It’s hard to resist a doughnut, especially on a day that encourages creative indulgence.
As the world celebrates Mardi Gras with costumes and parades, folks with Pennsylvania Dutch roots revel in their own long-held Fat Tuesday tradition: eating the sugar-glazed dough cakes known as fastnachts that come from their ancestors in Germany and Switzerland.
Fastnacht is German for “eve of the fast” and stems from the general Christian tradition of making “fat cakes” before buckling down to the business of fasting for 40 days during Lent, notes William Woys Weaver, a culinary historian and director of the Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism.
“The idea was that you did not use lard for cookery during Lent, so this was your last chance until Easter,” he said.
Traditional fastnachts use yeast-based flour made from potatoes and are deep-fried in lard (though many cooks now substitute vegetable or canola oil), then dipped in corn syrup or molasses and dusted with powdered sugar. In the 19th century, it was common to make them at home and bring them to church to share over coffee, Weaver says.
The Pennsylvania Tradition
Now, bakeries throughout Pennsylvania and some areas of the Midwest sell the dough cakes by the dozens on the day before Lent begins. In a similar tradition, Polish communities in Chicago and Detroit celebrate Paczki Day by making their own versions of fried dough rolled in sugar and filled with jam or other sweets.
Weaver says the custom has spread far enough that others outside the region also like to eat fastnachts, which he likens to French beignets. “But outside of Pennsylvania Dutch settlement areas, the real article is sometimes difficult to find, so people substitute other ‘fat cakes,’” he said. Local bakeries and grocery stores tend to promote the day as an excuse to eat all kinds of doughnuts and pastries.
In honor of Fastnacht Day, food blogger Mika Fu shared her own unique recipe for mini chocolate cake doughnuts. A baker with a sweet tooth, Fu started The 350-degree Oven to chronicle her own adventures in the kitchen with step-by-step instructions that demonstrate that "everyone can do this." A big fan of Coca-Cola cake, she decided to experiment while making doughnuts one day by substituting Coke for the milk or coffee called for in the original recipe. The result was nothing short of fabulous, she said.
Coca-Cola "adds something special to cake; it’s a very unique flavor,” she said. Not surprisingly, it lends a similar kick to these doughnuts and their glaze, she added.
And like fatsnachts, they are hard to resist on a day of sweet indulgence.
Mini Chocolate Cake Doughnuts
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup Coca-Cola®
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
Chocolate or Mocha Glaze
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3 tablespoons Coca-Cola®
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a bowl with a wire whisk. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, sugar, vanilla, Coca-Cola and oil together.
- Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, and combine until mixed well.
- Transfer the batter into a gallon sized ziplock bag.
- Spray a mini doughnut pan with cooking spray for baking.
- Bake eight minutes at 325 degrees. Remove from oven and invert onto a wire rack. The donuts should come out easily with a little shake. Wash the pan and dry in between batches. (This is to prevent sticking, and to make sure that the temperature is correct for the second batch). I got about 27 mini donuts total. Allow the donuts to cool.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter with the Coke to make the glaze. Pour over the remaining ingredients and whisk to make a glaze. Allow the glaze to set for 30 minutes or so before serving.
- Dip the donuts into the warm glaze, allowing the excess to drip off slightly. Then immediately dip in chocolate sprinkles or chopped pecans.
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