The funnel cake is a sweet treat, which was brought over to North America by Dutch immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries.
It’s now most commonly served over there at fairgrounds and carnivals, along with the more familiar hot-dogs and candyfloss.
It consists of deep fried cake batter, with various toppings, and the name alludes to the piping funnel that’s used to make it, rather than the shape, which is a bit like a lattice or bird’s nest.
This is something that Danielle Sullivan, 30, who owns The Funnel Cake Co. and works as a prep chef at The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh but is originally from the port city of Hamilton, Ontario, loved as a child.
“I don't know if you've heard of Canada's Wonderland. It's a big theme park and they're really well known for their funnel cakes”, she says. “I grew up going there and it’s a staple”.
She remembered these treats, which are served, as well as Canadian speciality, poutine, at this huge amusement park, when she was thinking about starting a street food business. After working in hospitality for a few years, she’d decided she wanted out because of the lifestyle, but changed her mind after a stint in Edinburgh’s cheesemonger IJ Mellis. “I just belong in the kitchen, “ she says.
Then she got the job at The Little Chartroom, which suited the hours she wanted to work, and thought about other things she might want to do in the future.
“One day I was helping my friend with his street food business at the Grassmarket,” she says. “And I was like, oh, you know, this would be a cool thing to do. I just started thinking of what I could make and funnel cakes just came to me because I'd never seen them here”.
Sullivan experimented with making her own, and tried her creations out with a few of her willing colleagues at the Leith restaurant. They gave her the thumbs up, and now she’s launched her street food business, which she’ll be operating whenever her day job allows.
“I feel like Scottish people love deep fried food. So I thought it would work quite well here”, she says. “I plan to be at The Pitt and see how those weekends go and if I want to maybe expand and look into doing music festivals next year. Just kind of see where it takes me”.
Her debut appearance was at The Pitt this March, alongside their other regular vendors, who include Rost, The Buffalo Truck and Free the Chilli, and she’s hoping to return there in June.
Before the event, she had already drummed up some interest, thanks in part to the fact that funnel cakes are aesthetically pleasing. Sullivan has set up an Instagram account that features her tempting-looking creations against red and white checked backgrounds, as a reference to the US and Canadian carnival takeaway food packaging. Her dog, Nymeria, who is named after a Game of Thrones direwolf, also makes an appearance in these pictures, as the new brand’s mascot.
At Sullivan’s first street food market, with the help of her partner, she managed to sell around 300 funnel cakes, which are the perfect fast food as they take around three minutes to complete from start to finish.
“We were going in blind, with no idea of what to expect, but I was quite happy with that, it was quite a good turn out”, she says.
Sullivan’s boss, Roberta Hall-McCarron, also of BBC Two television show, The Great British Menu, and new Edinburgh restaurant, Eleanore, came along with a Canadian friend to give her employee some support. They test drove the cookies and cream version, which is drizzled with creme Anglaise and 55 per cent cocoa dark chocolate sauce, then whipped cream and crushed Oreos.
Although the funnel cake is usually a low rent treat, Sullivan has used her fine dining experience to give them more of a gourmand twist.
At the last street food market, there were loads of varieties available. For purists, she makes one that’s topped with whipped cream and dusted with icing sugar, or there’s a banana cream pie number, banoffee or Black Forest. To draw in the punters, at her first event, she even made a clever mini version for dogs, which she was giving away with each purchase.
“That was a sweet potato biscuit with sugar free whipped cream and dehydrated beef to go on top of it,” she says.
For the humans, she hopes to eventually introduce a seasonal element to these cakes.
In March she made a funnel cake that featured creme Anglaise, cinnamon stewed apples, streusel crumb and whipped cream.
“In June I'm going to do a strawberries and cream one instead of the apple pie version that was good for the cooler days,” she says. “Next time I'll also try making triple chocolate. I'll make the batter with chocolate in it and then chunks of brownie and the chocolate ganache on top”.
For those who already love churros or doughnuts, funnel cake is not entirely dissimilar.
“They’re crunchy on the outside and soft in the centre,” Sullivan says. “They’re a bit less crunchy than a churro but a bit more like that than like a doughnut. There's no yeast in the batter so it's not so doughnutty. You’ll have to come along and try one to see”.