What are Fasnachts? The Story Behind this PA Dutch Treat

With the winter holidays behind and, despite Phil’s prognostication, spring seemingly so far away, a tasty treat is just the ticket to chase away the winter gloom! For the Pennsylvania Dutch – and many others – that slightly decadent treat is the fasnacht. Crafted from potato flour, eggs, sugar, and butter or lard, and fried to perfection, cooks in home, church, and bakery kitchens throughout southeastern Pennsylvania churn out this perfect pastry just one day a year. Why just one day? Read on to learn the origins of this tasty tradition, its continuing popularity, and where you can snag a few of these delicious and authentic PA Dutch delights for your very own.

Fasnacht or Fastnacht?

If you hail from Lancaster County or one of the surrounding counties, fasnacht (without the middle “t”) is definitely the correct spelling and comes straight from the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, according to Dr. Mark Louden, an expert on the Pennsylvania Dutch language. However, technically you’re not wrong for inserting that middle “t” because it refers to the period of Lent when fasting is the order of the day. “Fast” in traditional German has the same meaning as in English. So, fasnacht or fastnacht – they both spell DELICIOUS!

A Pennsylvania Dutch Delight

Synonymous with Pennsylvania Dutch culture, the tradition of making fasnachts in the U.S. right before the start of Lent dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries when the first immigrants from southern Germany settled in southeastern PA. As most immigrant families, they maintained many of the traditions of their homeland, and especially those related to food.

Among those traditions was the period of abstaining from all rich, sugary, and fatty foods during the 40-days of Lent. Rather than risk the eggs, lard, butter, and sugar in their pantries spoiling and going to waste, fasnachts were made to use up those ingredients and enjoy one last treat before the fasting period was set to begin.

Fasnacht – Just a Fancy Name for a Donut?

At first glance, one might think what’s the big deal?! Aren’t fasnachts just a fancy way of saying “donut?” Au contraire!!! While there are some similarities between fasnachts and donuts, there are key and notable differences. Perhaps most notably, fasnachts are crafted using potatoes – sometimes mashed, sometimes boiled and blended into dough – while donuts typically have wheat flour as the base carbohydrate. As a result, fasnachts are also generally a bit heavier and denser than your typical donut and not quite as sweet.

Fasnachts also are generally larger than the average donut – the more to enjoy!!! Another key difference is the shape. Donuts are round. Traditional fasnachts are square or triangular in shape, though round ones have become part of the norm, and you’ll never spy a Fasnacht with a whole in the middle! Finally, while donuts tend to be soft in texture throughout, fashnachts have a delightfully crispy and deep golden exterior with a delicious and tender interior.

Fasnachts 101

Now you know how to tell the difference between a Fasnacht and a donut, don’t be afraid to sample a variety to find your favorite. Some fasnachts are made with the traditional lard, while modern recipes often call for butter or vegetable shortening. You’ll find fasnachts that are unadorned, while others are dusted with granulated sugar, confectioners’ sugar, and even cinnamon sugar to add a bit of extra sweetness. You might even find some fasnachts that are filled.

Find Fresh Fasnachts in PA

Driving around southcentral Pennsylvania before Shrove Tuesday (i.e., the day before Lent starts) you’ll find many churches selling delicious fasnachts, along with local bakeries, farmers markets, grocery stores, and yes, even some donut shops. Here are a few.

The Pennsylvania Bakery

Camp Hill

Long a favorite of the greater Harrisburg region, The Pennsylvania Bakery in Camp Hill offers a wide selection of fasnachts on Fasnacht Day. In addition to the traditional favorites, they also sell a Fasnacht-topped cupcake that is sure to carry you through those upcoming days of fasting!

C&C Candies and Country Store


C&C Candies and Country Store in Friedensburg is selling fasnachts made by an Amish bakery in Lancaster County and finished by C&C Candies for Fasnacht Day. Choose your favorite among traditional plain, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, and glazed or an assortment of all five.

Haegele’s Bakery


Looking for authentic German breads and pastries, then you need look no further than Haegele’s Bakery in Philadelphia, which has been serving “Quality Baked Goods in the German Tradition Since 1930” and a well-known hot spot for delicious, hand-rolled and hand-cut fasnachts for decades.

Shady Maple Farm Market

East Earl

Fasnacht Day at Shady Maple Farm Market in East Earl is BIG! It’s so big that not only can you pick up your fasnachts all day from their donut counter, but from the Farm Market carport from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Cinnamon sugar, glazed, powdered sugar, and plain are all available.

Lafayette Fire Company


Here’s your chance to honor a local firefighting hero, Jan Fassnacht, and support a local volunteer fire company during Lafayette Fire Company’s 5th Annual Fasnacht fundraiser. They offer a mix of powdered sugar and glazed fasnachts by the Bird-in-Hand Bakery and ask that you pre-order. They have just a limited number of smaller quantities available for sale on Fasnacht Day.

Brown’s Orchards & Farm Market


Don’t miss out on your annual fasnacht fix by pre-ordering at Brown’s Orchards & Farm Market in Loganville during Fasnacht Day. Their varieties come in plain, glazed, and powdered and no worries if you don’t pre-order in time. They’ll have plenty on hand on Fasnacht Day!

Frecon Farms


Frecon Farms in Boyertown love fasnachts so much they’ve made it practically a season rather than a single day. Made from scratch daily with real potato dough, you can pre-order a half-dozen or dozen of their delectable fasnachts for pick up at their Boyertown location or at their Rittenhouse and Bryn Mawr Saturday Market locations. Be sure to check their website for pick-up days offered at each location.

Haasis Gluten Free Bakery


Looking for a gluten-free Fasnacht option? Haasis Gluten-Free Bakery in Perkasie has you covered! Their gluten-free treats are based on the time-honored recipes of the Haasis bakery founded by the owner’s great grandfather in Philadelphia’s Germantown section. New this year is a Mardi Gras King Cake, complete with the traditional hidden baby, but you must pre-order this tasty treat.

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