Here Today, Gone Ash Wednesday!
Fastnacht (faust nut) Day is a most anticipated day in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region. It falls on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, and is our version of Fat Tuesday. Instead of parades with floats and beads, our debauchery amounts to consuming lots of the PA Dutch treat before Lent begins.
What is a fastnacht? Fastnachts are similar to doughnuts, just not as sweet. They are usually square or diamond shaped, but lack a hole in the middle. While there are variations to how the dough is made, all fastnachts are fried to golden perfection, then topped with powdered sugar, molasses, or left plain. No matter how you like them, most folks will agree, the best way to eat a fastnacht is fresh and warm from the fryer.
Our local custom of Fastnacht Day started with our early German settlers. Prior to the beginning of Lent, they would use up all the lard, butter, sugar, eggs, and other rich foods in their homes. Pennsylvania Dutch housewives would make the doughy confections for their families. On Shrove Tuesday, members of the family would wake to the enticing smell of frying doughnuts, then rush to the breakfast table to enjoy the treat. Often, the last person to breakfast would be called a “fasnacht”, and teased for being late for such a yummy meal.
It’s no surprise that fastnacht translates to fast night. In our humble opinion, fastnachts are, without a doubt, the food to binge eat before the start of Lent. If you’re interested in sampling fastnachts, no need to wait until Fastnacht Day. Countless spots across Pennsylvania’s Americana Region are selling the regional delicacy. For the most authentic culinary experience, we recommend you head to one of our farmers markets, or a small, local bakery and pick up a batch or two. One bite, and you’ll know why we’re crazy about fastnachts! However, don’t delay. Fastnachts are seasonal. All traces of the pillow-like creations will be gone within days of Ash Wednesday. Here today, gone Ash Wednesday!
Try your hand at making Fastnachts:
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup mashed potatoes (no salt, milk, or butter added)
- 1/2 cup sugar + 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1 stick butter
- 1 packet rapid rise yeast
- 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- 6-1/2 cups flour (divided, 2 cups + 4 1/2 cups)
- 1 egg
- 1-1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 can (3 pounds) Crisco® or similar vegetable shortening for frying
How to make it
- Scald the milk. In a large mixing bowl, combine the scalded milk with the mashed potatoes. Add 1/2 cup sugar plus the margarine. Mix with an electric mixer. If the mixture is still warm, cool to about room temperature before proceeding with next step. – Dissolve the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in barely warm water. Add to the potato mixture and mix well. Add 2 cups flour and mix again. Cover with a towel and let rise for 25 minutes.
- Add the salt and beaten egg to the mixture. Add 4-1/2 cups flour, stirring it into the mixture with a large spoon. Turn onto a well floured board and knead for about 3 to 5 minutes. Add a small amount of extra flour if necessary so the dough can be handled without sticking to your fingers. Grease a large bowl. Place the dough in the greased bowl. Cover with a thin towel, and let rise in a warm, draft free place for about 2 hours or until it is at least double in size.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough 3/4″ thick. You can use a doughnut cutter to cut the dough or cut as typical Fastnachts – Cut the dough into 3″ to 4″ wide strips, then cut the strips into 3″ to 4″ pieces. To allow the center of Fastnacht to fry completely, cut a small slit in the center of each piece, using a sharp paring knife. Arrange the pieces of dough, about 1-1/2″ to 2″ apart, on large wax paper lined trays. Cover each tray with a thin towel. Place the trays in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the dough pieces have raised to about double in size. (In the picture on the right, the dough has raised sufficiently and the doughnuts are ready to fry.)
- Heat the shortening to 365º. Deep fry until both sides are golden brown, turning one time. Drain on white paper towels. Cool completely before serving. Store in a covered, airtight container.
- Makes about 20 to 24 Fastnachts, depending on size. This recipe can be doubled with no change in preparation directions