What Is the Origin of the Funnel Cake?

By Jennifer Uhl

The funnel cake is a specialty food that has found its way into the list of favorites at ballparks, fairs, carnivals and festivals. A funnel cake is a fried cake that is made by pouring special batter into hot oil through a funnel, creating a circular pattern. Funnel cakes are deep fried until they become crunchy and golden brown, and they are often served covered with jam, powdered sugar and other sweet toppings.

What Is the Origin of the Funnel Cake?

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Although the origin of the funnel cake is most commonly linked back to the Pennsylvania Dutch from German ancestry, most cultures have their own version of a deep fried batter based dessert. The funnel cake is similar to many other types of pastries and desserts including fried dough, strauben of Austria, elephant ears, tippaleipa of Finland and so on. Funnel cakes have had several names throughout their history. For example, snacks similar to funnel cakes are known by the Spanish as churros, which are eaten during breakfast along with coffee.


Although the history of the funnel cake is not known for sure, the popular opinion for this treat is that it was brought by immigrants from Germany who came to the state of Pennsylvania. It was believed that they were served as treats during harvest festivals as well as holidays. It has been suggested that this treat is derived from what is known as an oliebol, a dessert that is similar in nature to modern day donuts.

Recipe History

Recipes for the creation of funnel cakes are found to go much further back than the twentieth century. One of the oldest recipes for what we now know as a funnel cake dates back to Germany in 1879.

Original Recipe

The oldest English language recipe for the funnel cake dates back to a 1935 cookbook. The recipe calls for a pint of sweet milk, two well-beaten eggs, enough flour that a thin batter can be made, ¼ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of baking powder. The recipe directed that all ingredients be mixed together thoroughly and then poured through a funnel into a pan coated with enough lard to cover the pan bottom. The original recipe called for the stream from the funnel to be turned around and around in a circle that would gradually become larger, frying the concoction until golden brown and serving hot with a cover of tart jelly.

Expert Insight

Although the funnel cake is typically linked to the 20th century, evidence in cook books and other culinary literature would confirm that it is indeed much older. Food historians believe that the funnel cake recipe long predates its popular name. The funnel cake is quite similar, based on the ingredients in its recipe, to doughnuts, fritters and cryspes.