When you hear the words deep-fried desserts, what images form in your mind’s eye? Perhaps you think of state fairs, music festivals, fireworks, or maybe a trip down to the Jersey shore.

We may differ in what comes to mind, but we can all agree there is no greater comfort food than the crunchy, sweet taste of a deep-fried dessert.

With the explosion in all things deep-fried, there are now numerous options. You can go traditional with zeppoles, decadent with a deep-fried Cadbury cream egg, or go into the realm of the unusual with deep-fried coke. Yup, you can deep-fry Coca-Cola.

Top 10 Favorite Deep-Fried Desserts in the Garden State

With all these options, it was tough to whittle our list down to just a few selections. But, after extensive polling of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and anyone else who would talk to us, we compiled this list of New Jersey’s top 10 favorite deep-fried desserts.

Doughnuts - Top 10 Deep-Fried Desserts In New Jersey

1. Doughnuts

With the popularity of Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Crème in New Jersey, it will come as no surprise that the doughnut has landed at the top of our list of favorite deep-fried desserts. They certainly need no introduction, but in case you were wondering – doughnuts or donuts are made of sweetened flour dough, typically have a ring or ball shape, and are deep-fried to perfection.

Food historians believe the grandfather of today’s doughnut was brought to America by the Dutch in the early 18th century. Establishing New Amsterdam (New York), these Dutch settlers brought with them olykoeks, translated to oily cakes. Sounds delicious, right? Simply put, the olykoek were sweetened cakes fried in hog fat.

While the doughnut had early origins in America, it was not until after World War I that they became a mainstay of American desserts. Homesick American servicemen serving in France during World War I were given doughnuts by women in the Salvation Army called Donut Lassies. When those soldiers returned home, they brought their doughnut obsession with them.

Doughnuts quickly gained in popularity and were crowned ‘the food hit of the Century of Progress’ at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934. The rest, they say, is history.

2. Funnel Cake

You would be hard-pressed to find a New Jersey street fair or amusement park that did not have at least one food vendor selling the next item on our list of favorite deep-fried desserts: funnel cakes. Just the sight of that crispy, golden-brown treat will transport you back to the lazy days of summer.

Similar to the doughnut, funnel cake has its origins with one of the many immigrant groups who established themselves in and around New Jersey. German-speaking immigrants, now known as the Pennsylvania Dutch settled in Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries. They brought a yeast dish, known as drechderkuche, with them.

This early precursor to the funnel cake was transformed in 1879 with the use of baking powder and was given its new name, funnel cake. The name was derived from the dessert’s unique preparation – batter is poured into the hot oil through – you guessed it – a funnel.

Zeppoles - Top 10 Deep-Fried Desserts in New Jersey

3. Zeppoles

Zeppoles are another must-have staple of Jersey street fairs and boardwalks. A beloved treat of both young and old, there is no denying the deliciousness of these piping hot crunchy authentic Italian treats. The oil-soaked brown paper bags, and fingers covered in powdered sugar, what’s not to love?

Zeppoles did not arrive in America as early as doughnuts or funnel cake, but they did make the trek across the Atlantic with another important immigrant group – the Italians. Many of these Italian immigrants settled in cities and towns along the Eastern seaboard including New York City and Newark, New Jersey.

Considered an Italian pastry, zeppoles are deep-fried dough balls of varying sizes. They are often dusted with powdered sugar but can be filled with any number of custards, jellies, or creams.

Historians believe the zeppole originated in Ancient Rome. Roman citizens celebrated the Liberalia festival with fried dough that was covered with sugar or cinnamon. The Liberalia was a day to celebrate and honor the gods, Bacchus, and Silenus, who were known as the wine and wheat deities.

In Italy, zeppoles are most associated with St. Joseph and his Catholic feast day, Festa di San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph’s Day), held each year on March 19th. One legend says that St. Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. Upon his arrival, he became a frittellaro – maker of fried pastry.

4. Cannoli

Another Italian-American favorite deep-fried desserts, cannoli, can now be found in most bakeries and supermarkets throughout New Jersey. The satisfying crunch of the tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough is perfectly paired with its sweet, creamy ricotta filling. Taste and texture – it hits all the right dessert notes.

Food historians believe the cannoli originated in Caltanissetta in Sicily between 831 and 1091 AD. This was the time in Sicily’s history when they were subject to Arab rule and known as the Emirate of Sicily. The theory goes that concubines created sweet treats to capture the attention of local princes.

In Italy, cannoli were traditionally served during Carnevale season which, in some areas, starts on December 26th and ends before Lent on Fat Tuesday. Cannoli can be eaten plain or may include a host of other ingredients like chocolate chips, pistachio crumbles, or cinnamon, to name a few.

Churros - Top 10 Deep-Fried Desserts in New Jersey

5. Churros

Churros are a more recent addition to fairs, festivals, and amusement parks, but their popularity has taken the Garden State and country by storm. The choux-based and sugar-covered pastry, similar to a doughnut or cruller, was traditionally popular in Spain, Portugal, Mexico, and areas in the Southwestern United States.

The dough for the churro is piped into the hot oil through a star-shaped nozzle giving it distinctive ridges that are the perfect vehicle for cinnamon and sugar. Like many of the deep-fried desserts on our list, a churro should be soft on the inside with a crisp outside.  Very often, churros are served with a chocolate sauce for dipping.

There are two theories on the origin of the churro. The first recounts trips by Portuguese mariners to China who returned home with youtiao, also known as yóuzháguǐ, a type of pastry that closely resembles the churro. While the Chinese pulled the dough, the Portuguese modified the recipe by utilizing the star-shaped pastry nozzle and adding its sweet elements.

