Pączki

How about a recipe for, oh I don’t know, just the best thing that can happen to anybody ever?  Pączki (poonchkee, singular: pączek) are a fried dough pastry, traditional for Polish cuisine. Also known in Ukraine as pampushky and very similar to the American donuts. Pączki are made of light and airy yeast dough, fried, stuffed with jelly (most traditionally rose hip or raspberry) or chocolate served with powdered sugar or icing and grated orange peel on top.  As you can already tell I am a big fan. They are sweet, delicate and fruity.

There is a reason why I am posting that recipe now- tomorrow is Fat Tuesday or Pączki Day in America. In Poland we usually eat pączki on Fat Thursday but being a Polish person who lives in America I have to celebrate both, don’t I? It’s not even that you can eat fried dough that day, we believe that you should, because according to the old Polish believe if you don’t eat a pączek on Fat Thursday you will have no luck. And why would anybody ever take such chances?

I made pączki on Friday together with my friend Dea who also happens to be a professional chef. She is of Ukrainian descent and remembered her grandma making them too so that was really cool. I’m not going to lie, it took us a long time, mostly because we had to wait for the dough to raise. We had some plum wine though to make the wait more bearable. After a few hours of kneading, frying, stuffing our pączki were ready. I organized a little get together for our friends so everybody could try them and I can say they were a big hit.

I started with warming the milk on the stove. You don’t want it to boil, just warm it up. Then I dissolved the yeast in the milk and added 1 tablespoon of each flour and sugar and covered the cooking pot with a kitchen towel and left in a warm place for a few minutes, until it started working and raising.

In the meantime I mixed egg, egg yolks and sugar with a hand mixer until smooth and slightly foamy. I sifted flour into a big bowl. Then I added yeast mix and egg+sugar mix to the flour as well as salt, vanilla and kneaded the dough until smooth. It is very important that the dough is worked properly. My grandma says that you should hit it at least 100 times. The dough will feel sticky but after kneading it should come off of your hands easily. I added melted and cooled butter and vodka at the end and kneaded the dough again.

I dusted a big bowl with flour and placed the dough inside. Then I covered it with a kitchen towel and left in a warm place so it could rise. The dough should double in size. It should take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

Divide the dough into little balls. If you want to be exact, you can use a kitchen scale- each should weigh about 80 g. Place them on a flour-dusted board and cover with kitchen towel. Wait until they rise, for about 20 minutes. That is why you should leave a few inches between each ball.

Then, using a cutting board flatten a bit each pączek before frying. Place canola oil in a deep fryer or a cooking pot and fry pączki on each side until brown, then turn to the other side. Perfect temperature for frying pączki is about 180 C. If you don’t have a cooking thermometer try putting a wooden spoon in the hot oil and if bubbles appear it means it’s ready. It is better to heat the oil slowly on a low to a medium heat, we don’t want the oil to burn and we don’t want to burn pączki on the outside and risk having them raw inside. I placed them on a cooling rack afterwards.

Pączki, after being fried, will likely have a little lighter and softer ring in the middle from frying. It is the best place to stuff them. I used a long piping end, a syringe would work good too. I like to stuff them generously, put it’s up to you. As I mentioned rose hip jam is the most traditional one and it works great, it’s sweet and gently sour and very fruity.

Finally, I dipped the top of each pączek in the icing I made of powdered sugar and lemon juice and sprinkled with grated orange peel. As you can see some of my pączki have sprinkles instead so I could differentiate which ones are raspberry and which ones are rose hip.

Enjoy!

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If you tried this recipe and posted a pic or comment use hashtag #EasternEuropeanRecipes I’d love to see how it turned out!

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Ingredients:

  • Dough:
    • 1 cup of milk
    • 2 packages (7 g each) of dry yeast
    • 4 cups of flour (plus some extra for dusting)
    • 1/2 cup of sugar
    • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
    • a pinch of salt
    • 1 egg
    • 4 egg yolks
    • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of melted butter
    • 2 tablespoons of vodka
  • For frying:
    • 1 1/2 liters of canola oil
  • Stuffing:
    • 1 cup of jam (rose hip is the most traditional but any will work, f.e. raspberry or strawberry)
  • Icing:
    • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (or water or milk)
    • 10 tablespoons of powdered sugar
    • grated orange peel from one orange

Directions:

  1. Warm up milk but don’t boil it. Dissolve yeast in milk and add one tablespoon of each flour and sugar and wait for a few minutes until it puffs up.
  2. In the meantime beat eggs and sugar with a hand mixer. Sift flour into a big bowl. Combine egg mixture, vanilla extract, salt, yeast  mixture and flour. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic.
  3. Place the dough in a flour-dusted bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place for about 30- 45 minutes or until it doubles in size.
  4. Divide the dough and create little ball-shaped pączki. Place them on a flour-dusted surface, cover with kitchen towel and let them rise again.
  5. Flatten each pączek. Heat up the oil to 180 C and fry on both sides. Let cool.
  6. Stuff pączki with a jam of your liking, inserting a long piping end in a lighter ring around each pastry.
  7. Dust with powdered sugar or cover with icing and sprinkle orange peel on top. Enjoy!

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