Fastnacht falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Fastnacht is Pennsylvania Dutch or German for ‘fast night’ and is the last revelry before the fast of Lent. A fastnacht is a doughnut that is deep fried and served by slicing crosswise like bagel with molasses used as a spread. The fastnacht comes from German folk traditions where it was thought that eating a fastnacht before Lent would prevent boils in the coming year. The fastnacht also has a practical purpose of using up last year’s fat and sugar. In many Pennsylvania Dutch areas, the last person out of bed on that day is called fastnacht.
2 cups milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
2 packages active dry yeast
7-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
In medium saucepan, warm milk and butter until butter is melted. In large bowl, add salt, sugar, and nutmeg. Pour in milk and melted butter. Stir and set aside until lukewarm. When contents in bowl are warm, mix in beaten eggs and yeast.
Add 3 cups of flour. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes and then on high speed for 2 minutes. Mix in remaining flour by hand. Turn dough out onto floured board and knead for about 3 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turn dough over, and cover with clean cloth. Let rise in warm place for about 1 hour or until double in size.
Punch down and turn dough out onto floured board. Roll to 1/4 inch thick and cut dough into squares. Cover and let rise until double in size. Drop into hot fat. Turn over when golden brown on bottom side. Remove from heat and set fastnachts on paper towels to cool.
If you are going to freeze the fastnachts for later, allow to cool completely, bag and freeze. To cover fastnachts in powdered sugar, sift sugar over fastnachts while they are still slightly warm. To cover in cinnamon and sugar, put 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a plastic bag. Shake one fastnacht at a time inside the bag to coat with cinnamon sugar. Traditionally, fastnachts are cut open and buttered with molasses.