This traditional recipe for Polish pączki (POHNCH-kee) or doughnuts, is a splurge food before Easter 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 food dates 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 rosehip, prune, apricot, strawberry, raspberry, or sweet cheese filling. Some people make these puffy dough balls without a filling and roll them in granulated sugar, which is equally delicious. However you make them, keep in mind that paczki 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.
- 1 1/2 cups milk (warm, about 110 F)
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 large egg
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon brandy (or rum)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 gallon oil (for deep frying)
- Optional: granulated sugar
- Optional: confectioners' sugar
- Optional: fruit paste (or jam, for filling)
Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this Polish pączki is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for cooking.
Make and Cut the Dough
Gather the ingredients.
Add yeast to warm milk. Stir to dissolve and set aside.
In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy.
Beat in egg, egg yolks, brandy or rum, and salt until well incorporated.
Still using the paddle attachment, add 4 1/2 cups flour alternately with the milk-yeast mixture and beat for 5 or more minutes by machine and 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 remaining 1/2 cup flour, but no more.
Place dough in a greased bowl. Turn to grease the other side.
Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, anywhere from 1 to 2 1/2 hours.
Punch down and let rise again.
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 fewer scraps. Remove scraps, and re-roll and re-cut.
Cover and let rounds rise until doubled in bulk, 30 minutes or longer, before frying.
Fry the Pączki
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 bottom is golden brown.
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.
Drain pączki on paper towels or brown paper bags.
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 filled pączki with granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar, or an icing glaze.
Pączki don't keep well, so be sure to gobble them up the same day you make them for the best taste, or freeze them. Enjoy!
- This recipe calls for 1 whole egg and 3 egg yolks, so freeze the leftover egg whites and save them for recipes such as this meringue torte.
- Always use caution when working with hot oil, especially around children. Have a fire extinguisher designed for grease fires at the ready.
- If you want to make these doughnuts but perhaps haven't planned accordingly and don't have a lot of time, try these tricks to cut the yeast rising time.
How to Freeze Paczki
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 wax paper or foil and freeze in a resealable plastic bag. Remove from the freezer and reheat in a warm oven or the microwave.