PA Food Icons: Funnel Cake

A fried dessert is tough to beat. Think: churros, fritters, fastnachts, apple cider donuts, beignets and, of course, Pennsylvania’s own funnel cake. These scrambled up sweet concoctions, often seen at carnivals, country fairs, boardwalks and amusement parks, have roots right here in Pennsylvania. 

Young lady making fresh funnel cakes popular at fair time and other gatherings.

The Dutch brought a Germanic yeast dish, or drechder kuche, to Pennsylvania when they immigrated from Europe. The earliest known roots of such yeast-risen dishes were in medieval Persian, Arab and Anglo-Norman societies before versions ultimately cropped up all over the world. Medieval makers used a bowl with a hole in the bottom to achieve the scrambled look we still see with modern funnel cakes. In 1879, the PA Dutch added the signature powdered sugar, and a new version was born. The word “funnel” was added later, as the treat is made with batter poured through a funnel into a pan or cauldron of hot oil below.

A funnel cake frying in a pan of oil.

In the 19th century, Pennsylvania funnel cake was a mid-morning treat and shared at winter holidays, like Christmas and New Year, but remained relatively obscure until 1950. That’s when the The Kutztown Folk Festival began, part of an initiative to spotlight PA Dutch folklore and culture. Emma Miller is known to have poured the first funnel cake, and they sold like, well, hot cakes. With thousands of new funnel cake fans, the Kutztown Folk Festival thrust these desserts into the mainstream spotlight, and still sells them every year!

The largest funnel cake in the world was also created at the Kutztown Folk Festival in 2017. Celebrity chef Steve Mallie used Emma Miller’s recipe, supplied by her grandson Lester Miller, to whip up a 30-inch Guinness record-setting whopper funnel cake.

Guinness record setting funnel cake in Kutztown, PA.

Lester Miller and Chef Steve Mallie at the Kutztown Fairgrounds with the world’s largest funnel cake.

You might wish to make Pennsylvania funnel cake yourself. It starts out a lot like making pancakes, but requires a deep fry. All-purpose flour and milk are essential, and many recipes call for vanilla extract, egg and baking powder. Once your ingredients are mixed into a batter, you’ll heat frying oil (like vegetable or peanut oil) to 375 degrees in a heavy-bottomed pan or skillet. The amount of oil depends on the size of the pan, but is often in the ballpark of one-half-inch to an inch or so.

To get the swirly, funny look of funnel cake, you can take the authentic route and use a funnel to pour your batter or simply drizzle it around, criss-crossing it over itself. One hack is using a squeeze bottle for more precise imperfection. The batter should fry on each side anywhere from 30 – 90 seconds before you pull it out to dry. Then, of course, the quintessential final touch: sprinkled powdered sugar. 

Many Pennsylvania funnel cake makers take it a step further, adding fresh fruit, chocolate, whipped cream, ice cream and other delights on top. You’ll also commonly see recipe twists, like funnel cake fries or flavored funnel cake — pumpkin is a big one!

Funnel cake with whipped cream and chocolate on a plate.

If you’re craving funnel cake, here are some spots and funnel cake food trucks across Pennsylvania where you can find funnel cake in traditional and creative forms: 

Northwestern PA

  • Lucky Louie’s Beer Wieners: In addition to a massive menu of hot dogs to choose from, you’ll find Funnel Cake Fries for dessert. The small is for one or two people, while the large is sharable for four, and you can top it with raspberry sauce, hot chocolate, just powdered sugar or keep it plain. 8238 Perry Hwy., Erie: (814) 314-9481. 
  • Jones Burgers and Shakes: Burgers, fries and milkshakes dominate the menu, and you’ll find some spectacular sundaes too. A few such treats are the funnel cake sundaes. Regular funnel cake and pumpkin funnel cake sundaes include a full funnel cake with vanilla ice cream or butter pecan ice cream on top with a sweet drizzle to finish it off. 7827 W. Market St., Mercher; (724) 662-0210. 
  • West Penn Concessions: This bright orange food truck serves its specialty pumpkin funnel cake, plus original funnel cake and flavors like maple bacon and cinnamon bun at all kinds of fairs, festivals and celebrations in Mercer County and beyond. Its Facebook page alerts you to happenings and locations. Multiple locations; (724) 301-5972

