole in one corner of the bag. Pipe dough into twelve 3- to 4-inch circles on prepared baking sheet. Fill in the circles with dough swirls and crisscrosses to resemble funnel cakes. Bake about 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Transfer to the wire rack. Sift powdered sugar over warm cakes. Serve warm. Makes 12 mini funnel cakes.

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2. Kettle Corn

Those in the mood for a lighter option at the fair often go for kettle corn, and the good news is that you can make the sweetened popcorn at home. Everyone knows they can buy the sweet but salty fare at the grocery store, but you can easily make it, too, and that’s where this recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod comes in. Requiring just four ingredients, you’ll be popping your kettle corn in no time, and you and your friends and family will forget all about the overpriced offerings you typically pop into your mouth at the fair.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions: In a popcorn popper or in a large pot with a lid, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels. When the coconut oil sizzles, sprinkle the sugar over the popcorn kernels. Cover and stir or shake the pan until the popping slows down. The popcorn should be done popping in about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the kettle corn into a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and toss. Enjoy. Note: The kettle corn will keep for 2-3 days. Store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.

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3. Homemade Corn Dogs

Moving on to some savory fare, we come to homemade corn dogs from A Cozy Kitchen. Some can’t visit the fair without getting their hands on the breaded hot dog goodness, but others would rather steer clear of what the vendors are adding to their dogs. With this recipe, you know exactly what you’re sticking (no pun intended) into your mouth.  You don’t need a deep fryer to perfect your homemade corn dogs — you can simply use a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet. Now, you can whip these up as a summer or weekend treat.

Directions:

  • 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 4 hot dogs or veggie dogs
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch (for dredging)
  • 4 skewers (cut to a 6-inch length)

Directions: Grab a pair of tongs and line a baking sheet with paper towels (for the corn dogs after frying). Pour your oil in a cast-iron skillet, Dutch oven, or deep fryer. Heat over medium-high heat until your thermometer reads 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, yellow corn meal, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cayenne. In a large bowl, whisk the one egg and whole milk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients all at once, mixing until just combined. The mixture will look a lot like pancake mix. Don’t over-mix, and let it rest for 10 minutes.

While your batter is resting, lay your cornstarch on a baking sheet or big plate. Place each hot dog on a skewer and roll in the cornstarch, being sure to pat off any excess. Then quickly dip the hot dog in and out of the batter. Immediately place the corn dog in the hot oil. Be careful! The oil will be hot and may splash back at you. Cook until the coating is golden brown, 4-5 minutes. Remove with tongs and place on paper towels for draining. Serve with ketchup and mustard.

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4. Cinnamon Churros

Churros are the one food that should not be enjoyed just once a year, and thankfully, this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens allows them to be a weekly treat. Why go to the fair when you can make churros at home? Grab your ingredients and get to work — you’re likely to already have everything you need in your pantry, and now all you need to do is get ready for a little homemade deep frying. Remember, we said these recipes were healthier, not healthy. It’s all relative when it comes to fair food!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • vegetable oil, for deep-fat frying
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions: In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, brown sugar, and salt. Bring to boiling over medium heat. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat. Cool for 10 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beating well with a wooden spoon. Transfer mixture to a decorating bag fitted with a large star tip. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Pipe 4-by-1-inch logs onto prepared baking sheet.

Heat 3 inches of oil in a deep saucepan to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry a few logs at a time in deep hot oil about 2 minutes or until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven while cooking remaining churros. In a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon. Roll warm churros in cinnamon-sugar mixture to coat. Serve warm. Makes about 20 churros.

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5. Candied Almonds

Nuts are healthy, right? These candied almonds from She Wears Many Hats aren’t half bad, and at least you’re getting in some of your fiber and protein requirements for the day. Everyone can identify the smell of sugared almonds, and now you can make that fragrance fill your entire home. This recipe will take you no more than 20 minutes, and you’ll have your dessert nuts ready in no time.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 12 ounces shelled almonds
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or baking liner. In a skillet, warm honey, cinnamon, and ginger over low heat, stirring until combined. Add almonds and stir to coat. Remove from heat. Sprinkle in brown sugar and salt, and combine. Spread coated almonds on lined baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes. Slightly adjust cook time to toasted/roasted preference.

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6. Caramel Apples

Would you like some fruit with those nuts? If so, make this recipe for caramel apples from Chow. Those vendors at the fair have nothing on you. Surprisingly, caramel apples are as easy as they come — they require only a handful of ingredients that make up the homemade caramel. Surprise your family members or dinner guests with this sweet yet nutritious treat and never spend money on $5 caramel apples again.

Ingredients:

  • 8 large apples
  • 8 chopsticks or craft sticks
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 stick)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Directions: Wash the apples under hot water to get off any wax coating, then dry thoroughly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside. Set the apples stem side up and push the sticks down into the apple cores; set aside. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a bowl halfway with ice and water. Combine the remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the mixture registers 250 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes. Immediately dip the bottom of the saucepan in the ice water bath and let it chill until the bubbles have subsided, about 1 minute. Stir until stiff caramel from the bottom is incorporated into the warm caramel on top. Remove from the water bath.

Dip the apples one at a time into the caramel, rotating once to coat 3/4 of the way up the sides. Lift the apple straight up from the caramel, letting the excess drip back into the pot until the drips have slowed, about 10 to 15 seconds. Flip the apple so the stem is facing downward and let the caramel set, about 10 to 15 seconds more. Place on the prepared baking sheet, stem side up, and repeat with the remaining apples. Refrigerate the apples until set, at least 10 minutes. The apples can be made and stored in the refrigerator up to one day in advance.

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 7. Traditional Apple Pie

You can’t have a state fair without either a pie-eating contest or a pie-tasting contest, so here’s one last recipe for a classic apple pie from the Food Network. You don’t need to be entered into a contest to enjoy the good stuff — you can have it all to yourself at home. Perfect this recipe before you share it with guests (or contest judges), and thank us later.

Ingredients:

For piecrust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 6 tablespoons cold water plus 5 tablespoons cold water, as needed

Filling

  • 6 Jonagold apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 egg
  • salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. To prepare the piecrust, combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening with your fingers or a pastry cutter until the pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons water over the flour, and gently toss with a fork. Push the flour to the sides of the bowl, add the remaining cold water, and mix until all is moistened and combined. Divide the dough in half, forming each half into balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the apples with lemon juice. Combine the sugar, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the apples and toss until completely coated. Set mixture aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball into a 12-inch circle and place into a 9-inch pie plate.Transfer the apple mixture into the pastry-lined pie plate. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the apple mixture. For the top crust, roll out remaining dough, place on top, and seal and flute the edge. Cut slits on top crust to allow steam to escape.

To make the egg wash, crack egg in a small bowl, add a pinch of salt, whisk, and brush on top of the pie. Cover pie with foil to prevent over browning, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 25 minutes until crust is golden and apples are tender. Serve warm, with ice cream or just plain.

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