foodies in the wild: fastnacht day 5

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

This will hopefully be the first of an ongoing feature on people we meet who are using their love of good food to improve the world around them and take care of their friends.

A few weeks ago, our friend Sondra (Sonnie) had a bunch of us over for fastnachts. If you have no idea what those are, welcome to the club. I still have difficulty pronouncing it correctly, but what my eyes told me (and my mouth confirmed) is that fastnacht is just a silly Pennsylvania Dutch word for “doughnut”. 

Apparently amidst all the varied and sometimes ridiculous traditions surrounding Lent, the PA Dutch at some point decided to address the season the same way they handle everything else: with delicious baked goods. According to Sonnie, the tradition of eating fastnachts arose out of a need to use up all the fat and sugar in the pantry before you went without them for the 40 days of Lent. For the past few years, she’s been trying to reinvent the tradition by inviting over a bunch of friends and frying up a whole bunch of these doughy treats.

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

The recipe, of course, came from an old, authoritative, weather-beaten Mennonite cookbook owned by Sonnie’s mother  Julie (another dear friend of ours). Books like these are like ancient spellbooks of baking wonder; most of the recipes have stood the test of time and thousands of potlucks, and are well worth making. This recipe for fastnachts was no exception. It takes some preparation, but with a little thinking ahead it shouldn’t be too much of a burden on your schedule.

Anyway, enjoy the recipe below and try it out with your friends. We wanted to highlight Sonnie because she’s making an effort to create friendship and community through great home cooking and fun traditions, and that’s the kind of thing we love to see happening around us.

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

Fastnachts Recipe (from the Mennonite Community Cookbook)

1 1/4 cups milk

1/4 cup shortening

1 tsp salt

2 1/2 tsp yeast

3 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp nutmeg

4 1/2 to 5 cups sifted flour

(makes about 3 dozen)

Heat the milk till fairly warm, then mix in the salt and shortening. (The original recipe says to scald, but that’s probably not necessary unless you’re using unpasteurized milk.)

Add the yeast and mix in (if the milk is hot to the touch, wait for it to be closer to lukewarm).

Gradually add in 2.5 cups of the flour, beating thoroughly as you go to make a smooth batter.

Leave in a warm place until the batter is bubbly from the yeast.

Mix the sugar, eggs, and nutmeg, and beat into the original mixture.

Then, add the rest of the flour; just enough to make the dough kneadable but still tacky and not dry.

Knead well by hand or with the dough hook of a stand mixer, then cover and let rise for about an hour (or until doubled in bulk).

Once it’s risen, dump the dough on your counter and roll it evenly to about 3/4 inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter/cookie cutter/ some circular thing to cut the whole party into nice rounds. Lay the rounds on a lightly floured pan and cover until they become springy and puffed again (maybe 20-30 minutes).

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

Heat a large amount of oil for frying to about 350°-375°F. Once the oil is hot, drop the doughnuts in; the recipe suggests putting them in top-side first so the bottom can rise while it cooks.

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

Once they’re golden brown, remove from oil and drain, then cool on paper to absorb some of the excess oil.

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

That’s the recipe! Once you’re done, feel free to add some more excitement by coating the fastnachts in powdered sugar or something. For Sonnie’s party we did three coatings: powdered sugar, glazed, and cinnamon sugar. For the sugar versions, dump some of your coating in a doubled-up sandwich bag and shake the fastnachts inside until well coated.

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

I don't like powdered doughnuts, in case you're interested.

For the cinnamon sugar version, do the same thing, except fill the bags with cinnamon mixed with granulated sugar rather than powdered.

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

Observe how seriously I'm taking my fastnacht-shaking duty. This is how you know I care about my food.

For a glaze, simply make up a thick syrup with sugar and a little water mixed with something like honey or vanilla to flavor it. Dip the doughnuts one by one in the syrup and set aside to cool.

foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

These are delicious, and better than any mass-produced doughnuts I’ve ever had. More importantly, it was a creative excuse to get people to spend time together and enjoy good food. Let it be an inspiration for your own adventures.


Thanks, foodies, and I’ll see you next time!

5 thoughts on “foodies in the wild: fastnacht day

  1. Reply Cindy Mar 15, 2012 12:56 pm

    Love it! They look delish, too. Sound like a great upcoming series – can’t wait!

  2. Reply Tamie Jan 1, 2013 1:20 am

    My mom grew up in Germany and brought this tradition with her. Interestingly, we made them in our house for New Year’s Day each year, and delivered them to friends and neighbors. It is a traditional Lenten food but for some reason my mom chose to make them for New Year’s. In any case, we were making 800+ of these little guys every year and spent the whole day cooking and delivering. Friends and family eagerly awaited them! The recipe my mother uses does have some liquor in it…I usually use whiskey or bourbon. And ours were always coated in sugar and cinnamon. Yum.

    • Reply Todd Jan 1, 2013 10:51 am

      That sounds like a great tradition, Tamie! Your family seems like the kind of people I like to write about here on the blog– foodies using food to impact their community (with delicious fastnachts, in this case).

  3. Reply Donna Nov 28, 2013 8:47 am

    My grandmother wood always make these at halloween and the kids would change masks just to come back and get more. I have tried to find HER recipe because she called them fastnacht keaklies. I’m sure I have spelled it wrong. But that is what she called them and they tasted like there were more spices in them. Anyway, they were great and I will try this recipe. Thanks

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