HYDE PARK, N.Y. (AP) - Craving the unmistakable taste and aroma of freshly made funnel cakes?

There is no need to wait for the next local festival to savor this sugar-dusted pastry. Recreating funnel cakes at home is quick, fun and easy. It's a mouthwatering activity for people of all ages.

"Fun and easy to prepare, funnel cakes are a great way to turn a regular meal into something special,"
Marc Haymon , lecturing instructor in baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America , says. "Serve these tasty delights with the traditional sprinkle of powdered sugar for a warm and crispy treat."

Golden brown and squiggly shaped, funnel cakes have an undeniable appeal.

Their light and airy crumb, crisp texture and subtle sweetness are a result of frying unleavened batter in hot oil. Unleavened simply means that yeast is not required for the funnel cakes to plump when they cook. Instead, chemical leaveners, such as baking soda and baking powder, are used to create a slight expansion when the batter is fried.

Unlike yeast, which works on its own schedule and rises at a much slower rate, chemical leaveners provide flexibility. Their lifting power occurs within moments of coming in contact with liquid and heat.

If you have never made funnel cakes, you will soon discover that preparing them is half the fun of eating them. Drizzling the batter into hot oil and creating freeform spiral shapes is exciting, and worth learning a few guidelines about frying.

When done properly, frying is a fast and delicious cooking technique that, in fact, absorbs little oil. This is how it works: Food is placed into oil that has been heated to a specific temperature. Once the food is submerged in the oil, the outside is sealed and the interior is protected from penetrating oil.

This works only if the oil is at the proper temperature. If it is not hot enough, the food will absorb too much oil and become soggy, and if the temperature is too high, the outside can burn before the inside has a chance to cook. Perfectly fried food has a golden brown crust with a moist and tender interior.

Here are a few tips for frying success:

- Choose the right oil. As you would for making doughnuts or other fried items, use a neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point. Vegetable oils are a good choice because they do not lend off-flavors to the food and they can be heated to high temperatures without smoking.

- Use the proper equipment. An adequately sized pot and appropriate utensils make for safe, easy and mess-free frying. A deep pot that provides several inches between the surface of the oil and the top of the pot is the best vessel for frying; the extra room gives ample space for bubbling.

- Fry at the proper temperature. Keep in mind that every time you add a piece of food to hot oil, the temperature will drop. The most reliable way to ensure frying success is to monitor the temperature with a high-quality candy or deep-frying thermometer attached to the side of the pot.

The following recipe is from The Culinary Institute of America's "Breakfasts and Brunches" cookbook (Lebhar-Freidman, 2005, $35).

Funnel Cakes

1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups cold milk

3 large eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 quart canola oil, for deep frying

3/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir by hand just until the batter is evenly moistened.

Heat the oil to 350 F in a deep pan or deep fryer. Drizzle 1/4 cup of batter into the oil in a spiral pattern; form a loose cake about 4 inches in diameter. (Allow the oil to regain the proper temperature between batches.)

Fry until golden brown on the first side, about 30 seconds. Using metal tongs, turn the cake over and fry until golden brown on the second side, about 30 seconds. Remove the cake from the oil with metal tongs or a wire mesh skimmer and drain on paper towels. While making the remaining funnel cakes, place completed ones on a paper towel-lined baking sheet in a warm oven. Dust with confectioner's sugar while warm and serve immediately.

Makes 20 cakes.

Nutrition information per serving (1 cake): 90 cal., 2 g pro., 13 g carbo., 3 g fat, 100 mg sodium, 5 mg chol., 0 g fiber.