A Pennsylvania Dutch tradition dating back to the 'Old Country' celebrations of Carnival, Fastnacht Day is not quite exciting as New Orleans' Mardi Gras festivities, but it's good eating just the same.
The day revolves around making a special kind of doughnut - the fastnacht. Since Ash Wednesday is devoted to fasting in Pennsylvania Dutch culture and using cooking oils during Lent1 is also forbidden, eating heavy doughnuts is a perfectly logical thing to do on the Tuesday before all that abstinence begins.
A 'true' fastnacht is square in shape without a hole in the center. It must also be made with mashed potatoes and the water in which potatoes were boiled and then rolled in sugar. All too often, supermarkets are selling sugared donuts with holes in the center and call then 'fastnachts'. But this deception is found to be a bit offensive to true 'Dutchies'.
Some of the best places in Pennsylvania to buy a real fastnacht are local churches with fat old Dutchwomen who stick to the proper recipes. But if you find yourself unable to buy a real fastnacht, here's an old family recipe to help.
Creating your own fastnachts can be a bit of hard work, but it is worth it2. After eating one or two of these traditional doughnuts you'll never eat another supermarket fastnacht again. This recipe should make about two dozen fastnachts.
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 cup of cooked mashed potatoes
- 2/3 cup of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 3 tablespoons of margarine
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 package of dry granular yeast
- 1/4 cup of lukewarm water
- 6 cups of flour
Mix the mashed potatoes, sugar, salt, butter and margarine in a large bowl and add the eggs, stirring until the batter is creamy. At the same time boil the milk and let it cool to lukewarm.
Dissolve the yeast in the water and add this to the potato batter.
Add the milk and potato batter alternately into a mixing bowl, stirring until all the ingredients are added and the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place the dough into a large greased bowl, moving it around until all the sides are greased. Then cover and set in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.
Punch the dough and knead it to remove all the bubbles and divide it in half. Roll out the dough about three-quarters of an inch thick.
Cut the dough into three-inch squares and cut a one-inch slit in the top of each square with a greased knife. Cover the squares and let them sit until they double in size.
Fry them in a pan with about three inches of vegetable oil heated to 370/190 degrees. Flip and cook both sides until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and dip in sugar while they are still warm.