Once it was a festival that led up to Lent and 40 days of strict fasting, but the tradition of eating calorie busting food during Karneval, and lots of it throughout the celebrations, has gone nowhere. Even though there are not many who take their strict "Fast" to heart these days.
And the real favorite among traditional Carnival food has to be Faschingskrapfen. Known as Berliner, Pfannkuchen or Fastnachtskrapfen, depending on the region, Carnival Jelly Donuts are found everywhere.
But why eat donuts before the beginning of Lent?
The answer goes back to the religious meaning behind Mardi Gras and Lent. The Tuesday before Lent is about getting ready to fast, which is why it is also called Fasching or Fastnacht, giving up meat and fatty foods for example. The word carnival has to do with "carne" or "meat", so the meaning is similar; Mardi Gras means "fat Tuesday" in French, and also refers to fasting during Lent.
In the past, especially during times of war and rationing, monks and priests are said to have recommended their parishioners eat the fatty, sugary pastry to build up their strength and get them through Lent, but basically the period leading up to Mardi Gras or Faschingsdienstag is an excuse to revel in excesses before giving them up. And that’s where donuts come in.
Cooked in fat, usually oil these days, they are a perfect food to enjoy before going on your Lenten fast.
Originally the filling was jam or fruit compote, with a shaking of confectioners sugar added after baking, but now there is an ever expanding variety of fillings, toppings and decorations.
Just as "Carnival" or "Mardi Gras" has different names depending on the region of Germany where it is being held, so do the "jelly filled donuts" that are a staple not only for Karneval but also as New Year Eve treats in Carnival areas. Traditionally they are sold only between December 31 and Ash Wednesday.
Recipes are the same but names range from "Krapfen" in Bavaria, "Kräppel" in central Germany, "Fastnachtsküchelchen", little carnival cakes, in some of the Southwestern regions, "Berliner" in North Germany and other Southwestern areas...but never Berliner in Germany's capital Berlin. Carnival isn't really followed there, and donuts are known as "Pfannkuchen".
Any Jelly Doughnut recipe will work, but this recipe, and the fillings, come from a small baker in a Baden-Württemberg village, Southwest Germany, and is also used for the New Year Celebration "Lucky Jelly Donut".
Faschingskrapfen, German Carnival Jelly Doughnut, Recipe - Makes about 20
3-4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup fine sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups warm water (105 to 115 deg F)
1 pkt active dry yeast
2 beaten egg yolks
1/4 cup softened butter or margarine
finely grated rind of 1 untreated lemon
For the fillings:
1/4 cup any flavor of your favorite jam or jelly.
Fruit preserves such as plum, apricot or apple, and this can be "as is" or mixed with a little rum, brandy, or schnapps.
Cooked apples flavored with nutmeg or ginger.
Flavored whipped cream.
Chocolate or vanilla pudding.
Strawberry jam and vodka.
A crystallized plum.
Pineapple cream with coconut and rum.
Caramel sauce...whatever you choose really as long as it is of "jelly" consistency.
Add yeast and pinch sugar to 1/4 cup warm water, allow to stand 2 to 3 minutes, stir
Mix 2 cups flour with sugar and salt.
Make a hollow in the center of the mix and add yeast water combination.
Allow to rise 20 minutes.
Add beaten egg yolks and the remaining water and butter.
Beat until combined.
Add lemon rind and remaining flour, mix until it is a soft dough.
Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, takes between 5 to 10 minutes,.
Place in a lightly greased bowl in a warm place, and cover, allowing to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch dough down.
Roll dough out on a lightly floured board, until it is 1/4 inch thick, then using glass or cutter cut into 2 inch rounds.
One half of the rounds have one teaspoon of filling placed in centre, the edges are moistened with egg white, and pressing firmly to seal the edges a second round is placed on top.
Cover with tea towel and allow to rise for 15 minutes.
Fry in shallow vegetable oil heated to 375 F, which will not completely cover the doughnuts, for 4 minutes on each side or until browned.
After some practice you will manage the authentic white ribbon that runs around the middle of the Krapfen.
Be careful not to put too many Krapfen in at one time as they must not overlap.
Remove with slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar, or cover with a colored, flavored or white sugar cookie glaze, melted chocolate, shredded coconut, cookie sprinkles.
If making unfilled doughnuts the dough can be rolled out to a thickness of 3/4 inches; allowed to rise and fried.
Serve fresh because they become stale by the end of the day.
Karneval being "the silly season" there is a custom that a single "Krapfen" is filled with strong mustard, and then served with the more conventionally flavored ones. This is a joke played on the unsuspecting person who bites into it. Although whether they always see it that way...hmmm.
"Alaaf" and "Helau" Enjoy Your Carnival Jelly Donuts!
Illustrations courtesy Reit im Winkl Chiemgau, Josef Tuerk Jun via Wikipedia Commons and Baden-Wurttemberg Tourismus