How to Make Homemade Smiley Fries {Baked or Fried}

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These homemade potato smiley fries will transport you back in time.

These cute smiley fries take us back. Back to a time with lunch tables, food trays and tiny milk cartons. If you were a “hot lunch kid” growing up, there’s a strong possibility that you were served smiley fries like these from the cafeteria line on more than one occasion (along with some of these other popular cafeteria recipes).

Today, you can find a similar version of these iconic school lunch items in the freezer section of the grocery store, called McCain Smiles. However, they’re just not quite the same as the potato smileys of yesteryear. Luckily, we have a copycat potato smiley recipe to share that’s crispy on the outside and perfectly fluffy on the inside.

With just one bite, these happy little potatoes are guaranteed to put the biggest grin on your face—and your tummy. And if you love smiley fries, you’ll also enjoy these other recipes for french fry lovers.

How to Make Smiley Fries

a pile of potatoes surrounded by small bowls and measuring cups filled with other ingredients on a white table cloth, view from aboveLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Yield: about 20-24 fries

Ingredients

  • 4-5 medium Yukon gold potatoes (makes about 2 cups of mashed potatoes)
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • Ketchup, mustard or ranch dressing, for dipping

Tools You’ll Need

Directions

Step 1: Boil and mash the potatoes

Peel and cut the potatoes into 1-inch cubes (try this viral TikTok peeling method). Then, boil them in water until tender; about 15 minutes. Drain and mash the potatoes, returning them to the heat to help cook off any excess liquid.

Step 2: Combine the ingredients

mashed potatoes and other spices piles in a clear bowl on a white table cloth, view from aboveLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Transfer the potatoes to a large mixing bowl and combine with the breadcrumbs (try this easy homemade version), cornstarch, spices and salt.

Step 3: Stir and chill

Evenly mix until a soft, non-sticky dough forms. Then chill, covered, for 20-30 minutes.

Editor’s Tip: Don’t skip this step, as it helps make the dough easier to roll, shape and cut out (the same science applies to chilling cookie dough).

Step 4: Roll and cut

mashed potatoes rolled out in a thin layer and cut into small circles, view from aboveLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thick. It may help to lightly dust your work surface with flour before rolling to ensure the dough doesn’t stick. Cut out 2-inch circles, using a round cookie or biscuit cutter. Re-roll the scraps and continue to cut out circles until no dough remains.

Editor’s Tip: You can also use a small glass (like a shot glass) to cut out the rounds if you don’t have a small circle cookie cutter.

Step 5: Make them smile

an orderly grid of raw potato smileys before getting fried or baked, view from aboveLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Using a drinking straw, poke two circles into each round for eyes. Then, use a spoon to make a mouth (ideally a smiley one!).

Step 6: Fry them until golden

potato smileys arranged in a circle in a small frying pan with hot oil, view from aboveLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Pour canola oil into a large, deep skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch. Warm the oil to 350°F. Cook the smiley fries in batches, flipping once, until golden brown and crispy on both sides; about 1 to 2 minutes per side. If you’re a newbie to frying foods, here’s a deep-frying cheat sheet to make your efforts golden.

Editor’s Tip: In testing, we found that starting the smileys face-side-down in the oil resulted in more defined faces. If your smiley fries lose some definition while frying them, use a straw or bamboo skewer to carefully reshape their eyes and mouths immediately after taking them out of the fryer while they’re still a little bit pliable.

Step 7: Cool

Transfer the golden potato smiles to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve warm with dipping sauces of your choice—here are our favorite dips that aren’t ketchup if you’re feeling adventurous.

Can I Bake Smiley Fries?

Yes! To make baked smiley fries, arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, smile side up, and brush lightly with canola oil. Bake, in a preheated 400° oven for 20-30 minutes until golden and crispy (here are more tips for crispy oven fries). Note that the baking time will vary depending on your oven and the size and thickness of your homemade smiley fries.

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Lauren Habermehl
Lauren Habermehl is a recipe developer, food photographer and creator of the blog, Frydae. She is a prolific quoter of FRIENDS, lover of weekend DIY projects and procrastinating fitness enthusiast who enjoys exploring the Milwaukee-area with her husband, daughter and ugly mutt named Tyson Doodles.