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Fastnachts, a Pa. Dutch Shrove Tuesday Tradition

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011. In Pennsylvania Dutch country, March 8th, Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent, is known as "Fastnacht Day." The Pennsylvania Dutch celebrate Shrove Tuesday by eating yeast raised potato doughnuts, which are lovingly known as "Fastnachts."

The name "Fastnacht" is German for "Fast Night." Fastnacht Day is a day to forget about dieting and a slim waistline and feast on doughnuts! It's a custom that had its beginnings with the Plain People. Making Fastnachts helped to use up the fat and sugar they had on hand before the Lenten fast began.

Although doughnuts with holes are frequently sold as "Fastnachts" in supermarkets this time of year, those who know their doughnuts will tell you that a real Fastnacht should never have a hole in the center. All the syrup leaks out of a Fastnacht with a hole in it!

To eat a Fastnacht the proper Pennsylvania Dutch way, slice it crosswise, as you would slice a bagel. Spread with butter (optional), plus table syrup such as "Mrs. Schlorer's Turkey Syrup®" or "Golden Barrel Table Syrup®". Replace the top and ENJOY!

The recipe below is a combination of several Fastnacht recipes I've used, including a handed down family recipe, and recipes from a local Mennonite Church cookbook. My version uses rapid rise yeast, which cuts the preparation time considerably, compared to most traditional recipes. The Fastnachts turn out extra light and fluffy!

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes (no salt, milk, or butter added)
  • 1/2 cup sugar + 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 stick margarine, softened
  • 1 packet rapid rise yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 6-1/2 cups flour (divided, 2 cups + 4 1/2 cups)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 can (3 pounds) Crisco® or similar vegetable shortening for frying

Preparation -
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 at low speed. 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 in a warm place for 25 minutes.

Add the lightly beaten egg and salt 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.

To use this raised doughnut recipe, for glazed doughnuts:
Beat together: 2-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, 4 tablespoons margarine and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add enough milk to make a thin glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the slightly warm doughnuts or dip the doughnuts in the glaze.

For powdered doughnuts:
Shake slightly warm doughnuts in a bag with confectioners' sugar, or a combination of confectioners' sugar and cinnamon.

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These Fastnachts were made from this recipe.
This is a double batch.


To read more about the Pennsylvania Dutch and Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking,
see Simple Ingredients, Deliciously Prepared - Pennsylvania Dutch Style
and A Sampling of Pennsylvania Dutch Pie Recipes

If you can't find "Mrs. Schlorer's Turkey Syrup®" or "Golden Barrel Table Syrup®" in your area, both are available, online, at Golden Barrel.com.


For easy, splatter-free deep-frying....

Cuisinart Compact Deep Fryer
Whether you're making doughnuts, fried chicken, French fries, onion rings, or other deep fried favorites, you can do it all in this 1-liter deep fryer by Cuisinart. An extra wide basket allows foods to float freely for crisp, even frying. The heating element keeps oil at peak frying temperature and the removable fry basket rests on a basket clip so excess oil can drain off food after frying. It fries foods using less oil than most conventional fryers, for healthier eating. It features an adjustable temperature control ranging from 325ºF to 375ºF and a timer that can be set for up to 30 minutes. This 1000-watt fryer is housed in brushed stainless steel. The lid, fry basket and basket handle are all dishwasher-safe. The compact size, perfect for a small family, saves counter space. It's available online at Cooking.com
Cuisinart 1-L. Compact Deep Fryer


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