a finished funnel cake

Ah, what could be more fun than a day at the carnival? There are the games that … well, actually those are often rigged to steal your money. Okay, there are the rides that … that often seem rickety and unsafe, if we’re being honest. There are the clowns that may or may not be terrifying to many patrons. Well, there’s no denying that carnival food is pretty good, and you especially can’t beat the sweet, fried goodness of a funnel cake. Thanks to this refreshingly easy recipe from chef and recipe developer Jessica Morone of Jess Loves Baking, you don’t have to venture out to the fairground for a taste.

In fact, you almost surely won’t even have to venture out to the grocery store for the ingredients needed to make a funnel cake. This recipe uses common ingredients and basic cooking techniques, which means that you and your family are only a few minutes away from this classic piece of fair fare.

Gather your ingredients for an easy funnel cake

ingredients for the funnel cake

Remember when we said this recipe uses common ingredients? That was no carnival trick! All you need here is vegetable oil for the frying, some buttermilk pancake mix, some regular sugar, vanilla extract, water, and powdered sugar, for garnishing the finished cakes.

"The special ingredient here is pancake mix," Morone says. "It really makes it easier and cuts down on the amount of ingredients you need for this. You want to make sure you use one of the mixes that say ‘complete’ on them, meaning that you only would only need to add water to the mixture to make pancakes."

Heat the oil and prepare the batter

whisking the batter

Fill a large skillet halfway with vegetable oil, ideally using a pan with high sides to prevent splatter. Morone uses 2 cups of oil, but depending on the size of your skillet, the amount may differ. Heat the oil to 375 F, and while the oil is heating up, prepare the funnel cake batter.

To do that, get a medium bowl in it whisk together the pancake mix, the (standard) sugar, and the vanilla extract, mixing them until they are combined. Then start to whisk in the water a few tablespoons at a time, stirring until the batter is smooth. "The batter should be a similar thickness to cake batter," Morone says. "If it still seems too thick after adding half a cup of water, add in additional water a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency."

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag or bottle, then fry

the raw batter starting to fry

Transfer the prepared batter to a squeeze bottle or to a pastry bag with a ¼-inch wide tip. Once the oil has reached 375 F, squeeze the batter out into the oil, swirling it in a circular pattern until a disk forms. (And yes, you can use a plastic bag with the tip cut off if need be, just be very careful with the thin plastic near the hot oil.)

"The only thing you want to be careful of is that the oil has to be the right temperature before you put the batter in the pan," Morone says. "If it is between 350 F-375 F it should be perfect." She also notes that using a meat thermometer is a good idea, so you can keep track of the oil’s temperature.

Fry the funnel cakes, garnish, and enjoy

funnel cake with powdered sugar

Fry the batter for about 1 to 2 minutes until it is golden brown, then use tongs or a pair of spatulas to flip it to the other side and continue frying the funnel cake for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the cooked cake to a paper towel-lined plate using a spatula or, better yet, a large slotted spoon, which will help excess oil drip off.

Repeat the frying process with any remaining batter, then sprinkle your funnel cake(s) with powdered sugar, add any toppings you’d like, and enjoy your classic carnival treat immediately.

"Funnel cakes are great because you can top them with pretty much anything, so powdered sugar is kind of the classic topping but you could do cinnamon sugar, or even go all out and do chocolate sauce, ice cream, fruit, or anything else you want on top," Morone suggests. A sweet carnival treat without the steep price tag — we consider that a pretty successful recipe.

  • 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 cup complete buttermilk pancake mix
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup water

Optional Ingredients

  • powdered sugar, for garnish
  1. Fill a large skillet halfway with vegetable oil and heat the oil to 375 F. While the oil is heating up, prepare the funnel cake batter.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the pancake mix, sugar, and vanilla extract until combined.
  3. Whisk in the water a few tablespoons at a time until the batter is smooth. The batter should be a similar thickness to cake batter. (If it still seems too thick after adding ½ cup water, add in additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency.)
  4. Transfer the batter to a squeeze bottle or a pastry bag with a ¼-inch wide tip.
  5. Once the oil has reached 375 F, squeeze the batter out into the oil, swirling it in a circular pattern until a disk forms.
  6. Fry the batter for about 1 to 2 minutes until it is golden brown, then flip to the other side and continue frying for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate using a large slotted spoon or spatula and repeat the frying process with any remaining batter.
  7. Sprinkle the funnel cakes with powdered sugar and serve immediately.