As the newness begins to rub off the New Year and winter’s short hours of light and long hours of darkness begin to take their toll on one’s spirits, there appear in the supermarkets of Basel, boxes, cellophane-wrapped like party packages, each containing a stack of crisp, golden, fried discs sprinkled with a snowy topping of powdered sugar. Some are about the size of a dinner plate, others about half as big. Fastnachtküchli have arrived, to be briefly (and repeatedly) enjoyed during the weeks leading up to Basel’s great celebration of Fastnacht.
For anyone fortunate enough to be in Basel during carnival season, this Fastnacht treat is as close at hand as the nearest grocery store. Vienna, too, for all that it has its own special carnival food traditions, makes space on the grocers’ shelves for the Fastnachtküchli of Basel.
But Fastnachtküchli have been made in Swiss homes for many years and… may easily be made in yours. This version comes from Kochbuch, a cookbook published in 1954 by the city of Bern’s Department of Education and passed on to me by my mother-in-law Ann. They are a small taste of a celebration rich in history, tradition and very, very good times.
Note: To print this recipe, or any other diplomatickitchen recipe, go to the bottom of the page, at the end of the post, and click on the icon: Print & PDF. You will have the option of printing in smaller text size and without photos.
A Timing Note: Fastnachtküchli are not quick to make, which is fortunate, since the making is part of the fun.
Ingredients: Amounts are given in metric units with the closest American measurement equivalents in parentheses. To measure the flour using American measurements, pour it into the measuring cup and level it off.
- 2 large Eggs
- 60 ml of Heavy Cream (2 fluid ounces)
- 200 grams of Unbleached White Flour, plus a little more to lightly flour the pastry board (1 and 1/2 cups, plus 1 Tablespoon, plus 1/2 teaspoon, plus 1/8 teaspoon)
- 1/4 teaspoon of Salt
- Oil for deep frying: there should be enough to allow a round of dough to float freely as it fries.
- Powdered Sugar (a lot of it)
- a Digital Scale is useful for measuring the flour and there is less variation in the amount when it is weighed.
- a Mixing Bowl
- a Mixer, standing or hand
- a Pastry Board and Rolling Pin
- Cooling Racks or smooth (not terrycloth) Cotton Dishtowels on which to lay the rolled-out circles of dough before frying them, plus some Cotton Dishtowels to cover them so they don’t dry out before they are fried
- a Deep Pot: The dk uses a deep enameled canning pot
- a Deep-fry Thermometer is useful for maintaining the oil at the best temperature for frying
- 2 Slotted Spoons
- Baking Sheets lined with Brown Paper (Brown Paper Grocery Bags are excellent for draining deep-fried foods. Cut the bags down one side and across the bottom, turn them inside out and lay them out flat on the baking sheets.)
- a large Plate
- a small Strainer
- a Platter
1. Beat together the eggs and cream and salt.
2. Stir in the flour and then knead the mixture by hand (right in the bowl) until it is no longer sticky and the sides of the bowl are clean. The dough will still be very soft and pliable. When you squeeze it between your fingers, it will no longer stick to them but it will still feel moist.
3. Let the dough rest, covered with a towel, for 20 minutes.
5. Place a ball on a lightly floured pastry board and roll it into a very thin circle– about 21 cm (8-inches) in diameter. Pay particular attention to rolling out the edges, where the dough tends to be thickest. The edges will begin to crinkle as they thin out under the pressure of the rolling pin.
6. Pick up the circle and stretch it out by hand to a diameter of about 23 cm (9-inches). Place the thin dough circle on a cooling rack or a smooth cotton towel and cover it with another towel. Continue making thin rounds of dough in the same way with the rest of the dough balls, arranging them side-by-side on cooling racks or on towels as you finish stretching them by hand.
8. The rounds are fried one at a time. Pick up a round and stretch it out a little by hand one last time. Place it in the hot oil. The middle of the dough will puff up. Press it down with the back of one of the slotted spoons. Bubbles will quickly form all over the surface of the round as it fries. When the first faint traces of color appear around its edges, turn the round over with the help of two slotted spoons. Fry it a little longer until the edges of the second side just begin to colour. The second side will already be partially fried and will take an even shorter time to fry. A finished round is a very pale golden yellow, spotted here and there with deeper spots of gold.
9. Transfer the round to a baking sheet lined with brown paper. Fry the rest of the thin rounds of dough in the same way. Pick up a second round, stretch it out again by hand a little more as you wait for the oil to return to 176 C (350 F). (Ideally the oil should hover as closely as possible at this temperature during frying.)
10. After all the rounds have been fried, place one of them on a large plate and sieve powdered sugar very liberally through a small strainer all over the cookie’s surface. Transfer it to a platter.
11. Powder the rest of the fried rounds in the same way and stack them on the serving platter. Fastnachtküchli are good warm or at room temperature.
A Note: Fastnachtküchli are not part of a dk Menu. They appear here in honour of the great celebration of Fastnacht in Basel. The 2013 festivities begin on Monday, February 18 and end Thursday, February 21. You will find a brief description of Fastnacht in Basel here or may watch a film of some of the 2012 daytime festivities on YouTube. An amusing impression of an American’s first Fastnacht in Basel appeared here in the Los Angeles Times.
An Invitation: You are invited to request suggestions from the diplomatickitchen for your own menus for any occasion by clicking on the feature ‘Ask and Tell’ here or in the Menu at the top of the page. Do you have a menu concept with a gap or two that wants filling…or perhaps you are an expat looking for ways to adapt your recipes to what is available in your temporary home…maybe you are just looking for a new way to use a familiar ingredient or would like suggestions on how to adjust quantities of a recipe from the diplomatickitchen for smaller or larger groups…Replies will be published in ‘Ask and Tell’ or sent by email if you prefer.