The sun was up for just a little more than an hour Tuesday when Allison Bracy and her brother, Ben, started rolling out fasnacht dough.
Though the siblings, students at Hamburg High School, are only 17 and 15 respectively, they are old hands at making the deep-fried doughnuts using a recipe handed down from their great-grandmother, Sarah Smith.
This year, just as they have almost every year since 2014, the teens joined their parents, Rich and Kathi Bracy of Windsor Township, and a group of volunteers from Fleetwood Bible Church in making the traditional treats for the residents of Hope Rescue Mission.
They started Monday by making the dough at home, mixing eggs, flour, sugar and yeast by hand.
While some traditional recipes call for mashed potatoes, Granny Smith’s does not.
Tuesday morning, the Bracy family and their crew descended on the kitchen of the men’s shelter, 645 N. Sixth St., temporarily banishing Chef Ron Nolen and his assistant, shelter resident Jonathan Workman. The pair holed up in Chef Ron’s office, hoping to be called on for a taste test.
“They are really good, especially when you get them hot from the fryer,” Workman said. “I like them because they are not real sweet.”
Both he and Nolen said they monitor their diets for fat and sugar intake, but planned to make an exception Tuesday by eating the pillowy concoctions, slathered with butter and syrup.
Ben and a friend, Derek Hawkins, also 15, got straight to work, rolling the dough and cutting it into rectangular pieces. They twisted a knife blade into the center of each rectangle to create a hole, placed the shapes on trays and popped them into the mission’s proofing box for a final rise.
Set to 90 degrees, the proofer’s humid heat aids rising.
Punching a hole in the middle of the dough shapes supposedly allows the insides and the outsides to fry at the same rate and speeds cooking time, Ben said, noting he and Derek tested the theory last year.
“There wasn’t any difference,” Ben said. “It’s just tradition, the way my great-grandmother did it.”
Fried crisp and golden on the outsides with light and fluffy insides, the fasnachts were ringers for those Rich Bracy, 53, remembers from his childhood. His grandmother made dozens every Shrove Tuesday, the day before the Lenten season of fasting begins.
A Pennsylvania Dutch word, fasnacht roughly translates to “the night before the fast.”
Bracy said the family tradition died with Granny Smith and an aunt, but seven years ago he and Kathi, 55, decided to revive the annual custom with their children and friends from church.
Renovations to the mission’s kitchen facilities in 2019 forced the group to skip the pre-Lenten feast day, and they headed to Honduras on a church mission trip instead. They were back at the fryers last year, and even the COVID-19 crisis couldn’t stop them this year.
Newcomers to the project, Colleen Falcone of Amity Township and Matt Hermausader of Maidencreek Township, willingly made up for the shortfall of some longtime volunteers, who opted out this year, due to a higher risk of contracting the virus.
An old-hand at fasnacht-making, Hermausader learned the process from his parents, but needed to brush-up on his skills.
“I hadn’t made them in years,” he said.
For Falcone, the experience was as much a chance to learn about the custom as an opportunity of doing something nice for the shelter’s residents, who enjoyed the treats with lunch.
“This is another great way to serve the community,” she said.