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Fastnachts (Pennsylvania Dutch/German Crullers)

Makes about 2 dozen doughnuts

Fastnacht Day is a special Pennsylvania Dutch celebration that originated in the German homeland. It falls on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. It actually translates to "Fast Night". The tradition is to eat the very best, and lots of it, before the Lenten fast. Fastnachts (pronounced fost-nokts) are doughnuts. There are three types of Fastnachts, one made with yeast, one made with baking powder, and one made with potatoes and yeast. All are slightly crispy on the outside and not as sweet as standard doughnuts. My family usually had crullers, at least in my memory, which do not use yeast. I have recipes for both the crullers, spelled cruellers in PA Dutch country, as in this posting, and yeast Fastnachts. Both are very good, but the crullers are less time-consuming and my personal favorite. A cousin shared her family recipe for potato Fastnachts. That recipe, as well as the yeast version, is in the similar recipes links. Traditionally, all Fastnachts were made with, and fried in, lard. I have altered that in the recipes since it is so difficult to find in contemporary grocery stores.

Ingredients

Place the flour, baking powder, salt and mace in a medium bowl. Stir with a wire whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and mix until creamy. Gradually add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk, mixing on low speed, just until well-combined. Place on a floured board. Work the dough lightly with your hands, adding a little more flour as needed if it is too sticky. (This dough should be very soft, something like biscuit dough, so don't add more flour than necessary.) Gently roll the dough into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle or square. Using a sharp knife, cut into 2-inch squares or similarly sized rectangles.

Heat the oil in a deep-sided pot over medium heat to 375° F. Carefully add the Fastnachts to the oil, about 6 per batch, and fry until well-browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Flip and brown the other side for another 2 or 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining Fastnachts.

Notes: If desired, the crullers can be rolled in granulated or powdered sugar while still warm. A common PA Dutch tradition is to cut the cruller down the center and drizzle some molasses or corn syrup on each half. That was the way my father ate them. Personally, I like them just the way they are.