Fasnacht Day: A Lancaster County Tradition
Fasnacht Day is a highly-anticipated holiday in Lancaster County. Whether it symbolizes something special to you, or you just love delicious doughy treats, people look forward to celebrating a day they can indulge in and not feel guilty about.
Fasnacht Day 2025 is right around the corner, and we want to help you prepare for the occasion the right way. In this blog, we’ll review what a Fasnacht is, why there’s a day designated for this treat, and how you can make them from scratch.
- History of the Fasnacht Donut
- How to Make Fasnachts
The History of the Fasnacht Donut
A fasnacht is a type of fried donut that originated in Germany. They are traditionally served during popular German celebrations such as Carnival and Fastnacht or on Shrove Tuesday. These treats were originally made as a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter before the Lenten fasting period, also known as Lent, which is observed by many Christian denominations.
The German version of the fasnacht is made from a yeast dough, which is deep fried and coated or dusted in powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. Some are even filled with fruit jam or pastry cream. Fasnachts differ from average donuts because they tend to be denser and are usually square or triangular shaped. Plus, they don’t have holes in the middle.
People traditionally served fasnachts by cutting them in half and pairing them with butter, molasses, or syrup. However, as years have passed, people have experimented with many different recipes to make fasnachts. (More on that below.)
What is Fasnacht Day?
Maybe you’ve indulged in one before, but have you ever thought to yourself, what does fasnacht mean? The word fasnacht originates from the German words “fast” which is a shortened version of the verb “fasten” and “nacht” which means night.
This term was originally used to indicate the eve of the traditional Lenten period. Inhabitants of Pennsylvania Dutch country, which includes Lancaster, York, and Berks Counties in Central Pennsylvania, all celebrate Fastnacht as part of their Easter traditions.
So, now you’re probably asking yourself, when is Fasnacht Day? Fasnacht Day occurs on the day before Ash Wednesday in the Western Church calendars. This day has many names such as: Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and of course, Fasnacht Day.
No matter what you choose to call it, the purpose of this day is to indulge before Lent begins. During the Lenten season, many Christians “fast” by giving something enjoyable (like sweets) for 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. This year, Fasnacht Day 2025 will be celebrated on Wednesday, March 5, 2025.
How to Make Fasnachts
If you’re interested in making your own treats for Fasnacht Day 2023, we have a recipe for you to try out! You can make fasnachts with a variety of ingredients. The most common recipes use yeast, potatoes, or baking powder. They can also be cut into whatever shape you’d like. Whether it be squares, round, or even donut holes, you’ll find them all delicious.
Below, we’ve shared a traditional fasnacht recipe that includes yeast, and we decided to shape them as squares.
Traditional Fasnacht Recipe
- 2 cups of milk
- ½ cup of unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- ¾ cup of sugar
- ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
- 2 large eggs (beaten)
- 7 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 packages of active dry yeast
- Cooking oil (for frying)
- Molasses (optional)
- In a medium saucepan, warm your milk and add in the butter. Stir until melted.
- In a large bowl, mix your salt, sugar, and nutmeg.
- Pour the melted milk and butter mixture into your mixing bowl. Stir until it’s well mixed and let it sit until room temperature.
- Once the mixture has cooled, mix in the beaten eggs and yeast packages.
- Add 3 cups of flour into the mixture. If you have a stand mixer, beat at a low speed for 2 minutes. If you’re mixing by hand, stir for at least 2 minutes, or until smooth.
- Once your mixture is well mixed, add the remaining cups of flour and stir by hand.
- Put the dough on a floured surface, and knead for about 3 minutes.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl. Make sure to turn it over so that both sides of the dough are greased.
- Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and allow it to proof for about 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a floured surface.
- Roll out the dough into a ¼ inch thick disk.
- Cut the dough into even squares and cover with the kitchen towel so that it can proof for another 45 minutes, or until it doubles in size.
- After the squares have doubled in size, begin heating about 2-3 inches of cooking oil to 370 degrees in a deep saucepan.
- Drop the dough squares into the frying oil, but be mindful not to crowd the saucepan (too many pieces can make the oil temperature drop).
- Once the bottom side of the squares is golden brown, flip the dough over to cook on the other side.
- When both sides are golden brown, you can remove the fasnachts and set them on paper towels to cool.
- Dab the fasnachts to remove excess oil.
You can enjoy these fasnachts the traditional way with molasses on the side, dusted with powdered sugar, or cinnamon sugar. Another way to make these fasnachts even more delicious is to fill them with pastry cream or fruit jam.
If you decide to coat your fasnachts with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, make sure you do so while they’re still warm. Place 2-3 fasnachts into a large Ziploc bag with whatever coating you desire, and toss until they are completely coated.
Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe
Adding a filling is also a fairly simple option. Below, we’ve provided a recipe for a vanilla pastry cream filling you can use. Be sure to allow the fasnachts to cool completely before adding the filling.
- 1 box of vanilla pudding mix
- 1 cup of milk
- ½ cup of heavy whipping cream
- In a medium bowl, mix together the vanilla pudding mix and milk. Stir until it thickens.
- In a separate bowl, using a stand mixer or your hand, whip the heavy cream for several minutes until medium peaks form.
- Fold the whipped cream into the vanilla pudding mixture with a spatula until it is completely blended.
- Take a large piping bag (fitted with a piping tip of your choice) and fill it with the vanilla pastry cream.
- Pipe into the fasnachts until the centers are full.
Celebrate Fasnacht Day 2023 the right way this year by making your own, but remember, you don’t need to make them from scratch to take part in the fun. Stauffers of Kissel Hill has a bakery shop where you can buy fresh-baked donuts any day of the year!