The second theory says that Spanish shepherds made churros as a substitute for freshly baked bread. While up in the mountains, the shepherds needed a dough that was easy to make and easy to fry in open fires.

6. Beignets

The beignet, French for fritter, is like a doughnut but typically has a square shape. Beignets are cooked by deep-frying choux pastry dough. When deep-fried in hot oil the pastry puffs up creating an inner fluffiness that is a hallmark of a well-cooked beignet. Dusted with a bit of powdered sugar, this delectable deep-fried dessert is often referred to as a powdered sugar pillow.

Long considered to be a French pastry, the beignet may have Roman or Celtic origins. The word beignet is French, but its root is found within the Celtic language and its word, bigne, which means ‘to raise.’ The beignet is also like the ancient Roman dessert, scriblita, which was made from a high-moisture dough that was cooked in hot animal fat.

The beignet was first introduced to America by French Acadians in Louisiana during the 18th century. A staple in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the beignet was named Louisiana’s official state doughnut in 1986. From those early beginnings, beignets made their way into cafes, coffee shops, and bakeries throughout the country.

7. Elephant Ears

I am sure it will come as no surprise that elephant ears got their name from their distinctive large and flat shape that resembles… drum roll… elephant ears. That’s right, this long-standing staple of state fairs is made of delicious flaky layers of puff pastry dusted with cinnamon and sugar. To dial up the sweetness, elephant ears can be drizzled with chocolate or caramel sauce or paired with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

The elephant ear was inspired by Native American fry bread and has its origins with the Navajo tribe of the southwestern United States. In 1864, during the forced removal of Native Americans by the U.S. government, tribal members were given commodity boxes containing flour, sugar, lard, and salt.  

The Navajo used these ingredients to create a flat and smooth deep-fried cake or fry bread that could be served savory or sweet. The sweetened version of this fry bread would later take on the elephant ear name and be introduced to state fair patrons countrywide.

Twinkies - Top 10 Deep-Fried Desserts in New Jersey

8. Deep-Fried Oreos

There is no hiding the true nature of this over-the-top deep-fried dessert – the iconic Oreo cookie dredged in buttermilk pancake batter and deep-fried. The result is a crunchy exterior with a gooey inside that provides an amalgam of chocolate and vanilla cream flavor. As if this treat isn’t sweet enough, they are typically dusted with powdered sugar.

The deep-fried Oreo is a more recent dessert creation. It was born out of a fair and festival culture where the overriding theme is – everything tastes better deep-fried. Its creator, Charlie Boghosian, an Armenian immigrant to the United States, introduced the sweet treat in 2001 at the Los Angeles County Fair in California.

Since then, the popularity of deep-fried Oreos has skyrocketed. They can now be found on boardwalks all along the Jersey shore and across the globe in far-off countries like Australia, Dubai, and the Philippines.

9. Deep-Fried Snickers/Mars Bars

One would assume that deep-fried Snickers, and its cousin the Mars bar, took their cue from the invention of the deep-fried Oreo. But, in fact, they were invented a little bit earlier across the Atlantic in Scotland.

John Davie, a 15-year-old living in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, came up with the idea of deep frying a Mars bar in his local fish and chip shop in 1995.  Originally planned as a dare for pal Brian McDonald, the gooey fried treat quickly spread throughout Scottish chip shops. Interestingly, John Davie has been quoted as saying he has never and will never sample his calorie-packed creation.

The candy bars are frozen ahead of time and then dipped into a flour batter, typically reserved for fish and other meats, and are deep-fried till golden brown. They quickly became a go-to item in the United States at places like the Texas State Fair. Deep-fried Snickers are usually served on a stick along the lines of the almighty corn dog.

10. Deep-Fried Twinkies

As if deep-fried Oreos and Snickers weren’t too much, calorically speaking, you then land on number 10 of our favorite deep-fried desserts list – the deep-fried Twinkie.

One of its purported inventors, Christopher Snell, was quoted in a New York Times article saying, “Something magical occurs when the pastry hits the hot oil. The creamy white vegetable shortening filling liquefies, impregnating the sponge cake with its luscious vanilla flavor… The cake itself softens and warms, nearly melting, contrasting with the crisp, deep-fried crust in a buttery and suave way.”

The deep-fried Twinkie is treated in a similar fashion to deep-fried Oreos and deep-fried Snickers. The Twinkies are frozen, then rolled in flour, dipped in a tempura batter (flour, egg, and cold water), and finally deep-fried.

Twinkies were originally invented in 1930 by Jimmy Dewar, a Chicago bakery manager, for the Continental Baking Company. Its original creamy banana filling was changed to a vanilla cream during the World War II banana shortage. Who knew there was a banana shortage?

Christopher Sell began deep frying Twinkies at his Brooklyn restaurant in the early 2000s. However, restaurateur Clint Mullen also claims to be the deep-fried Twinkies originator and asserts he was the first to introduce it at state and county fairs.

The deep-fried Twinkie became so popular that Walmart started selling a frozen version at stores nationwide in 2016, earning its spot on our list of favorite deep-fried desserts.

Top 10 Deep-Fried Desserts in New Jersey

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Enjoy your Boardwalk Zeppoles the traditional way with powdered sugar or pair them with one of our delectable dessert dips found on our blog. You will love the Easy Peanut Butter Nutella Oreo Dip or try Maria’s recipe for Chocolate Covered Zeppoles With Crushed Peppermint.

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