In honor of these fried-dough and sugar treats, here is a photo from the Pennsylvania Bakery in Camp Hill.
Fastnacht is German for “eve of the fast” and stems from the Christian tradition of making “fat cakes” before abstaining from sugar and fat during Lent. German immigrants, many of whom settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country, first brought the tradition to the United States.
Traditional fastnachts use flour made from potatoes and are deep-fried in lard (though many cooks now substitute vegetable or canola oil), then dipped in molasses and dusted with sugar. The tradition is not unlike Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday, or Pascki Day in Polish communities, but I like the local PA folklore that surround the fastnacht, like the notion that the oil they are fried in has magical powers or that the person who eats the last one will end up an old maid or bachelor.
Bakeries all over southeastern Pennsylvania will open their doors earlier than usual today, with the expectation of selling thousands of fastnachts by mid-day. Churches, fire houses, and schools also sell their own variations. Even though the ingredients are always they same, everyone has fixed ideas about what makes a perfect specimen. Here is a story I wrote for Coca-Cola’s website, which offers a little more history on the fastnacht, plus an accompanying (and decidedly non-traditional) recipe for mini-chocolate cake doughnuts.
It’s a blissful day for the doughnut-loving consumer.