What is a Faschnacht?

From the beginning, a faschnacht is puzzling.

Is it faschnacht? or fastnacht? or fausnaught? or maybe even fosnaught? and that’s just the spelling… how do you even pronounce it?

The good news is that you can order it without pronouncing it and when you ask for it all you have to do is kinda mumble something that sounds like faschnacht and everyone will know what you want. Well, everyone at the bakery that sells them. And, on Fat Tuesday this February (February 28, 2017), everyone in central Pennsylvania.

So, what IS a faschnacht?

THIS is a faschnacht.

Technically speaking, a faschnacht IS a doughnut. It is a deep fried doughnut traditionally made by Pennsylvania women to use up all the fat, particularly lard, yeast and/ or sugar that was in the home.

Why would you need to use it all up? Because lent is coming and families will not be partaking in those “indulgent” foods. Hence this pre-Lenten tradition. Fastnacht, in German, actually means “night before the fast”. Pretty clever naming huh!

So, how do you eat a faschnacht?

 Traditionally, faschnachts are served up plain- though you can request a packet of powdered sugar too.

In my husbands family, as Pennsylvania Dutch as they come, they always pour some powdered sugar into a bag and dunk each individual faschnacht into it to shake and cover! The result is a yummy, white sugar covered faschnacht. It’s a family tradition to eat them every year and, every year, my father-in-law goes to the same establishment to fill his order.

Plain faschnacht with a packet of powdered sugar on the side (this particular one is from Maple Donuts)

Shaking the faschnachts in sugar! I do love that I get to control how much powdered sugar can go into mine.

Being the rebels that we are, Mackenzie and I have decided to taste test several local options (shhh… don’t tell my in-laws).

Three different styles from two different locations

Where can you get faschnachts?

York County History Center’s Historical Society Museum

The local historical society hosts an annual celebration to the faschnacht tradition. This is not surprising given their task of preserving and sharing all things York and the great job that they do. Every year, the York County History Center’s Historical Society Museum holds its open house, free to everyone, to “thank the community for its support throughout the year”.

Picture from the York County History Center

Brown’s Orchards & Farm Market

Brown’s Orchards & Farm Market is as traditional as you can get. Owned and operated by three generations of the Brown family, this establishment gives us fruit in season (and let’s us pick it ourselves), operates a fresh market, and has an amazing café. Of course, they also make their own faschnachts. While faschnachts have been known to be heavy at times, Brown’s makes the lightest ones we’ve ever had.

The “Faschnacht Selection Center” at Brown’s (named by us)

You can pre-order your faschnachts or come in and pick a bag of 6 or 12 or you can just pick one or two.

Maple Donuts

Maple Donuts has been serving up my favorite donuts since 1946. Given the likelihood that you’ll find me eating one of their donuts on any given Sunday, and on the recommendation of a local friend, we decided to head over and try their faschnachts.

The top two rows are all faschnachts. They offer up three different varieties!

Our powdered selection. It’s ok, we also got the plain and the sugar coated. Gotta try them all right?!

Weis Supermarket

The suggestion that we get this local delicacy in “a supermarket” (insert shocked tone), as opposed to a local store, was met with huge resistance. Seriously, when I told locals about this option their face said it all. That said, I like Weis baked goods and I am sure their faschnachts are fine. In the end we could not eat another one ourselves and so never made it to Weis to buy a pack. But, I wanted to make sure to let anyone else that might be interested know that you can find them at the neighborhood supermarket.

What does a faschnacht taste like?

Faschnachts taste a lot like their doughnut look a likes. One major exception is the frosting. With at least three different options to “enhance” your faschnacht, the taste depends a lot on your chosen toping, and where you bought your faschnacht.

Think the kiddo likes faschnachts?

Which one did our little family pick?

Our incredibly unscientific taste test yielded the following results:

  • 2 out of 3 participants loved the plain faschnachts at Maple Donuts- where they added the powdered sugar themselves (Voted #1). Why? “Because it’s the one with the sweetest taste”. Yes, the powdered sugar wins the battle of the faschnachts
  • 1 out of 3 participants favored the powdered sugar faschnachts at Brown’s Orchard (this one already came with the powdered sugar on it)
  • In 2nd place: the glaced faschnacht from Brown’s Orchard
  • No one really liked the plain faschnachts- too plain
  • In last place: the sugar faschnacht from Maple Donuts. This is the one the kiddo thought she would like the most but it turned out to be her least favorite. “Not sweet enough”.

And there you have it. A dozen faschnachts were sacrificed in order to taste test some of the local options this year. Of course, the day is young, Central Market is open on Tuesdays, and one of the vendors might be offering another version of this classical Pensylvania Dutch treat!

Don’t live in Central Pennsylvania? Want to make your own? Try this faschnacht recipe and make sure to share a picture with us!

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