In Christian parts of the world, carnival celebrations are held during the period between Epiphany (January 6th) and Ash Wednesday (March 1 this year). Hungary, a mostly Catholic country is no exception, but our carnival season is far from average.
As Farsang (far-shaangh) is the last merriment preceding the 40-day piety of Lent, it is marked by many festivities, balls and costume parades aiming to scare winter off to finally welcome spring.
Our celebrations are a unique mixture of Christian and pagan traditions. Look no further than old folk custom Busójárás masquerade of the city of Mohács, Cultural Heritage acknowledged by UNESCO.
The carnival feast also includes a lot of excess eating and drinking as you’ve guessed, the most delicious of the treats being without any question farsangi fánk – the Carnival Donut itself. Even if you watch what you eat, it’s a must this time of the year!
You might say donuts are nothing special and indeed, they are all around the world. I’m not going to post a recipe either because chances are you have one already. Instead, I’m going to share how we do them here, the farsang-way.
It is fairly unclear how doughnuts got to our kitchens. The two most well-known theories are either adapting French beignets, or the product of a Viennese baker named Krapf (donuts are still called Krapfen in the germanosphere). The rich but relatively cheap pastry was first mentioned in 1603, becoming really popular throughout Hungary later, in the 19th century.
It’s not my intention to break anyone’s spirit, not at all! But if you’ve never worked with yeast dough before, this pastry is probably not the best place to start. Traditional farsangi fánk should be airy-light inside and golden brown outside with a nice, white ribbon around its midsection. Fulfilling all the criteria is easier said than done: making a perfect donut is quite a fastidious task requiring an experienced hand.
For the delicate leavened pastry with high yeast content, all ingredients should be room temperature. The rising needs to happen in a warm place and the dough has to be handled with extra care not to break it (rolling-pin forbidden!). And even then, the temperature of the frying oil could make or break the results.
If you manage to succeed against all odds, these carnival specialties are then eaten warm and simple: no glaze or filling, just a dusting of powdered vanilla sugar. No holes either, a dent is made in the middle instead to accommodate a generous spoonful of homemade apricot jam.
We had ours with my spicy plum preserve this time and as you can see, the ribbons were far from perfect, but the happy faces definitely make up for all the misery. Also, a family tradition from grandmother to mother to daughter is continued.
Are there unusual carnival traditions where you live? Let’s hear about them!