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From Scratch: Making fasnachts, a York County family tradition
Three years ago, cousins Sue Swedler and Katie Staab began to reminisce about their grandmother Anna Husson's fasnachts.
Having her original recipe, they decided to try to reproduce them. Using social media and a mailing list, they rounded up family members for a giant fasnacht party.
Katie's parents, Cathy and Tim Staab, volunteered their home near Red Lion for the party. The fasnacht celebration was supposed to be a one-off, but it was such a success that the event was repeated. Now, family from six states attend.
Thanks to an invitation from my high school friend Pat Atkins (Husson), last Saturday I had the pleasure to share in this annual gathering. When I arrived, the doughnut-making was well underway. At a large dining room table lined with white paper, family members were busy rolling and cutting the fasnachts.
Because the dough has to be refrigerated overnight, people arrived with dough in hand ready to be rolled out.
Everyone had a job. While the women rolled and cut, the men manned two large, hot pots of oil to fry the fasnachts. Uncle Toots, 91, sat in the living room and served as official taster.
The expert: I was impressed with the efficiency of the operation, but I heard many times how people missed the guidance of Aunt Aileen, who passed away last October. Forget a thermometer — she was the one who could look at the oil and know exactly when it reached the proper temperature for frying.
The younger generation carried on, though, producing 468 fasnachts in all.
With 37 family members and five guests in attendance, the fasnachts benefited from their input. Besides the usual doughnut shapes, there were twirled, rectangular and even cream-filled ones. Because the doughnuts were smaller than commercial fasnachts, each one was pillow light. "Forced" to try them all, I was converted from powdered sugar to granulated sugar as my preferred coating.
After eating a number of fasnachts, I began to notice the other dishes around me. Grandma Anna was not a one-note chef. In tribute to her memory, there were pickled beets and eggs, chow chow, macaroni and cheese, homemade sauerkraut with franks and rice pudding. From "abroad," there was Eastern North Carolina pulled pork.
In these days of takeout and fast food, Grandma Anna would have been proud to see four generations of her descendants carrying on this pre-Lenten tradition.
If you would like to try your own hand at making Grandma Anna's fasnachts, below is an updated version of her recipe given to me by her granddaughter, Sue.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.
Grandma Anna's Fasnachts
1 packet dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup plain mashed potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs at room temperature
6 to 8 cups of flour (6 seems to work well)
oil for frying
Dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water in a large bowl. Melt shortening in the heated milk. While waiting for the shortening to melt, add eggs, sugar and salt to the mashed potatoes. Mix well and then add the shortening/milk mixture to the potatoes. Add all this to the dissolved yeast. Add the flour until the dough seems ready to knead.
Knead, adding more flour if needed. Let sit, covered in plastic wrap, until doubled in size (about an hour). Punch the dough down and knead again. Then cover the dough and place in the refrigerator overnight. Use a large bowl or other container with a lid. Cover with plastic wrap before putting on the lid, as it really grows overnight.
After this overnight rise, you can shape into rolls and bake, or deep fry to make fasnachts.
Before you begin, fill a large pot with oil. To make doughnuts, roll out the dough very thin, as it keeps rising. You can cut them in circles with a round cutter for a traditional doughnut shape or in squares with a knife. Put a hole in each with your thumb and let them rise a little while the oil is heating. Place the doughnuts in the oil, making sure they have room to cook. If the oil is hot enough, the doughnuts will pop right up. To test the temperature of the oil, put a small ball of dough into oil. When it is brown, the oil is ready. Keeping the burner on medium seems to maintain the correct temperature.
Fry the doughnuts for a minute or so on each side. Drain on paper towels.
Shake the doughnuts in a paper bag with powdered or granulated sugar. If you let them cool a little, the sugar sticks better, but of course you might want to try one (for quality control) while they are warm.
Makes 4 to 5 dozen.