Traditional Polish Pączki (Doughnuts)

Polish pączki doughnuts recipe in waxed paper in a pan

The Spruce

Prep: 35 mins
Cook: 18 mins
Rise Time: 2 hrs 15 mins
Total: 3 hrs 8 mins
Servings: 24 servings
Yields: 24 doughnuts
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
220 Calories
11g Fat
25g Carbs
4g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 220
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 11g 14%
Saturated Fat 3g 17%
Cholesterol 42mg 14%
Sodium 131mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate 25g 9%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 4g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 29mg 2%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 66mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This traditional recipe for Polish pączki (POHNCH-kee), or doughnuts, is a splurge food before Lent fasting begins.

In the United States, Fat Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and Pączki Day, is the day to indulge before Lent begins. However, Fat Thursday (the last Thursday before Lent) heralds the winding down of Carnival season, and that's when fried foods such as pączki are eaten with abandon in Poland, where it's known as Tłusty Czwartek.

Making them was a way to use up ingredients such as butter, sugar, eggs, fruit, and lard before the dietary restraints of Lent started, in order to avoid food waste. Some accounts say these fried foods date all the way back to the Middle Ages, but immigrants have brought this tradition with them to places such as the United States, where many communities still make them.

These fried rounds of yeast dough are typically stuffed with rose hip, prune, apricot, strawberry, raspberry, or sweet cheese filling. Some people make these puffy doughballs without a filling and roll them in granulated sugar, which is equally delicious. Whichever way you make them, keep in mind that pączki differ from regular doughnuts insofar as these Polish treats are sweeter and richer.

As with any baking project, make sure the butter and eggs are at room temperature for best results. Use a neutral-flavored oil to deep-fry doughnuts. Canola oil, peanut oil, generic vegetable oil, and high-heat safflower oil are excellent choices.

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Ingredients

  • 2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)

  • 1 1/2 cups milk, warm, about 110 F

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

  • 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon brandy or rum

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour (about 20 1/4 ounces to 22 1/2 ounces)

  • 1 gallon vegetable oil, for deep-frying

  • About 1/2 cup granulated sugar, for rolling, optional

  • About 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, for rolling, optional

  • 1 cup jam or fruit paste, for filling, optional

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this Polish pączki recipe is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for cooking. 

Make and Cut the Dough

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for Polish pączki doughnuts recipe

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  2. Add the yeast to the warm milk. Stir to dissolve and set aside.

    Yeast added to warm milk to proof

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  3. In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy.

    Butter and sugar in a mixing bowl

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  4. Beat in the egg, egg yolks, brandy or rum, and salt until well incorporated.

    Eggs, egg yolks, brandy or rum, and salt added to dough

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  5. Still using the paddle attachment, add 4 1/2 cups flour, alternating with the milk-yeast mixture. Beat for 5 or more minutes by machine or longer by hand until smooth. (Old-fashioned directions call for beating the dough with a wooden spoon until it blisters.) The dough will be very slack. If it's too soft, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour but no more.

    Flour added to dough for pączki

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  6. Place the dough in a greased bowl. Turn to grease the other side.

    Dough for pączki (Polish doughnuts) recipe

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  7. Cover the top with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, anywhere from 1 to 2 1/2 hours.

    Dough doubled in size for pączki doughnuts recipe

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  8. Punch down and let rise again, about 45 minutes.

    Punched down dough for Polish pączki

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  9. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat or roll to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut rounds with a 3-inch biscuit cutter close together so you will have minimal scraps. Remove scraps and reroll and recut.

    Dough for pączki rolled and cut into rounds

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  10. Cover the sheet with a damp towel and let rounds rise until doubled in bulk, 30 minutes or longer, before frying.

    Risen rounds for pączki Polish doughnuts

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Fry the Pączki

  1. In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil to 350 F. Place the risen pączki top-side down (the dry side) in the oil a few at a time and fry 2 to 3 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.

    Polish pączk in a saucepan with hot oil

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  2. Flip them over and fry another 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure the oil doesn't get too hot so the exterior doesn't brown before the interior is done. Test a cool one to make sure it's cooked through. Adjust cooking time and oil heat accordingly.

    Polish pączki fried on one side in a saucepan with hot oil

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  3. Drain pączki on paper towels or brown paper bags.

    Polish pączki fried and cooled on a plate

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  4. Roll in granulated sugar while still warm. If you want to fill them, poke a hole in the side of the pączki and, using a pastry bag, squeeze in a generous dollop of the filling of choice. Then dust the filled pączki with granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar, or an icing glaze.

    Polish pączki rolled in granulated sugar

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  5. Pączki don't keep well, so for the best taste, be sure to gobble them up the same day you make them or else freeze them. Enjoy.

    Polish pączki doughnuts filled with jam
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Tips

  • This recipe calls for one egg and three egg yolks, so freeze the leftover egg whites and save them for recipes such as a meringue torte.
  • Always use caution when working with hot oil, especially around children. Have a fire extinguisher designed for grease fires at the ready.
  • There are ways to cut the rising time by using the microwave, if you want to make these doughnuts but perhaps don't have a lot of time.

How to Store Pączki

As with most doughnuts, these are best the day they are made. If you want to save some for later, it's best to freeze them without any icing or powdered sugar. Simply wrap them in waxed paper or foil and freeze in a resealable plastic bag. Defrost in the fridge and reheat in a warm oven or the microwave.

What Is the Difference Between Doughnuts and Pączki?

Pączki are a type of doughnut. They have a sweeter and richer dough than your typical doughnuts, but are made and fried in the same way as yeasted doughnuts. Pączki are often filled with fruit jams or pastes and sometimes dusted with sugar.

Why Is Alcohol Added to the Pączki Dough?

It is thought that the alcohol (traditionally grain alcohol) prevents the absorption of excess oil as it evaporates and might contribute to a more spherical shape. For a less pronounced alcohol flavor, use 1 tablespoon vodka or grain alcohol instead of the rum or brandy.