Sunday, April 13, 2014

Time to Make the Fastnachts

In Pamplona, there is the Running of the Bulls, but in England there is the slightly less lethal Running with the Stack.

This Running with the Stack (actually known as Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day)dates from medieval times, originally celebrated by coveys of apron-clad women racing each other through the streets flipping flapjacks high in the air at least three times as they head for the finish line at the church door.

The vicar decided the winner and awarded the prize, a prayer book. The church bell then signaled the start of this Shrove Tuesday festival, which originated to use up all the butter and eggs before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, with it's look inward and abstinence from meat and other rich foods  It was a fitting end to cold dreary February, a month so dull the Romans only gave it 28 days
One popular pre Lenten dish of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the Beignet.  It's good, but in the Range household the favorite pre Lent treat is German mashed potato based pastries, fried in deep fat and called Fastnachts (pronounced Fosh-knock and meaning Eve of the Fast).

The recipes and spelling of the dish may vary slightly but you do NOT want to call them donuts in Pennsylvania  Deitsch country. They may or may not have a hole or a slit in the center, but I add one, so my slightly larger sized ones cook completely in the center. But in holding with tradition, they are cut into squares, to represent the four gospels in the Bible.
Traditionally, on Monday, the day before Fastnacht, dough was put out in straw baskets for raising, then cut in squares and deep-fried in fat, not baked. Served with hot coffee at breakfast on Tuesday, the popular way to eat your Fastnacht was to split it in half and spread with honey.  Today, they're typically glazed and/or sugared. You will see many of them for sale in Pennsylvania, with many of the authentic Fastnachts made by many non-profit organizations (such as a number of Pennsylvania fire companies.)  Sure you can get a commercially made imitation at some stores, but none will be as good as those fire company ones, or those made from scratch at home, the smell as they fry banishing the last of  the winter blues and any loitering cardiologists.

was born and raised in Pennsylvania. While not in the "heart" of Pennsylvania Dutch country or Amish farms, near enough to know and follow the traditions of the land.
"Fasnacht Day," (pronounced Fosh-knock) more properly just called "Fasnacht," is also known as Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Literally translated, it means Fast Night.
Fasnacht is the established beginning of the 40 days of fasting during Lent - which officially begins on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday to be exact. It is a folk tradition dating to the Middle Ages, a Catholic custom that has survived in mostly Protestant Pennsylvania.
Traditionally, on Monday, the day before Fasnacht, dough was put out in straw baskets for raising, then cut in squares and deep-fried in fat, not baked. Served with hot coffee at breakfast on Tuesday, the popular way to eat your Fasnacht was to split it in half and spread with honey. (Today they often come coated with confectioners? sugar.)
In the old days, this was a chance for everyone to gorge on good doughnuts without reprise, for the lean days of Lent and fasting would now follow. The making of fasnachts helped use up fat and sugar prior to the fasting days of Lent.
But this year, that was a week in which there was no celebrating in my household, and they got put aside, until today. With an early morning call out, little sleep and fatigue, it was the perfect Post Lent Sunday Snack on my return (as the beer was remaining in the fridge for the rest of Lent).

However,  I avoided running, as a Scandahoovian Shieldmaiden with a plateful of hot fried Fastnachts is not a sight for amateurs.
Pennsylvania  Fastnachts

1 cup sugar
1 cup mashed potato (don't add anything to it, just the potatoes)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup lard
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp nutmeg
a pinch of Cardamom  (Optional)
2 packs yeast
1/2 cup warm water (use the warm potato water) plus 1/2 cup milk
5 cups flour

Cook 2-3 peeled chunked potatoes in water until soft.  Set aside potato water. Lightly mash potato and measure out 1 cup, reserving any leftover for another use.

Heat milk until scalded (just bubbling around the edges) and add cooled potato water (you want the mixture warm but not hot).

Add yeast to the warm liquid and stir until dissolved. 

Cream the sugar, butter and lard, and then beat that into the mashed potatoes on low, adding in eggs, salt, vanilla and nutmeg. Beat in yeast mixture on medium until smooth and then, with a wooden spoon, beat in roughly 3 cups of  the flour  Dump out onto a floured surface and knead in as much of the remaining flour as it takes (or not) so the dough is not sticky. Put in lightly greased bowl, cover with cloth and let rise until doubled.  Once doubled, roll out dough 1/2 inch thick, cut into squares and lay out on waxed paper about 2 inches apart and cover with a thin, clean towel.  Let raise in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour)

Heat additional lard  (you want it about 4 inches deep) to 365 degrees F. and gently add the Fastnachts to the hot fat with a wire spoon, so they do not spatter. Fry until golden brown on both side, turning once. Drain on paper towel and brush with a glaze made of 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp of milk and a small splash of vanilla.  When cool enough to handle, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar and serve. Makes a couple dozen large ones (and there might be some left for my team in the morning)


  1. There are cream-filled Pfastnachts sold, on a regular basis, by Hartmann's bakery in... Oh, I can't remember, Eastern Market, in York, PA, I think.

    One of the markets in York or Lancaster.

    They were my favorite thing from childhood.

  2. As a lifelong meat and potatoes girl, I have to admit you are winning me over to the pancakes. My eyes have gained many pancake-type pounds lately, LOL. I may have to rethink my "but batter food just takes up valuable bacon room in my stomach" rule, heh.

  3. Nice... Often wondered 'what' was in those... :-)

  4. You forget in D.C. Its the running of the mouth. Another recipe to try.

  5. I had to share this, Brigid. My grandmother, of German ancestry, made these for Easter and other special occasions. I had forgotten them.


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