Fashnacht Day Donuts
"Fastnacht Day is a big deal around here. There are many different ways to prepare them and everyone perfects their own. I don't know if you've ever tasted one, but think doughnut times 1,000,000 - yes, they're that good!" - Pam Weidle Alice Faust of Kempton in Berks County, PA, has been making donuts for Shrove Tuesday for 40 years. It is a Pennsylvania German tradition that Faust's family follows, to clear the house of fat on the day before Lent starts. “It may be an old tradition along with others, such as if you're the last one out of bed you had to do unpleasant chores," she says.
“We have a farm. We had a hog farm but we don't have animals anymore. We always have a big garden. I do a lot of canning and freezing and I dry corn." She cooks at the Kutztown Fair too. Faust has three sons and one daughter. One son makes faschnacht; the others eat them.
The word for these Pennsylvania German donuts is Fashnacht, although it literally means “fast night" the day before you fast for Lent on Ash Wednesday. Faschnacht is spelled different ways because the language was not yet written. They are not round with a hole in the center. They are square, which represents the four gospels in the Bible, or triangular, which represents the Trinity.
Although most recipes for donuts use yeast, Faust prefers this one using baking powder. “I have other recipes, but this is the best. My son found it on the web." Editor's Note: This recipe is from Pam Weidle's webpage, Pam's PA Dutch Recipes at www.berksweb.com/pam
2½ cups hot mashed potatoes
1 cup milk
3 beaten eggs
2 Tablespoons melted butter
2 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons baking powder
5 cups flour
Mix everything together except flour. Mix flour in slowly.
Divide the dough in half. Roll ½ inch thick. Cut with a donut cutter or use a knife to cut into triangular shaped pieces. Deep fry in hot fat or oil until done. Serve with sugar or molasses.
Alice Faust's Family Recipe #1:Faschnachts with baking powder
Beat two eggs and ¼ teaspoon salt in a little bowl. Add 1 cup sugar and 6 Tablespoons oil. Add alternately 1¼ cup milk and about 5 cups flour with 3 teaspoons baking powder on the first cup.
Roll out ¼ to ½ inch thick. Cut into triangles, squares, or rectangles. A slit can be cut in the center of the fashnacht. Fry 325-350 degrees.
Alice Faust's Family Recipe #2: Fashnachts with Yeast
2 cups scaled milk ½ cup lard
1 cup mashed potatoes 2 teaspoons salt
¾ cup sugar 2 well beaten eggs
1 package yeast
7 cups flour, approximately
Scald milk and add mashed potatoes, sugar, salt, and lard. Cool until lukewarm. Add eggs. Add yeast and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead well and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a cloth and let rise about 1½ hours. Roll ¼ inch thick on a floured board. Place on a cloth and let rise until doubled in size and fry in hot fat.
“How do you eat them? Around here we split it open, butter it and then put them in a ziplock bag with powdered sugar. A lot of people then pour Turkey Syrup or Karo on it - our family doesn't though, not sure why. I even knew a woman who grilled it after she buttered it." -- Pam Weidle
“If you have a yeast dough, make it Monday night and get up early in the morning and make your donuts,"¯ says Faust.
"On Fasnacht morning, the donuts were eaten for breakfast in different ways. My family split them in half and spread molasses on them.
Fasnachts in the Lehigh Valley are the raised type. Baking with yeast and making leavened baked goods was an inherited tradition that was brought from Europe. Years ago, the hausfrau made her own yeast called "satz." The satz was made from hops, potatoes, sugar and flour and was kept in a cool dark place. These were ingredients that she had available to her at that time. This yeast was used for bread, raised cakes, and fasnachts for home use. Other products could be purchased, but the hausfrau only used bought baking soda and powders for fancy cakes that were made when “company" was coming.
Potatoes were being cultivated here when the Pennsylvania German (a.k.a. PA Dutch) people arrived. Pennsylvania was mainly an agricultural wheat-dominated economy, meaning the farmers raised wheat which was later sold. Being frugal people, they sold their best products and kept the poorer products for their own use. They supplemented their own flour use with different substances: mashed potatoes, oatmeal, eggs, bran, raisins. This made the flour that they kept for themselves last longer.
"The PA German people loved potatoes. They ate them morning, noon, and night in a variety of ways. The northern counties of Lehigh Valley were, in later years, Pennsylvania's potato belt. It is ironic that the name for this area is 'Allemangel'¯ which means lacking everything. The name reflected the general poverty of the area before the potato culture began." - Alice Faust
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published February 05, 2005