When the State Fair of Texas returned in full swing this year, we knew we had to revive our State Fair food bracket, pitting the classics versus newcomers. Each week, voters whittled down the contenders. And, now, we’ve got our 2021 winner: Fernie’s Fried Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake.
It was a hotly contested battle against perhaps the most beloved State Fair staple, Fletcher’s Corny Dog. Alas, the public has spoken and it’s a sweet treat that reigns supreme this year.
The Armadillo, we’ve very seriously reported, took the winning spot for Best Sweet at this year’s Big Tex Choice Awards. But Alice Laussade, our State Fair food correspondent, declares that, in her extremely professional opinion, Fernie’s [Fried] Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake should have won. No shade to the butter cookie ice cream sandwich shaped like an armadillo, but “Oh God, it’s so good… It’s not too sweet, a bit of unexpected crunch on the outside. I’d have it with coffee every morning if a coffee shop served it. And it’s brought to us by the same family who brought funnel cakes to the fair in the first place.”
Christi Erpillo knows fair fare. She grew up doing this. See, Erpillo of Winter Family Concessions (official LinkedIn title: Chief Frying Officer) helps run one of the most decorated food stands in State Fair history. Her concession stand, which has been a fair institution for over 50 years, is credited with bringing the eternally classic funnel cake to the fair in the ’80s for crying out loud.
Erpillo has been doing this for a good while, and still she was excited for another win among many. “We thought it was that good, but the fact that somebody beat Fletcher’s in anything, we’re so thrilled about it. I’m thrilled to death,” Erpillo told SideDish as she was walking between concession stands Friday afternoon.
“I have a thick book of recipes, pictures, lists—I have lists that probably go back to the original Big Tex Choice Awards,” says Erpillo, who takes notes of ideas for potential future fair eats. Some are winners, others don’t always pan out. “I was working on something else and I couldn’t quite get it to be what I wanted it to be. So I said, ‘Go back to your list, Christi.’ And I had that name written down: Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake. So I started with the name, and then I created the recipe.
“I tell my mother, this is when she was sick, right before she passed away…I think I know what I’m gonna do,” says Erpillo, whose mother, Wanda “Fernie” Winter, the Queen of Funnel Cake, passed away in June at the age of 95. “She said, ‘What is it? Have you got your recipe together?’ I said, ‘Fernie’s Fried Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake.’ She said, ‘Well, what is it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t figured that part out yet.’”
Erpillo went backwards, reverse engineering a winning cake with its name first, a name she hears fairgoers calling out to order often, Coffee coffee crunch cake! Crunch cake!
“We’re not gonna be some of the concessionaires who just stick something in funnel cake batter and fry it. We try to be innovative and then we’re always going to have a beautiful presentation. On the day of the [Big Tex Choice Awards] contest, Kent Rathbun was saying…‘You could see this at any fine dining restaurant.’”
The State Fair ends Sunday night. Order Fernie’s Fried Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake, which is served with a spiked caramel latte frappuccino, and let us know what you think.