Southwestern PA

  • Dell’s Sundae Grill: This old-school stand in the Pittsburgh ‘burgs has served burgers and desserts since 1955. You’ll find funnel cake in traditional and more “deluxe” modes, with strawberries, whipped cream and soft serve on top. 111 Farragut St., Munhall; (412) 461-9154.
  • PileZ: PileZ offers heaped plates or, piles, of fried goodness including funnel cake straws. Plated with powdered sugar and sweet syrup, they balance out other savory menu items like loaded tacos and fried pickles. 370 Atwood St., Pittsburgh; (412) 770-4265.
  • Worldwide Eats: This restaurant south of Pittsburgh makes sweet use of its fryer, with desserts like churros, fried cheesecake and lots of funnel cake options. Beyond a traditional version, there’s brownie explosion, Fruity Pebbles, churro, salted caramel pretzel and strawberry shortcake funnel cake options, and you can add ice cream to any for just a dollar more. 1500 W. Chestnut St. #636, Washington; (724) 579-2503.
  • Hopewell Windmill: At the snack shack of this long-running miniature golf course you’ll find walloping funnel cake “explosions.” These are essentially loaded funnel cakes with options like apple pie, Oreo, Reece’s and s’mores. 2142 Brodhead Rd., Aliquippa; (724) 375-5350. 

North Central PA

  • Brown Bull Cafe: In Galeton, you’ll find both funnel cake and funnel cake supreme on the Brown Bull Cafe menu. Enjoy it for dessert and sit on the porch with mountain views at this charming little mom and pop shop. You can find Brown Bull on Facebook, too. 4 W. Main St., Galeton; (814) 435-2444.
  • Uncle Albert’s: You’ll find funnel cake fritters at this downtown Lock Haven pub and restaurant, where hot wing and trivia nights take center stage. 312 N. Vesper St., Lock Haven; (570) 748-8488.

South Central PA

  • The Funnel Cake Kings: Served via mobile food truck with locations announced on its Facebook page. The Funnel Cake Kings claim to have perfected the Pennsylvania funnel cake, with many patrons concurring. Beyond the original flavor, it offers options like cheesecake, cookie dough, strawberry scooter, s’mores, cinnamon bun and caramel apple. 916 31st St., Altoona; (814) 931-7522. 
  • Snow Palace: For a funnel cake fix in the York area, you can try Snow Palace’s funnel cake fries, perhaps paired with the signature snowballs of flavored shaved ice. 360 S. Richland Ave.,York: (717) 846-7439.

Northeastern PA

  • Heavenly Scoops: Located in the Marketplace at Steamtown (of The Office lore), Heavenly Scoops offers divine desserts that include funnel cake and a special option with a scoop of ice cream like cappuccino crunch or banana pudding, and toppings like sprinkles, marshmallow or Nutella. What’s more is you can DoorDash for delivery or pickup. 300 Lackawanna Ave., Suite 137, Scranton; (570) 257-6612.
  • Twist N’ Shake: Up in Forest City is an ice cream and burger joint with funnel cake fries. You can try them plain or have blueberries, wild cherries or strawberries loaded on top. Find Twist N’ Shake on Instagram and Facebook. 117 Main St., Forest City; (570) 785-4000.

Southeastern PA

  • Funellas Funnel Cake: For heart-shaped funnel cakes in delicious varieties at your next event, you can book this North Wales based funnel cake truck. It offers flavored powdered sugars, fresh fruit toppings, buttercream drizzles and more. 230 Montgomery Mall, North Wales; (215) 495-5759.
  • Family Funnel Kake: Serving the Philadelphia area, Family Funnel Kake is caterer and truck that you can even DoorDash (availability varies). Its delightful menu including classic, coco drip, birthday cake options plus funnel cake fries. 5551 W. Thompson St., Philadelphia; (302) 357-2203.
  • Hardy Funnel Cakes: Another mobile funnel cake purveyor, Hardy services the greater Philly area at events like community celebrations, county festivals, weddings and school events. They have regular funnel cake, Oreo crush, strawberry love and party flavors. Keep your eyes on its Facebook and Instagram pages for upcoming stops. 

Homemade Funnel Cake with Powdered Sugar at the Fair.

Wherever you may find yourself tucking into a plate of swirly, warm funnel cake, you’ll know you have Pennsylvania to thank!

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  • Feature photo: Bigstock
  • World's largest funnel cake photo: Lisa Mitchell, MediaNews Group
  • Tongs holding funnel cake photo: Kutztown Folk Festival
  • Homemade funnel cake photo: Pixabay
  • Other photos: Bigstock