It's Fastnacht Day! I remember what a huge day that was at the bakery, (Latshaw’s Bakery, Spring City, 1896-1974). I recently rediscovered a 1971 journal entry from my senior year in high school. In it I wrote that we made enough to put "6.1 donuts on each step of the Washington Monument and still have 10 left over to throw out at the top." I re-did the math. That was 5,488 donuts...and all cut out by hand by my dad, (Raymond L. Willauer, 1927-1989). Traditional Fastnachts were square, cut with a bench knife, but the bulk of donuts produced were the more familiar donut shape, cut with a cookie cutter-like double ring. Dad would cut each donut by plunging the cutter into the freshly-rolled slab of dough and then deftly flipped the rings onto his thumb. There was a rhythm to what he did, but by the time Fastnacht Day was over his hands were sore and often blistered.
At the bakery, you knew you had really "arrived" when you were allowed to perform two, maybe three jobs. The first was delivering wedding cakes. Carrying 40-plus pounds of expertly decorated cake and icing...backwards...and up a flight of stairs was no mean task, especially for a lanky, uncoordinated teenager.
The next "milestone" job was when you were promoted to flipping a full pan of cinnamon buns. For those who don't know, cinnamon buns are baked upside down and then flipped when done, so that the sticky goodness is on top. That sticky goodness is like molten lava when the baking is complete. (That's one of the reasons why bakers never wear shorts.) You started practicing with the pecan rings, 9-inch circular pans containing cinnamon buns topped with chopped pecans, flipping them with one hand and a smooth wrist action to keep with liquid brown sugar in the pan for the full 180° ride. When you were sufficiently accomplished at that you moved to the next step. In reality, the next step, actually the final step, (there was nothing in-between), was a full pan of five dozen cinnamon buns. I can still picture the look of approval on my dad's face the first time I successfully flipped a full pan onto one of the racks used to cool the buns and drain away the excess goo. And, by the way, that excess goo congealed into wonderful hardened pools of sugary goodness. They were one of the many perks of working in a bakery.
But the third and most prestigious rite of passage at the bakery was frying donuts. Before you was the shimmering surface of a vat filled with searing hot oil, and large enough to accommodate a rack of 30 raised donuts. Dad's donuts were made from raised sweet dough, and as such were technically crullers. Leaning over the fryer as you lowered the rack of innocent doughy rings, you came face-to-face with the pool of death…oil so hot that a millisecond of contact would instantly raise a blister. It always caused an adrenaline rush. As the donuts fried on one side, you watched carefully as a tinge of golden brown began to appear on the edges. Then, using a pair of wooden sticks, much like drumsticks, you turned two donuts at a time, flipping them by dunking one side down into the hot oil. This caused the opposite side of each donut to bob up and over, completing the process and allowing the uncooked side to sizzle in the hot fat.
After a minimum of 15 minutes of cooling, the donuts were glazed or coated with either granulated or powdered sugar, all by hand. Those were the choices...no more. Donuts without holes were filled with either cream filling or jelly using a large hand-operated pump that forced the filling from a reservoir through a “needle” the size of a pencil. If we had extra filling, the last donut would be filled to just beyond capacity. It was then that we would say, “Awwww, what a shame. I guess I’ll just have to eat this one!”
Dave Willauer, March 5, 2019