Frying the Fastnachts
I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and went to college in Southeastern Pennsylvania so if you said "Fastnacht" to most people they knew that you were referring to a doughnut. Being a German major in college and Catholic the terms Fastnacht and Fasching (Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras) were common terms as well.
Essentially as Ash Wednesday grew near it would be time to eat all those fatty foods before fasting (clearing out the pantry of all the goodies, so to speak). Fasching more commonly (at least today) refers to the day before Ash Wednesday and these doughnuts are a last hurrah of sorts.
My mom would make these every year when I was little. I remember coming home from school and seeing my mom surrounded by fastnachts.....mmmmm Yummy!!! The funny thing is we aren't even German...at all. My mom's 100% Irish. My dad 100% Lithuanian. Apparently my mom's best friend in school was German and she'd get lots of cool recipes from her and would turn them into family traditions. I would irritate my parents to no end because, as a child, I had a difficult time saying Fastnacht [fasst-nahkt]. I would say "fasst-snot". It was not intentional...at least at first :)
Benjamin helping roll the Fastnachts
When I went away to college I was delighted to see that Fastnachts were served there on Fasching as well. I'd grab a ton and eat them throughout the day. I'm sure on-lookers found it quite amusing to see me walking away with so many!
When I had kids this was one of those things that I just had to make each year. Now I didn't when we lived in Hawaii. My oldest was really too small to appreciate them, but when he was 2 years old and were living in California, it was game-on, and oh did my kids learn to love these doughnuts! They are an all day affair though, so I actually make them on Monday for them to beready for eating on Fasching (that's not saying that we don't enjoy them Monday night as well...it's still Carnival after all!).
Fastnachts on the last rise with the slits cut in the middle
So here's the recipe if you'd like to take a whack at making them. I guarantee that you won't be disappointed!
2 c milk, scalded
2 tbsp warm water (110-115 degrees (F))
1 pkg active dry yeast
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c margarine, melted
1/2 tsp salt
7 c flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Powdered sugar (or granulated, if you prefer)
Scald milk and set aside to cool.
Dissolve yeast in the water then add 1/2 c flour to the yeast and mix. Add this to the scalded milk (ensuring the milk is not between 110-115 degrees (F) as well). Stir. Transfer to a very large bowl. Add 1 tsp of the sugar and 3 c flour. Mix, cover with plastic wrap (spray plastic wrap with butter spray) or a towel and allow to rise overnight in a warm place.
Punch down. Add the eggs, margarine (again, make sure it's not hotter than 115 degrees(F)), nutmeg, salt, and remaining sugar. Add as much of the remaining flour as you can stir with a spoon. Allow to rise until light (about 2 hours).
Punch down. Roll on a floured surface to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into squares. Cut a slit in the center with a pair of kitchen scissors. Let rise (about 45 minutes).
Heat oil to 375 degrees (F). Fry in batches until golden, turning once. Remove to paper towel-lined baking sheets. While warm sprinkle with powdered or granulated sugar (we always did powdered).
Store in an air-tight container.
HINT: To proof the dough (make it rise faster) - Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (F). When preheated leave on (and empty) for 4 - 5 minutes. Turn the oven OFF and place the towel covered bowl in the oven (it's probably going to be on the lowest rack since you need a good-sized bowl for this and you don't want it touching the upper heating-element). I only use the proofing for the first rise (about 3 - 4 hours), but you could probably do it for the second rise as well.
Day old Fastnachts are no longer the lovely chewy goodness they were on that initial day, but fear not, just pop them in the microwave for a couple seconds or warm them up in the oven to bring them back to their first-day glory. They take a lot of work to make, but I guarantee that once you've eaten them you'll be craving them!