Mom’s Snowy Day Doughnuts aka Fastnachts
Traditions are the things memories are made of, they bind together generations, in practice they are rituals which connect us to those who went before us. My mother created traditions with food. Every holiday had a set meal with family recipes and a particular brand of store-bought wild rice. Yet, one of my favorite traditions came only when the snow came.
With anxious longing we would watch the weather for the first big winter storm. I suppose most children do this hoping for a day off school and of course playing in the snow, but in our house that first storm meant something special – homemade doughnuts! On the first snow day of the year without fail my mother would make her amazing homemade doughnuts. Shooing us out into the snow to play she would be busy with the dough, mixing, kneading, and letting the closest kid punch the dough down after each rise. Then came the shaping, frying, and the glazing. The glazing was the one part we really got to help with – no risk of small fingers getting burned I imagine. Eating those first doughnuts hot out of the oil with a barely cooling glaze was a treat that came but once a year and relished with delight.
The first winter after all the kids moved out my mother still made her Snowy Day Doughnuts. Looking around at a kitchen full of just cooling doughnuts covering every surface, she laughed at herself wondering what to do with them since there were no kids around to devour them. She told me she stepped out on the porch and announced to the neighbors shoveling their walks that she had doughnuts to share. I am sure they enjoyed them just as we did. That first winter after we lost Mom my youngest brother called to ask if I would be making them. I told him I would make them with him and trekked over to his place to honor my mother’s tradition.
While the blizzard managed to somehow miss us, we still made doughnuts this year. You see here in South Central PA my mother’s doughnuts are called fastnachts – a Pennsylvania Dutch potato yeast doughnut traditionally served on Fat Tuesday. Yup, my mother always made potato doughnuts – for much of my childhood I assumed that’s how they were all made. So, the weekend before Fat Tuesday we headed over to Ana’s to have a fastnacht making party. I had my mother’s recipe and Ana had one from a friend. With two recipes – that’s a lot of doughnuts! So we invited friends, made doughnuts, played games, hung out, and ate – it was a near perfect day.
If you’ve never had a potato doughnut, they’re similar to other yeast doughnuts but lighter. Covered in glaze, chocolate, powdered sugar, or cinnamon sugar their divine but be warned they go stale quickly so they are best eaten the same day they are made. Though, I did hear that Ana was contemplating making bread pudding with the leftovers, but that’s for another day. Below is my mother’s recipe for potato doughnuts.
Mom’s Snowy Day Doughnuts aka Fastnachts
- 1 c. milk
- 3/4 c. mashed potatoes (reconstituted from flakes just using water)
- 1/4 c. shortening
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 c. sugar
- 5-6 c. flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 package of active dry yeast or 2 1/4 tsp
- 1/4 c. lukewarm water
- 6 T. water
- 1 lb. confectioners sugar
- 1 T. vanilla
1. Scald milk - meaning heat it to just below its boiling point. Then stir in shortening, sugar and salt, mix thoroughly and set aside to cool until lukewarm.
2. Sprinkle the yeast into the lukewarm water, stir to dissolve.
3. Add the yeast, mashed potatoes, eggs, and just 2 cups of flour to the milk mixture. Beat with electric mixer until smooth, about 2 minutes. Then gradually add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough that leaves sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny – about 8 to 10 minutes. (My mother always kneaded by hand but to be honest I use my stand mixer.)
4. Place the kneaded dough into a lightly greased bowl, turn dough over to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough – no seriously punch that sucker down, as kids this was probably our favorite part.
5. Roll the dough out to 1/2 in. thick, then cut them with a doughnut cutter. Place the cut doughnuts on waxed paper, cover them, and let them rise until they are doubled in size. If you don’t have a doughnut cutter you can do what we did. Use a biscuit cutter to get the circular shape, then right before dropping them in the oil use a small knife to cut a slit in the middle and stretch it gently with your thumbs.
6. Meanwhile, stir together confectioners sugar, water and vanilla – stir until smooth and mixture resembles thick cream. This is your glaze, you can use any topping you like but this is a good basic glaze – just add cocoa if you want it chocolate glaze.
7. Fry a few doughnuts at a time in hot cooking oil (375) – when oil is hot a drop of water dropped in will pop. You’re waiting for them to turn golden brown – not dark brown – when you flip them. It’s a good idea to do a couple the first time and cut them open as soon as the you pull them out, in order to confirm you are cooking them thoroughly. You will need to fry them in batches.
8. Place the finished doughnuts on paper towels or newspaper to drain. Once cool enough to handle, drop the hot doughnuts into the glaze. Then place them on cooling rack until glaze is set – make sure you have newspaper or waxed paper under the cooling rack because they will drip.
*Just a note – a good set of metal tongs is your BEST FRIEND when making this recipe – they easily flip doughnuts in hot oil, pull doughnuts out of hot oil and glaze doughnuts (via dunking) without making your hands or kitchen a mess. Plus, they are inexpensive at your local restaurant supply store.
Do you have any Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras traditions? First snow traditions?