Celebrating Fastnacht Day

By Jess Clevenger – There are many traditions that I’ve been introduced to since moving to Adams County three years ago, and one that I can most definitely get behind is Fastnacht Day. Fastnacht Day, which translates to ‘fast night’ or ‘night before the fast,’ is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, and is big in Adams County because of the heavy Pennsylvania Dutch influence of the area. Kids get treated to fastnachts in area schools, you can find fastnachts in grocery stores and many churches make large batches of fastnachts to celebrate.

I’ve never celebrated Fastnacht Day, but decided that this would be the year I start. I found a recipe from Gettysburg area restaurant Hickory Bridge Farm and got to the kitchen. Fastnachts start with a potato – or potatoes – that you boil until tender and then mash with some butter. Some of the water from boiling the potatoes is saved and is used to proof the yeast. Shortening and sugar are combined with eggs, mashed potatoes, yeast, sugar, vanilla and flour and everything comes together to form a heavy, smooth dough that you knead and then let rise. You then form the fastnachts into balls, let them rise again and then give them a dip into oil to fry. I decided to lightly sprinkle my fastnachts with powdered sugar at the end to add just a touch of extra sweetness, as fastnachts are not like regular sugary doughnuts. They are perfectly fluffy and light with just the right amount of sweetness. I ate one that was freshly fried and it just melted in my mouth. It was then that I decided Fastnacht Day would be something that I celebrate year after year.

Try a fastnacht next time you’re in Adams County, or learn how to make them yourself with the video and recipe below. Enjoy!

Fastnachts (Potato Doughnuts)

From Hickory Bridge Farm’s cookbook

1 large potato (1 cup mashed)

2 cups water

2 tablespoons butter

1 package yeast

1/2 cup potato water

2 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup shortening

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

6-7 cups flour

Peel and cut up potato, place in 2 cups of water in a small pan and cook until tender. Drain, reserve 1/2 cup of the potato water – cool to 105-115 degrees. Mash potato; measure one cup and add 2 tablespoons butter, set aside. Combine potato water, yeast and 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir until dissolved and set aside until yeast foams. In large bowl, cream shortening, 1/2 cup sugar and salt. Blend in eggs, mashed potato and vanilla; add yeast mixture plus one cup lukewarm water and 2 cups flour, and stir well. Add 3 cups of flour slowly; mixture should be soft but not sticky. Knead on floured board, add more flour if dough is sticky. Knead until smooth, 6-8 minutes. Let rise covered in greased bowl for 1-1 1/2 hours. Punch down, roll out and cut doughnuts, let rise on greased sheets until double. Deep fry in 400 degrees oil until golden brown.


About the Author
As an Adams County transplant, Jess is continually exploring the area; slowly but surely becoming a local. When not working at Destination Gettysburg, you can find Jess spending time with her family, hiking, cooking and taking care of her Aspers, Pa. home.

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