Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fasnacht Day!

Now, this is a true example of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. It seems to have come from the Swiss rather than the Germans, but in the US, you'll have a tough time finding a fasnacht outside of PA Dutch country. (Believe me, once a year I'd give an eye tooth to find one here in Jersey, and all I get in response is a weird look from people who think I've just begun speaking in tongues.)

Fasnachts are similar to doughnuts, but are potato based. They can be made with or without holes. As with many other foods traditional to Shrove Tuesday, they were made to use up the ingredients that would not be used during Lent (in this case, lard). When I was a kid, we'd always get fasnachts on Shrove Tuesday; occasionally, they'd even have them on hand for school lunches. I have a very vague recollection of making them with my great-grandmother (not Sweetie--this one would be Gpa's mother), but if I was indeed only about three, as noted below, that certainly would explain why I don't recall it very clearly.

When I was in Nothern Ireland in 1996, I asked my mother to send me the recipe, figuring that I could make them for the day, just for fun. Then she sent the recipe and I found out it would make about 12 dozen, which was a lot even when you had seven people in the house, especially since they are, as my mom calls them, "little potato paperweights." That was the end of that idea.

I haven't had one of these in years, and would dearly love to make some, in keeping with the spirit of this blog, but I am but one lone woman, and there's no way I can handle even half of a recipe like this on my own. Alas, I can provide none of my own photos, though the links above will get you to a few, but I present the recipe anyway, for those of you more adventurous (and less concerned about appropriate Shrove Tuesday timing) than I.

And with that, I turn you over to my mother's email from 14 years ago, which contains some details about the recipe, some backstory about making them, and her own sense of humor, to boot. :)

I helped Granny make fasnachts (that's a little like spelling Pfaltzgraff - you are never sure whether it's right or not) one year.  I have her recipe and they were good.  The only thing is that it makes something like 12 dozen fat ball goodies.  It was a super long project that lasted for hours.  Of course, the way to pass the time is to sample a few.  This is done solely for the purpose of maintaining quality, you see.  The thing that makes these different from other donuts is that potatoes are the basis of them.  If I send the recipe, will you be able to get some?

A few days later, the recipe arrived.

Heretowith is the official recipe for Granny's fastnachts.  I wanted to learn how to do it so I was there one evening and then the following morning helping her make what seemed like thousands of these little paperweights.  It was fun to do.  You were about three years old at the time and we really had to keep an eye on you because of the frying.  Grandpa was in charge of that.  You were good with the whole process and curious like a three-year old would be and you came to no harm.

6 medium potatoes
3 cups of sugar
2 eggs
1 qt. of warm milk
3/4 cup melted lard
1 cup of warm water
1-1/2 cakes of yeast (without icing, of course)
1 t. salt
6 lbs. flour

Put everything together when I "set" them.  I strain the potatoes through a colander or sieve, then I add sugar, eggs, and warm milk (I like to heat the milk so that the dough does not get chilldren and retard the yeast action), then lard and yeast dissolved in water.  (I use dry yeast and usually just one pack to the recipe, sometimes I made only half of recipe, I also use the whole pack of yeast) then add salt and flour till the dough does not stick to my hands.  I do not use the water which potatoes are cooked in (Granny does) but I imagine that would be all right to use.

When I have the dough mixed, I set them at a warm place to rise usually at the radiator and I always set them in the evening just before I go to bed. Then when I get up, I roll them out and cut them and let them rise again until they double in thickness and they are ready to bake.

When I make enough so that I have some to sell, I set them about 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. then get up around 3 a.m. to roll and cut them, get up again about 5 p.m. to bake them.  I like to allow about 6 hours for first raising, however, that depends upon how warm the place is where they are set.

Roll out the doughnuts so they are about 1/2" thick before they raise.  Place them on floured pans for rising.  They are ready to be fried when they have risen to the finished size.  Watch them carefully when they are frying so they are not overdone.  Place them on paper towels for cooling.  Do not sugar them until they are ready to be eaten.

I have a note that this recipe was actually from Mrs. James Krout of Seven Valleys and that Granny got it 2/26/50.  I did have to laugh when I typed about having the milk warmed so it would not retard the dough.  One thing we certainly want to avoid is retarded dough.  It is not noted here but I believe this makes about 12 dozen fastnachts.  I only actually was involved in making them this one time.  They were gooooooooood.

I admit, I don't quite understand the baking part of this process, because these babies are very definitely fried, and no specific baking info is mentioned. I will have to see if my mother can shed any light on that for us.


Tamar Wyschogrod said...

"I like to heat the milk so that the dough does not get chilldren"

Lol - some kind of homespun birth control?

This recipe sounds amazing, but frankly any recipe that calls for waking up at 3 AM and 5 AM is not likely to be made in my house.

Nancy said...

Yeah, it's not likely to be made in mine, either! I bet if you wanted to make them in the afternoon, you could adjust those hours, but honestly, unless I had a team of friends to help make and then to take several of them off my hands, there's no chance I'd ever make these. Too much work, and too high a yield for one person, by far.

Travelling Pamster said...

I'm more amused that your mum was apparently concerned about the availability of potatoes in Ireland... ;0)

Nancy said...

Like I said, her sense of humor is thoroughly evident in her comments! :)

Rae Hallstrom said...

If you think these are heavy, try making gnocchi, a recipe from my Italian heritage. They are little potato dumplings. My family also adds ricotta cheese to the mix. Served as a main course with marinara sauce.

Nancy said...

I love gnocchi, Rae! They're much smaller than fasnachts, though. I'd still say fasnachts are heavier, since they're fried in lard in addition to being potato-laden, but they may well be distant culinary cousins! :)

Nancy Babyak, PMP said...

Have you tried searching around Philly for a bakery that makes these? There is a huge German population in a couple of different pockets.

Nancy said...

Hi, Nancy!

I haven't done much investigation around Philly, though a friend in Yardley tells me she lives literally a minute from a bakery that makes them (though their spelling is pretty different and they have a chocolate-covered variety, which made me blink--definitely not traditional in the York area!). At least, we assume they're the same, though we've not tried them yet. Maybe this week I'll give in to temptation and take her up on her offer to stop by and pick some up for me!

Anonymous said...

Love your blog, Nancy.

Did your Grandmother also make Dutchman's breeches with some of the dough? My Grandmother would take a 12" rope of dough, fold it in half in the middle, and twist two legs of it together to form a crueller-like piece of dough. She described it as looking like a pair of trouser legs that were twisted in the wind on the clothesline.

How about home-made egg noodles? Remember them?

York, PA

Nancy said...

Hi, Dianne!

Dutchman's breeches are not ringing any bells, but they sound very interesting! I'll have to ask my mom if she's familiar with that idea.

The only time I ever had homemade noodles was when my great-grandmother made ham pot pie when I was very small. I assume they were egg noodles, and I remember helping her cut them into rectangles. I have wanted to make that recipe for a while, but have a feeling it's a bit of a production, what with the noodle-making, and have been waiting for a time when I would have a few extra hands around (and could borrow a friend's larger kitchen!).

Anonymous said...

Need a good chow-chow recipe?


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