Post updated 2/27/17
One wintry Tuesday many years ago I walked into a Yum-Yum Bake Shop for my morning coffee and sour cream donut. On the door was a sign, “Donut Day.” Cynically I thought, “Another made-up holiday, probably created by the National Association of Donut Bakers.”
At the time I was working for a chain of auto parts stores, based mainly in the Lehigh Valley, Reading and the Poconos. I mentioned the donut day sign to my colleagues and they corrected me. “No, it’s Fastnacht Day. Don’t you know what Fastnacht is??”
Well, no, I explained. I’m a nice Jewish girl from the city. What are you talking about?
Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday or Donut Day?
Maybe you’ve heard of Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) or Shrove Tuesday. It’s the day before Lent begins and the idea is to use up all the sugar, butter, eggs and other delicious food you’re giving up for lent. Among Pennsylvania Germans (“Pennsylvania Dutch”) it is also known as Fastnacht (Fast Night) and it’s celebrated by making special donuts.
Bucks County is home to many people who grew up in the Pennsylvania German tradition and because their customers want them, several local bakeries serve up thousands of fastnacht donuts each year. This year this special day falls on Tuesday, February 28.
You say donuts, I say fastnacht
How are they different from your everyday donut? While some might have the traditional donut hole, many don’t – they are instead a diamond or square shape. And the dough is different, less sweet. Dan Conly, general manager at Yum Yum Bake Shop, says that they change their standard dough to include more milk, potato flakes and nutmeg.
Traditionally, fastnacht come in five versions: dusted with powdered sugar, granulated sugar or cinnamon sugar; glazed and plain. And typically without fillings.
Kim and Mike King brought fastnacht to Crossroads Bake Shop in Doylestown. Kim, Crossroads’ general manager, and her husband Mike, head bread baker, first came to the bakery 15 years ago. Kim grew up in Woxall and Mike grew up in Quakertown, so Fastnacht was a part of their childhood. But the bakery doesn’t have a fryer (many bakeries don’t because it is too dangerous) so how to make fastnacht?
One day as Mike was making Gibassier, a French pastry from Provence, he realized that with some slight changes – remove the anise and orange, and use vanilla instead – Crossroads could serve its customers a baked fastnacht. “The flavor is so unique,” explains Kim, “I love it better.” But to stay honest, they do sell it as “Faux Fastnacht.”
It’s fun but order ahead
“It’s one of the busiest days of the year – right up there with Christmas,” says Katie Zeller, manager for Maryanne Pastry Shoppe in Doylestown. “We have lines out the door, all day long.” She explains that the bakers begin at 2:30 am and fry up the donuts most of day. Come when the bakery opens at 6 am and you are guaranteed to get a fastnacht right out of the fryer.
Diane Volz-Tino, manager at Rillings Bakery in Warminster, concurs. “It’s a crazy, busy day. We make the donuts all day – from 7 am to 7 pm.” Rillings makes their fastnacht in a diamond shape and offers the five traditional flavors.
For you fans of Mardi Gras, both Crossroads Bake Shop and Rillings bake up King’s Cakes too, a round or oval cake made of brioche dough or puff pastry which usually hides a special prize (traditionally a small figurine of baby Jesus). At Crossroads, the King’s Cakes are a puff pastry with an almond filling with a single Jordan almond baked in. Find the almond for good luck!
And while it is a very busy day for these bakeries – Yum Yum’s sells over 30,000 fastnacht that day – it can be fun too. “One customer met her boyfriend while waiting in line!” says Katie.
The one piece of advice I got from all bakeries is to order ahead. Here are the local bakeries selling fastnacht and how you can order.
Crossroads Bake Shop
812 North Easton Road
Doylestown, PA 18902
HOURS: 7 am-6 pm
Prices: Fastnacht – $1.35 each; King’s Cakes – small (7 inch) $8.95 and large (10 inch) $19.95
Flavors: plain, powdered, sugared and cinnamon sugar.
Maryanne Pastry Shoppe
10 Atkinson Drive
Doylestown, PA 18901
HOURS: 6 am-6 pm
Price: $0.80 each; $9.60 dozen
Flavors: plain, powdered, glazed and cinnamon sugar.
Davisville Shopping Center
868 East Street Road
Warminster PA, 18974
HOURS: 7 am-7 pm
Price: $1.15 each; $6.55 half dozen; $12.45 dozen
Flavors: sugared, powdered, glazed and cinnamon sugar.
Warrington Pastry Shop
Warrington Shopping Center
1380 Easton Rd #13
Warrington, PA 18976
Price: $1.25 each; $14.75 dozen
Flavors: plain, sugared, powdered, jelly filled, butter cream-filled, glazed
Yum Yum Bake Shops
100 Bethlehem Pike (Route 309)
Colmar, PA 18915
HOURS: 4:30 am–11 pm
1461 W Broad Street
Quakertown, PA 18951
HOURS: 24 hours/day
500 West Street Rd.
Warminster , PA 18974
HOURS: 5 am–10 pm
Price: $0.99 each; $9.49 dozen
Flavors: plain, sugared, powdered, cinnamon sugar and glazed
20 Penn Valley Rd
57 S York Rd.
Hatboro, Pa, 19040
Plan your Fastnacht day! Here’s the suggested “tour” for picking up all the good donuts in Bucks County. Click here for the map.
Post updated 2/27/17