Today is Fat Tuesday. Let’s be fatties.
I have just the thing. Donuts. Special donuts. Paczki. Have you heard of them?
Well, I hadn’t until we moved to Michigan from Florida my freshman year of high school. As we were going on with our day, the whole town seemed to be freaking out about these donuts. What’s the big deal?
Unlike your corner Dunkin’ sour cream glazed variety (the best kind, IMO), turns out these Polish delicacies come around only once a year. Starting on Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Lent, Polish families chose this day to start cleaning out the pantry of all the good things before the church-sanctioned forty-day diet began on Ash Wednesday, and would make these donuts. Traditionally filled with either prune or rosehip jam, they are definitely worthy of the day.
I’ve never made donuts. I like a challenge. I figured I’d make them.
Luckily, Lettuce has a pretty extensive network of Polish friends, all of whom have Polish grandmas, and one of them was nice enough to share a recipe for paczki. The hard part about recipes of this sort is that they’re not often written down. You know how grandmas cook- a bit of this, a bit of that– and so when it comes time to pass down these recipes to eager, foodie-minded grandchildren, it becomes difficult. So, a big thanks to Turnip for writing her family’s recipe down in painstaking detail for this non-proficient pastry putz.
The fun thing about making new foods is exploring new areas of the city that I’d never find otherwise. Remember adventures in the Asian market? Well, for this was adventures in the Polish market. Because Chicago and its surrounds boast over 1 million of Polish descent, there were more than a few options for me to track down some of the non-traditional ingredients required for this particular recipe. I can be a brand snob, and so I needed to respect the specificity in Turnip’s recipe, at least on the first time around.
Montrose Deli, located on Chicago’s northwest side is a Polish food lover’s oasis. As I walked down the aisles and back to the deli counter, it took all the self-control in me to not buy 5 different types of sausage and cold cuts and cheese and all the good things. I did impulse buy some bacon and rye bread, but that was all I allowed myself. Oh, and pierogis. Gotta have pierogis.
Fava came over along for the ride and together we got down to business. While seemingly step-heavy, the recipe is very straight forward. Don’t be scared. Three parts of it did, however, give me pause.
First- yeast. It’s such a wild card. I’m always anxious when I bake with it and freak out a little. In retrospect this is stupid because I’ve never had yeast not rise on me. Still, it’s uncertainty that I don’t appreciate when it comes to cooking. Will it rise? What if it doesn’t? Is it bad? What if I have to run out and get more mid-baking? This recipe actually called for yeast paste. Who’s heard of that?? Anyway, calm down and look for it next to the eggs.
Second- oil. Donuts are FRIED. I don’t fry things. EVER. In fact, this was the first time I’d ever deep fried anything and I was scared and nervous, but thanks to my candy thermometer, my Dutch oven and the calming presence of Fava, I got through it.
Third, Turnip’s recipe is in metric because…the rest of the world measures in metric, which really does just make sense. However, we here in the States do not. I just bought a kitchen scale a few months ago and really, I have to ask myself what took me so long. As such, I’m writing the recipe as Turnip provided and how that mass actually measured out. It did turn up differently than it did when I did the online conversion, so FYI. Not sure why that is.
A few notes:
Unlike many filled donut recipes, these are filled BEFORE they are fried. I didn’t think anything of it until Mom noted it when we were talking about them. In any case, it works.
When rolling out this dough for the final time, DO NOT double it on itself like you would with sugar cookie or pie crust dough. One roll and that’s it. I say that because Fava and I did fold it over on itself in parts, and as a result, some of our paczki came out like Grands’ biscuits. Not bad tasting at all, but failed execution no doubt due to our own folly. The ones that we rolled straight out came out as they should have.
- 500 g (3 ½ cups) Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour
- 50 g fresh yeast (a little less than 1-2oz block) – make sure to leave yeast out of the fridge 30 minutes before baking to reach room temperature
- 6 oz margarine (real margarine used for baking purposes; suggested brand Kasia)
- 100 g sugar (3/4 cup)
- ½ tsp Salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 125 mL milk (1/2 cup plus 2 TB) – room temperature
- ½ shot rectified spirit (Everclear)
- ½ large jar mixed fruit or rose petal thick-cut marmalade
- Oil for deep frying (vegetable/olive)
- Powdered Sugar for Sprinkling on Top
- Begin by preparing a fresh yeast paste. Place the yeast in a small bowl, large mug or a measuring cup and crumble it into small pieces. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar, 3 tablespoons of flour, and a little bit of milk – just enough to make the ingredients mix easily. Mix all ingredients into a mid-thick paste resembling the texture of sour cream. Place the cup with the ready fresh yeast paste in a warm place (near a heated stove or oven, etc.) and leave it there to rise.
- In the meantime, place the margarine in a small pan over low heat and let it melt slowly until completely liquid form.
- Place the remaining flour in a large mixing bowl and mix with the ½ teaspoon of salt. Set aside.
- Place egg yolks and the remaining sugar in another mixing bowl. Whisk the two ingredients together into a smooth mixture.
- Once the fresh yeast paste has risen to about twice its original level, add it to the flour mix. Add the egg/sugar mixture and the remaining milk. Start kneading the dough. When kneading, make sure to pull the dough up high so that it gets a good stretch and air can pass through it. Knead well and long enough for it to become fluffy! Three quarters into the kneading process, add the melted margarine - keep kneading! Shortly after, add the shot glass of rectified spirit and keep kneading until you are finished. A sign of a kneading job-well-done is that the dough will easily separate from your hands and fingers. When perfectly fluffy, place the dough in a large bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel (cotton will be best since it’ll let air pass through easily), and set it to rise in a warm temperature (near a heated stove or oven, etc.) – the dough will be twice its original size when ready.
- Place oil in a large pot – make sure about ¾ of the pot is filled up – and start heating it very slowly.
- When the dough is ready, separate it into two equal parts. Use a dough roller or rolling pin to roll one part into large a 1 cm (~0.4 in) thick piece. Make sure to spread a very thin layer of flour on the rolling table so that the dough does not stick to the bottom.
- Cut marmalade into 1x1 in cubes and place them throughout the rolled out piece of dough, spacing them about 1 in from each other all around.
- Roll out the other portion of dough into a 1 cm (~0.4 in) thick piece of the same size as the first one. Place this rolled out piece of dough on top of the spread marmalade pieces.
- Take medium size round glass (about 3 in in circumference) and start cutting out circles evenly around the marmalade cubes.
- Cover a separate counter/table with a thin layer of flour. Take the donuts, as you continue to cut them out of the dough with a glass, and place them on the prepared counter to rise – they should gain about twice their height. Once the doughnuts have risen, you are ready to place them in the pot with oil.
- Grandma’s trick to check on oil – take a slice of a raw potato and put it in the oil. If it starts browning right away, you are ready to deep fry the donuts! This is about 350F, and be sure to keep the oil at this temperature throughout the cooking process. Before you place the doughnuts in the pot, make sure you clean the flour off of them as much as possible!
- Place the doughnuts into the pot upside down – the risen, top part should become the bottom in the pot to give the other side room and time to rise! When the bottom part browns nicely, turn the donuts over to allow the other side to brown.
- When both sides are nicely browned, take the doughnuts out on to a paper towel to let them dry off from oil.
- Place on a serving plate and sprinkle powdered sugar on top!
- DO NOT double it on itself like you would with sugar cookie or pie crust dough. One roll and that’s it.
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