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As the newness begins to rub off of the New Year and winter deepens, there appear in the supermarkets of Basel cellophane-wrapped party packages, each containing a stack of crisp, golden, fried discs sprinkled with a snowy topping of powdered sugar. Fastnachtküchli have arrived to be enjoyed during the weeks leading up to Basel’s great celebration of Fastnacht which begins this year on Monday, February 18.
A timing note: 2 hours of prep time is a generous estimate. After making the cookies once, they will take less time to make thereafter.
You will also need:
1. A digital scale is useful for measuring the flour in metric units and there is less variation in the amount when it is weighed. To measure the flour using American measurements, pour it into the measuring cup and level it off.
2. A mixing bowl.
3. A mixer, standing or hand.
4. A pastry board and rolling pin.
5. Cooling racks or smooth (not terrycloth) cotton dish towels on which to lay the rolled-out circles of dough before frying them, plus some cotton dish towels to cover them so they don’t dry out before they are fried.
6. A deep pot: I use a deep enameled canning pot.
7. A deep-fry thermometer is useful for maintaining the oil at the best temperature for frying.
8. 2 slotted spoons.
9. 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.
10. A large plate.
11. A small strainer.
12. A platter.
To make the Fastnachtküchli:
1. In a large bowl using a mixer, beat together the eggs and cream and salt.
2. Stir in the flour (the equivalent to 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of flour is 200 grams) 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 not longer stick to them but it will still feel moist.
3. Let the dough rest, covered with a towel, for 20 minutes.
4. Cut the dough into pieces a little larger than the size of a walnut (around 30-32 grams each, if you weigh them) and roll them into balls. Set them on a platter or tray and cover them with a towel.
5. Place a ball on a lightly floured pastry board and roll it into a very thin circle—about 8-inches (21 cm) 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 9-inches (23 cm). 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.
7. Put enough oil in a deep pot so that a round will float freely as it fries. Heat the oil to 350 F (176 C).
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 color. 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 350 F (176 C). 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 sift 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.
An acknowledgement: This version of Fastnachtküchli 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.
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