By Karen Hammonds / Contributor
In medieval Europe, fat and sugar were forbidden in Lenten cooking, and so Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent, was a busy day in the kitchen. The English made pancakes, the Poles jelly doughnuts called paczki. In Germany, women bustled about frying up doughnuts called fastnachts (German for “Eve of the Fast”).
Approximately 30 doughnuts
2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1-3/4 cups whole milk, scalded
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Crisco shortening
2 large eggs
6-1/4 to 6-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Corn oil, for frying
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Dark corn syrup, for dipping
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, scald milk, remove skin from surface, and place milk in a large (e.g., 6-quart) mixing bowl. Add to it the sugar, salt, and shortening and stir to dissolve shortening. Let mixture cool a little, then beat eggs well, add to the milk mixture, and stir to blend.
Add 2 cups of flour to the milk mixture and mix well. Add dissolved yeast. Beat well with mixer on medium speed for about a minute. Add the rest of the flour gradually (kneading with hands when it becomes too thick for mixer) until dough pulls from sides of bowl and forms a ball. It should be quite stiff. Smooth top and sides of dough and grease with a little shortening, then cover with a tea towel. Let dough rise for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours, until a hole made in the dough with your finger doesn’t close up.
Dump dough onto a floured surface and flatten out to approximately 3/4-inch thickness. Using a knife, cut strips about 6 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. Gently roll strips between hands to form smooth ropes, then fold into knots, pretzels, twists – whatever shapes you like. For ladders, just cut out a rectangular shape, make several short slits along it with a knife, then pull slightly to create small holes. Try not to overhandle the dough.
Lay fastnachts on foil-covered cookie sheets and let rise for 3/4 hour. Meanwhile, fill a deep, heavy-bottomed pot (4-quart size works well) about half full with corn oil, leaving a space of at least two inches between oil and top of pan. (If using an electric deep-fat fryer, follow instructions for that fryer.) Heat gradually to a temperature of 365 degrees F. If you don’t have a frying thermometer, a small cube of bread will turn golden brown in about a minute when the oil is hot enough.
Slide about three fastnachts into the oil gently with a slotted spoon. Do not crowd the pot. Cook for one minute per side, flipping over with a spoon or tongs. The fastnachts should turn golden brown. If they turn very dark, reduce heat (the oil temperature will need to be readjusted throughout frying).
Remove fastnachts from oil carefully, and drain on paper towels. Serve warm, dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and dip in dark corn syrup. Fastnachts can be stored for about a week wrapped in aluminum foil. Rewarm before serving for best flavor. Makes approximately 30 fastnachts.