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The Day Before Lent

 
 The cartoon was found here...click it to read it.

As most know, this Tuesday is the day before Lent. In some parts of the country and other parts of the world this day is known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday...the the day Christians are expected to use up any sweets, meats, and other rich foods (hence the word fat) and to welcome the next forty days as a "lean time," or more specifically one of introspection. Another, less popular name (I believe) for this day is Shrove Tuesday. This is the name I had grown up knowing it as. And one of the popular foods that we ate (and I continue to eat) on this day are fastnacht kuecheles, or fast-night doughnuts. I assume that this is the original German name for the evening before Ash Wednesday; fast-night or fastnacht. They use up many traditional fats in the pantry...sugar, butter, eggs, and to top it off they are deep-fried, and yes they are delicious. Interestingly, they are basically the same doughnut that in New Orleans you would call a beignet. To read a previous post on this subject, or an article that was published in ArtVoice last year at this time, click here and here. The following recipe was given to me by my sister, who recieved it from our mother, who learned to make them at the hands of her mother. They're simple to make (fun, too)...but the best part is how good they taste.

Fastnacht Kuecheles
Makes about 3 dozen
1 cup water (room temperature)
1 cup milk (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons yeast
6-7 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar

Combine the water, milk, sugar, yeast, and two cups of flour in a large bowl. Allow to rest for 1 hour, or until the yeast is fully active. Transfer to an upright mixing bowl with a dough hook. Add the eggs, melted butter, salt, and 4 cups of flour. Run the mixer on low for 1 minute (if the dough seems too sticky add the remaining cup flour) then turn to medium and knead for 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rest at room temperature for about an hour, or until double in size. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and cut into three pieces. Shape into balls, cover, and let rest 20 minutes. Roll into large circles about 1/4 inch thick, then cut the dough into diamonds 2-4 inches wide. Cover the diamonds with a cloth and let rest 10 minutes. Preheat a couple inches of vegetable oil to 350F in a heavy skillet. Carefully fry the fastnachts in batches, cooking them for a couple minutes on each side until they are puffed and golden-brown; drain on absorbent paper. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, then toss a few at a time in a paper bag with confectionery sugar.




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