Although my wife is not Pennsylvania Dutch, she grew up in rural PA Dutch country and has many food memories associated with traditional PA Dutch dishes. Fastnachts or donuts were ubiquitous and taken for granted in her childhood. As a kid and until just this year, she always thought “fastnachts day” just meant donut day. She never realized that “Fastnachts day”, was the same as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras i.e. the day before Ash Wednesday. Fastnachts were a way to use up the previous year’s fat and sugar before lent.
(Digression alert: My wife told me, that while out “doing the rounds” with her father, he would occasionally stop at one of the old houses on main street of a nearby town for fastnachts. The residence was the local bakery. The living room of the house was the store front from which the baked goods were sold. The room was empty except for steel racks displaying the bake goods available that day. The kitchen of the house was where the magic happened. There was no counter or cash register. The baker, a portly man sporting a flour covered apron, would come out of the kitchen when they entered. They would point to the items on the shelves that they wanted and he would put them in a plain paper bag, take the payment and bid them a good day as they left with the goodies. And the donuts he made were certainly something for a kid to remember; particularly the creme donuts made with sweet rolls the size hamburger buns, cut in half with a full inch of sweet whipped cream filling and don’t even get her started on the sticky buns).
My wife became sentimental about the fastnachts of her childhood and wanted to make some. She consulted her old PA Dutch cookbooks. The traditional fastnacht is a fried, potato based, yeast donut. In our household division of cooking labor, I am chief-in-charge of frying. Although I am the one who introduced my wife, many years ago, to the concept, that you can make deep fried donuts at home, I was not keen on the idea of frying up two dozen large donuts which was the quantity the old recipes she consulted yielded. So, she compromised and in the same old cookbook found a recipe for “Fastnacht cake” and made that instead.
I forgot to take pictures when she removed the cake from the pan. So the cake was already cut by the time I took this pic. It has PA Dutch hallmarks of “crumb” topping.
The cake has yeast and potato in it. It is a cross between bread and cake.
1/2 cup HOT mashed potato (please note the recipe specifies HOT)
1 1/2 cup potato water. (my wife used 1/2 cup potato water and the rest milk)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 pkg active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
4 cups of AP flour to start, adding more as needed to make velvety dough.
Ingredients and directions for rivels (Crumb topping)
Mix together 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour and 2 tbs. butter softened until the ingredients are completely combined and look like fine crumbs.
Put the hot mashed potatoes into the bowl of a mixer.
Beat in the butter, then the egg and a mixture of sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat until fluffy. Bloom the yeast in warm water.
Beat the yeast into the potato mixture. Alternately add the flour and potato water/milk beating well after each addition (#1). (While adding the flour my wife accidentally dropped the mixing cup into the mixing bowl while the mixer was on. The result is shown in #2; bent mixing cup and a shower of flour all over everything…not recommended).
If necessary add more flour to make a soft dough.
Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and satiny(#3).
Put into a greased bowl. Grease the top of the dough, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (#4).
Punch down the dough and divide into two portions. Fit each portion into a greased 8 x 8 x 2 in cake pan (#5).
Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with rivels (#6). Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (#7). Final product (#8).
This is typical of PA Dutch cakes– baked like a pie with crumb topping. The texture, however, is unique and extremely pleasing. It is not really like a cake. It is moist and dense– more like a pleasantly, not too, sweet bread. Despite the large amount of fresh nutmeg my wife used, it does not have a strong nutmeg flavor. My wife has never had this kind of cake before but we both really like it and are glad she “discovered” it. It is a perfect cake for breakfast.