Until a few days ago, I was sure Polish Pączki have something to do with Easter bread Paska because for a Russian speaking person this word looks like it should sound the same. I was wrong and I was wrong. Apparently, Pączki are pronounced POONCH-key [ˈpɔnt͡ʂkʲi] and are similar to what I know as Ponchiki from my childhood. Only now I discovered their name came from the Polish language!
Tłusty Czwartek Tradition
Polish Paczki are made for Fat Thursday in February to celebrate the last day before Lent fasting begins. In North America, Paczki Day typically occurs on Fat Tuesday. The dough for Pączki is enriched with eggs, fats, sugar, yeast, and milk.
“Pączki are deep-fried pieces of dough typically filled with confiture. They are covered with powdered sugar, icing, glaze or bits of dried orange zest. A small amount of grain alcohol (traditionally, Spiritus) is added to the dough before cooking; as it evaporates, it prevents the absorption of oil deep into the dough. The common opinion is that the ideal pączek is fluffy and at the same time a bit collapsed, with a bright stripe around – it is supposed to guarantee that the dough was fried in fresh oil.” — wiki
Tips and Tricks
Dough. The dough is soft and sticky. For the perfect crumb, it needs gentle care on all steps.
Filling. Most of fruit preserves and jams are not thick enough for the filling. I made my own prune filling (for 10 pączki) by blending together the following ingredients until smooth:
- 150 g prunes, chopped
- 1 tbsp hot water
- 1 tbsp amaretto
- 1 tbsp rum
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (without added sugar)
Shaping. The method of shaping pączki shown in this recipe is not the one an the only. It is the fastest and easiest if you care the filling is in the center with an even layer of dough aroun it, but you will end up with scraps of dough. The best way to use these dough scraps is combining them back together into a ball, giving it at least 30 minutes to rest, and making plain doughnuts.
Deep Frying. The temperature of the oil is crucial. That’s why it is more difficult to fry pączki to perfection without professional frier. Ideally, you want to place the whole batch of doughnuts into the hot oil at the same time, so the temp of the oil drops for all of them at the same time. When placed one by one, the first doughnut gets the highest temperature and puffs too fast. When it happens, its shape deforms and it is more difficult for it to float in the oil the way both sides are fried equally. In other words, it puffs like crazy and keeps turning so the only one side is browning all the time.
Experienced cooks who made pączki many times suggest piercing once both sides of the doughnut before frying and placing each doughnut bottom side first into the hot oil for the same reason — to control their puffing.