Enjoy Paczki Before Observing Lent

If you’re not familiar with paczki (plural, pronounced ‘POONCH-kee’), here’s some interesting facts. The singular is paczek (pronounced ‘POON-check’). Don’t order just one “paczki” as that’s the plural. Order one paczek. If you happen to make a mistake, don’t worry. How are you to know if you’re not Polish? Indeed, one thing’s for sure: if you don’t enjoy a paczek or two before Lent, you’re missing out!

In any event, whether it’s one or many, paczki are Polish pastries that are inextricably linked with Fat Tuesday celebrations. People not of Polish heritage compare it to a jelly-filled donut. But it’s not comparable at all. And I’m Polish so I know! Why is it not close? Because authentic Polish paczki are made with extremely rich dough, literally made of everything rich found in the Polish pantry. Catholic religious law forbade the consumption of lard, sugar and eggs during the Lenten fasting season. Paczki is the result of cleaning out the Polish pantry and indulging before Lent which generally begins the Thursday before Lent.

Enjoy Paczki from a Bakery

Before you stop just anywhere to buy paczki, make sure you know if the bakery uses an authentic paczki recipe or if they simply use their donut recipe for the dough. Last year I excitedly made a stop at a new bakery and was not happy to find a “donut” paczki. It makes a difference! A true, authentic paczki is super rich and delicious. Eating one brings a body joy. Eating more than one at a time makes you sick! That’s why Polish people start the Thursday before Ash Wednesday so they have a few days to eat more than one!

If you can’t find authentic paczki, why not try making your own?

Authentic Recipe

My Polish Busia made wonderful paczki. Most recipes are similar and this one is very close to my Busia’s. Any way you look at it, paczki are good, and all that is good comes from God. Whip up this recipe, try a homemade paczek, start a new family tradition and have a blessed Lent!

 Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 c. whole milk
  • 2 pkgs. active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2 1/2-3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 c. butter, melted and cooled slightly (Busia used 1/2 butter, 1/2 lard)
  • oil for frying (preferably lard but canola works if lard isn’t available)
  • any fruit jam (optional for filling)
Directions

Scald milk and allow to cool to lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast into lukewarm milk. Dissolve yeast in milk and let stand for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until well mixed and let stand for about 30 minutes or until bubbles form.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks until frothy. Add sugar, salt, vanilla and nutmeg and continue to whisk to combine well.

Grease a large mixing bowl. Set aside. Add the sugar/egg mixture to the dough mixture and vigorously mix with a wooden spoon. Add melted butter and continue to stir. Gradually combine remaining flour until a slightly sticky but soft dough comes together. Flour your hands, knead the dough a few times and form into a ball.

Place dough in prepared mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until it doubles in size (about an hour).

Punch down dough. Roll to a 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut out dough rounds using a round cutter. Or you can use an upside down drinking glass. Just dip the rim in flour after each cut if it sticks. Place onto a wax-paper (or parchment) lined cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another 30 minutes in a warm place.

Heat a deep skillet with 1 1/2-inches of oil to about 350 degrees F. Place 3-4 paczki in the skillet at a time and fry until dark, golden brown on each side. Use tongs to flip only once! It’s important to let them get dark in color to make sure they cook all the way through. Gently place on paper towel-lined plate to drain the oil. Repeat the process for remaining paczki.

Sweetening the Paczki

After they drain on paper towel, dip into granulated or powdered sugar. My Busia would put the sugar in a brown paper bag. Then she’d add the paczki a couple at a time and shake until well coated. This way they get sugar on all sides equally. Using a piping bag, fill paczki from the side with fruit jam of choice, if using. Stewed prunes are the traditional filling, but raspberry, blueberry, cherry and more taste great, too. Enjoy!

Polish Hints

Frying hints:

Test the temperature of the fat by dropping in a cube of bread, about one inch in size. If it browns in one minute, the fat is hot enough. This is a good general rule to remember when frying any uncooked food. Be sure, above all, that the fat does not smoke. That means it’s too hot.

Prior to cooking:

Add a tablespoon of cold water to the cold fat . This keeps it from burning easily and insures a nice browning of the food. Fat may be used over and over again, if clarified after each use and stored properly.

To clarify oil:

Let the fat cool and add a few slices of raw potato. Heat slowly until the potato is well browned. Strain through several thicknesses of cheesecloth. Store in a tightly closed container in a cool, dark place. When re-using, fry a quartered apple in the fat to remove any flavor prior to use.

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