Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's Almost Time for Fastnachts!

I don't go for that whole Mardi Gras thing.  But what I do go for is what the Pennsylvania Dutch refer to as Fastnacht Day.  Way back when, not only did people refrain from eating meat and sweets during Lent, they also gave up all dairy including milk and butter.  In order to use up all the dairy in the house before Lent began,  housewives made fastnachts, which are donuts  made with or without hot mashed potatoes added to the dough.  Very few bakeries make these anymore, and because it's not possible for me to drive out to the Trexlertown Fire Company on the Tuesday before Lent begins, I learned to make these myself.  This year, dear friends, I must confess that I plan to cheat.  God-willing, I'm taking my folks to Lancaster County on Saturday.  We go to a wonderful little Mennonite grocery that sells a mix for donuts.  All I will have to do is add the yeast, milk and mashed potatoes and I'll be all set.

In the meantime, here is the recipe I used last year.  While the Dutch way to eat these is to split them like a bagel and put some maple syrup in the middle, I make mine both plain and filled with jelly.  The latter are known as bismarcks in Germany, though I'm not sure they add hot mashed potatoes to the mix.  I also roll mine in a heavenly concoction of cinnamon and sugar.

  • 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.
Heat the shortening to 365ยบ. 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.


  1. I'm looking at this recipe thinking...Do I dare try this? In my husband's 'corporate days' we lived in New Jersey for a bit and we used to drive to Lancaster every weekend to get our sanity back. I'm going to try to make these.
    It'll be a nice way to begin Lent and bring back good memories.

  2. Italians make those for Christmas (at least my mother does) and St. Joseph's Day. We call them Zeppoles. Here:

    For Lent my mother makes some sort of rice custard cake. Not sure how else to describe it. Not sure what it's called to look it up either. But it's good. Can't wait. :)

  3. They look like the mexican sopapillas.

    Oh my goodness, I am salivating!

  4. Caroline, perhaps you are familiar with Kauffman's then? They have fruit orchards and apples are their specialty, but they also have the most charming little grocery store where a lot of Amish families shop. There is also a little farm market on Rte 896, the Red Barn, owned and run by Amish, and they make heavenly cider donuts in the fall when cider is at the height of production. Lancaster - it's like a slice of Heaven on earth.

    Manny, you crack me up. I have never thought of a St. Joseph cake as being the same as a fastnacht, but I will take your word for it, especially since your mom (God Bless her) makes them herself. I live withing walking distance of two famous Italian bakeries (at least in Phila) and if I want to be permitted in her house, I have to rememeber the Zeppoli for my mom. They are yummy

  5. These look good. Maybe we'll give it a try. I'd be in trouble if I lived within walking distance of two of famous bakeries, even if they were just OK bakeries.

  6. LOL. They are much more fancy and professional at the bakery. ;) By the way, it's my goal to bring a smile to people's faces. I seem to have two internet personalities: either a witty prankster or a fire and damnation

  7. Bless you. I am trying it! Hopefully my bread baking experience will help a little.
    I used to live just off 896 in South Southern Chester County, on a dairy farm. Loved it with every fiber of my being.
    We'll let you know how they turn out. I can tell you that even if they are not pretty, they'll go. My early bread baking experiments never went to waste. :) We are a family that one can never say, "low carb" in front of, without receiving our condolences.


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