Fasnacht is a type of pastry eaten during Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras as part of tradition before Easter mostly in Europe and in some American states. It is very much like a hole-less doughnut, but is traditionally shaped like a diamond or a rectangle. They can also be made plain or filled with some jam, just like round doughnuts. Fasnacht can also be spelled in various ways, such as “fastnacht”, “fassenacht,” or “faschnacht.”
Many scholars say that the word “fasnacht” means “the night before the fast,” since the doughnuts are eaten the night before Lent, when fasting is usually observed by many Christians until Easter Sunday. People believed that making fastnachts was a way to consume all the fats, such as butter and lard, kept in the house pantry, as these rich ingredients were seen as lavish and were not supposed to be eaten during the Lenten season. Some experts, however, translate the word fastnacht to mean “chamfering night,” probably in reference to how the doughnuts are cut into diamonds, creating chamfers at the sides of the pastry. The doughnuts were traced from either Germany or the Netherlands and then spread to different countries such as in Switzerland and the US. People in the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland, in particular, where many German and Dutch immigrants relocated, still eat the pastry to celebrate Mardi Gras.
For the starch, tradition calls for the use of potatoes, which are usually boiled and mashed to complete the dough, aside from incorporating some flour and yeast as well. The dough is first set aside to rise before it's divided into smaller pieces, which are then shaped and deep-fried until golden and crisp. The doughnuts usually have a slit in the middle to release the pressure and aid in even cooking. Some bakers provide a less-fattening alternative to health-conscious consumers by baking the fasnachts instead of frying them.
After frying or baking, the fasnacht can be manually filled with a jam or cream filling. Traditionally, it would usually be served either plain or with a final dusting of confectioner’s or plain white sugar. Today, this pastry can be available sugar-glazed, egg-brushed, or with a sugar-cinnamon dusting. It is best eaten warm or cold, perhaps with a cup of coffee to balance the pastry’s sweetness.