Fastnacht: What is it, why does it have a holiday, and where can I get some?

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Today is Fastnacht Day — the day indulging in fluffy, fried pastries is not only acceptable but encouraged. It is celebrated on the Tuesday before Lent begins, also known as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday.

Fastnacht Day began as a German tradition. Many people temporarily stopped eating foods like butter, sugar and lard for Lent. So the day before Ash Wednesday (the start of the Christian holiday Lent) they would use up those ingredients by making Fastnacht.

Today, the tradition continues in Pennsylvania Dutch communities with high demand for the pastries around the holiday. John Smucker, owner of Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe in Lancaster County, says they’ll make about 12,000 fasnachts in the first three weeks of February.

Fastnacht Fast Facts

  1. Fastnacht Day is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday
  2. The word translates into “Fasting Night”
  3. Fastnacht Day began as a German tradition as a last indulgence before the start of the Christian holiday Lent
  4. Fastnacht are donuts without a hole and are often square-shaped
  5. The sweet treats can be served plain, glazed, or covered in powdered sugar or cinnamon and sugar

There are several ways Fastnacht is made, including with yeast, baking powder or potatoes. Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe uses potato flour in their Fasnacht, and Smucker says this makes them softer than typical doughnuts.

Also unlike regular doughnuts, aficionados seem to agree that Fastnacht does not have holes, and the pastries are often square-shaped.

Fastnacht can be plain or covered with glaze, powdered sugar, or cinnamon and sugar.

Fastnachts at Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Café

If you don’t want to miss out on this Central Pennsylvania tradition, here are some places to get Fastnacht in the area:

Is your business or organization selling fastnacht? Fill out this form to be added to abc27’s list.

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