Fastnachts / Pączki

Old World Donuts / Fried Potato Dough

In various ethnic German and Slavic areas of PA, pancakes/crêpes and a kind of donut called [FAHS-nots] or sometimes [PAWnCH-kee] are the a traditional treat for Shrove/Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday -on which begins the fast of Lent in various "ecclesiastical/liturgical calenders."

As Calvinists we don't observe such calenders, but we sure like to eat donuts (any time of year)!  Here is the recipe we used, and how we made them.

The ingredients are:
  • 2 cups scalded milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ½ cup lard
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 well beaten eggs
  • 1 package yeast
  • 7 cups flour, approximately 

I'll tell you right away that "these days" we use lard so infrequently, many are unaccustomed to the flavor and find it unappealing.  You might choose to substitute shortening/Crisco in the dough, and fry them in shortening or peanut oil, or some other oil with a high smoke point.  But lard is good for you, so you might want to try it.

 1. Peel and boil approximately 4 medium potatoes; or enough for the 2 cups mashed that you'll need.  We used red skin.  They cook faster (within about 15 minutes) if you chop them into rough cubes.  When they're soft enough to easily poke with a fork, strain water and mash.

2.  Add scalded milk, sugar, salt, butter, and lard to the mashed potatoes.  (Obviously, butter and lard will melt and become liquid). Let cool until lukewarm.  At this point, it all looks like potato soup.

3. Beat 2 eggs thoroughly.  If you've had a rough day, this is your opportunity to take it out on someone else.  Brutalize those eggs.  Then stir them into your soupy mixture.

4. Stir in 1 package (0.31oz  / 8.75g) of active dry yeast.

5. One cup at a time, or so, stir in the flour until it becomes a soft dough.  (This may take some elbow grease). We used cake flour, but any bleached flour should do.

6. Knead dough well on a floured surface and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a cloth and let rise for about 1½ hours.

7. Roll out dough on a floured surface to about ¼ inch thickness.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in size.

8.  Cut dough with wide mouth cup.  Press cup down on the dough and make small circular motions until blob under cup is sufficiently separated from the rest of the dough.

9. Place dough into deepfryer with lard or oil heated to about 365 degrees Fahrenheit.  Allow about 2-3 minutes for each side, or until light brown.  You may want to experiment with how much frying a piece needs so that after it is cooled enough to eat, the insides are not raw.

10. Place freshly fried pieces onto wire cooling rack and dust with confectioner's powdered sugar.  Alternatively, you could make a glaze.

So that's it!  The above recipe makes about 4 dozen donuts.  They're nowhere near as tasty an hour or more after they've cooled.  You want to eat these fresh. After the second rising, you can freeze extra unfried dough for use later. You can see we made several odd-shaped pieces from the dough left between cut-outs.  Thankfully, shape in no way effects taste.

A word about deepfryers.  We used my parents' ancient Nesco brand Fryryte.  My mom bought it with "bonus points" from a local grocery back in 1968 or so.

This thing is a beautiful workhorse, but totally unsafe around children.  If you touch the outside of it, you will be horribly burned and have to go to the emergency room.   I don't know how you might tackle the deepfrying, but obviously, since you're dealing with scalding oil, keep kids far from the sizzling action.