Pączki are fried, sugar-dusted fluffs of pastry, with a golden brown color on both sides with a light ring around the middle. These yeast-risen Polish doughnuts are deep fried and covered with powdered sugar or fried orange zest and filled with various jams and jellies.
How is it pronounced?
While there are slight variations, the typical North American pronunciation of pączki is poonch-key although some prefer more of a paunch-key pronunciation. The Polish word pączek is a diminutive of the Polish word pąk, which refers to anything that is round, protuberant and about to burst, possibly of onomatopoeic origin.
What are pączki?
Pączki are pieces of dough shaped into spheres filled with a sweet filling and then deep-fried. Powidła (stewed plum jam) and wild rose petal jam are traditional fillings, but many others are used as well, including strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry, and apple.
They are usually covered with powdered sugar while they are still hot and fresh out of the oil so it sticks to the donuts. Alcohol is added to the dough before cooking to prevent the absorption of oil deep into the dough. Paczki are made from dough containing eggs, fats, sugar, yeast and milk, so they tend to be a little more rich and dense than a typical donut.
What is the origin of pączki?
Pączki have been known in Poland at least since the Middle Ages. Their dough was improved to become lighter, spongier and more resilient under the influence of the French cooks who came to Poland during the reign of Augustus III.
Paczki can be translated as “doughnut” or “little package”. As part of the pre-Lent festivities, they were first made by Polish people using up the last of the sugar, lard and fruit in the house before the austerity of Lent. In Poland, they are eaten on Fat Thursday as part of the zapusty, or “carnival season”. These pre-Lent festivities continue to the present day. Bakeries making pączki are known to be the site of hours-long lines on Fat Thursday.
With the immigration of the Polish people to the United States, paczki became ubiquitous in Polish communities on the Eastern seaboard and in the Midwest. In the United States, they’re eaten on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day before Lent begins.
The day before Ash Wednesday known by the Polish as shrove Tuesday that evolved from the practice of shriving, is the purification through confession, just before Lent. Mardi Gras is the culmination of several weeks of revelry. Pancakes are another traditional food on Fat Tuesday, baked to use up the cooking fats that are forbidden during Lent. To Americans of Polish descent, Pączki Day means eating pączki.
The Thursday before Ash Wednesday marks the start of the final week of the pre-Lenten celebrations. In Poland, pączki sales are the highest on Tlusty Czwartek, or “Fat Thursday”, while the practice of Pączki Day is traditionally observed the day before Ash Wednesday in the United States.
In Old Poland, the rich would feast on fancy hors d’oeuvres and fine wines while the Peasants enjoyed their zimne noge (jellied pig’s knuckles), kiszka (blood and groat sausage), and kielbasa z kapusta (sausage and cabbage), which they washed down with beer and the least expensive vodka available.
The zapusty or “Carnival season” reached its height during this period. While both groups were different in class with the rich holding elegant balls in well-to-do manor houses and the country-folk making merry at the village inn. Common to both groups, however, were pączki, which were consumed in huge quantities.
In some parts of America, Paczki Day celebrations are even larger than the celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day. There is an annual Paczki Day or Shrove Tuesday parade in Hamtramck, Michigan that has gained a devoted following. The special day is so widespread throughout the Detroit metro area that many bakeries attract lines of customers for paczki. In some areas, paczki eating contests are even held in celebration of Paczki Day.
In the United States, on Casimir Pulaski Day, which is particularly observed in the Midwest, pączki are also eaten. Born in Poland, Casimir Pulaski was an American Revolutionary War hero who has been dubbed “the father of the American cavalry”.
While paczki freeze well and can be fried the next day, they are actually best eaten on the day they are made. While a deep fryer is not necessary to make these, it is the easiest route, as it keeps a constant temperature which is required when making these.
- 8 cups flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 2 packets vanilla sugar (or 1 tablespoon of sugar with ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract)
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons butter (very soft)
- 1¼ cup warm milk (at 97 F / 36 ° C), or a little more
- 3 tablespoons vodka
- 4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 tablespoons warm milk (at 97 F / 36°C)
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- Vegetable oil
- 1 egg white , beaten
- Varen'ye iz lepestkov roz (rose petal jam)
- Powidła (plum jam)
- Icing sugar
- In a large bowl, mix the yeast with the warm milk and 2 tablespoons of caster sugar.
- Let rise for 30 minutes, the mixture should at least double in volume.
- Add the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Dig a well in the center of the flour. Add the remaining caster sugar and the vanilla sugar.
- Lightly beat the eggs and add them in the center of the well, then add the leaven.
- Start kneading at medium speed while incorporating the butter.
- While continuing to knead, gradually add the vodka, then the warm milk until obtaining a homogeneous and slightly firm dough.
- Knead for 10 minutes at low to medium speed.
- Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface, and mill it until obtaining a supple, smooth, and elastic dough.
- Place the dough in a large container, cover with a slightly damp cloth, and let it rise for 2 and a half hours in a warm place away from drafts.
- Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thickness of ¼ inch (½ cm).
- Using a cookie cutter, cut circles of 3 inches (7 cm) in diameter.
- On half of the dough circles, brush the edges with the beaten egg white then place a tablespoon of plum jam or rose petal jam in the center.
- Cover each circle thus obtained with another circle of dough, then consolidate by pressing the edges.
- Place them on a baking sheet lined with lightly floured parchment paper, spacing them out.
- Cover them with a dry cloth and let them sit for 45 minutes in a warm place, away from drafts.
- In a Dutch oven, heat a large quantity of vegetable oil and, using a kitchen thermometer, bring it to a temperature between 320 F and 340 F (between 160°C and 170°C) which must be maintained throughout the frying process.
- Gently peel the pączki from parchment paper without distorting them, and immerse them in small batches in hot oil.
- Let them brown on one side before turning them over, then let brown on the other side. Once the two sides are uniformly colored, gently remove them using a skewer and place them on paper towel.
- Then sprinkle them with icing sugar.
Respecting the oil temperature is very important.
If it is too hot, the oil will brown the donuts too much, which will be almost burnt outside and raw inside.
If the oil is not hot enough, the dough will absorb a lot of oil and they will be too greasy.
Without a kitchen thermometer, it is possible to judge the temperature with the help of a slice of potato which should be immersed in the oil: as soon as it starts to fry normally, the correct temperature is good and it is very important to maintain it.