What is Funnel Cake?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Honey is a common topping for a funnel cake.
Honey is a common topping for a funnel cake.

Funnel cake is an Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch dessert created by frying unleavened, or non-rising, cake batter in hot grease. The batter is dispensed through a funnel or a container with a funnel-shaped spout. It is generally formed by making circular and lattice-shaped motions over the hot grease. When one side has turned golden brown, it is carefully flipped over and allowed to finish cooking. The completed funnel cake is then drained on paper and coated with honey, powdered sugar, chocolate syrup or a variety of fruit toppings.

The batter used to make a funnel cake doesn't contain leavening ingredients.
The batter used to make a funnel cake doesn't contain leavening ingredients.

The traditional funnel cake began as a regional dish prepared by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities living primarily in western Pennsylvania and Ohio. It was most often prepared for special occasions, such as harvest festivals or German holidays. Visitors to Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants were often presented with it as a dessert item. The popularity grew as word of this simple dessert reached larger cities in the Midwest, such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

The traditional funnel cake began as a regional dish prepared by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities living primarily in western Pennsylvania and Ohio.
The traditional funnel cake began as a regional dish prepared by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities living primarily in western Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Although a number of funnel cake recipes exist for home use, most people only experience the phenomenon at carnivals, fairs and other outside events with concession stands. The basic batter can be purchased in bulk through concession supply stores, along with the shortening, funnel-shaped dispenser and fryer vat. Commercial concession stands may also offer fruit toppings, whipped cream or self-serve honey and chocolate syrup dispensers.

The batter used to form a funnel cake does not contain baking soda or baking powder, which keeps it from rising as it cooks in the fryer. The end result is a slightly crispy cake with a distinctive donut-like texture. The remaining oil allows powdered sugar or other toppings to adhere to the surface of the cake, but eating one can be a messy experience. Many enthusiasts use a knife and fork to cut the treat into more manageable pieces.

In recent years, several specialty stores have begun offering funnel cake franchises as a means of fundraising or providing secondary income. These companies offer interested groups and individuals all of the start-up equipment and specialized batter mixes to start their own stands at local public shows and events. Because the cost of the batter, shortening and other ingredients is relatively low, a vendor can quickly earn a profit after only a few sales. The name recognition of funnel cake alone can drive traffic to the concession stands offering it. Selling them as a fundraising effort has become popular among many charitable and non-profit groups.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular DelightedCooking contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular DelightedCooking contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon201235

I think the funnel cake is one of those recipes that doesn't really have an official "date" attached to it. It's one of those recipes that most likely utilized leftover batter or dough and frying it was a quick way of cooking it.

Funnel cakes are absolutely delicious, but I have to stay away from them most of the time. Too carby. Still, they are wonderful.

anon85009

The Italian version is a Zeppole.

anon24263

What year was funnel cake invented, how was it invented? Do you know?

anon19893

I can't believe that Funnel Cake is Amish. Maybe the Amish first made it in the US, but I am not sure. I have seen Funnel Cake be made in countries where no Amish probably ever visited.

anon571

what is the Italian name for funnel cakes? It's not "pizza frit", which is a solid piece of fried dough, but something similar. sold at Italian Feasts and Festivals in the NY area. a family bet is riding on the answer!!

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    • Honey is a common topping for a funnel cake.
      By: tetxu
      Honey is a common topping for a funnel cake.
    • The batter used to make a funnel cake doesn't contain leavening ingredients.
      By: razmarinka
      The batter used to make a funnel cake doesn't contain leavening ingredients.
    • The traditional funnel cake began as a regional dish prepared by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities living primarily in western Pennsylvania and Ohio.
      By: Floki Fotos
      The traditional funnel cake began as a regional dish prepared by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities living primarily in western Pennsylvania and Ohio.