I first heard of paczki last year around the beginning of Lent, and noticed them at the grocery store around the same time. I did a little digging and found that they are Polish pastries similar to a jelly doughnuts and that they are traditionally made and eaten on Fat Tuesday and Fat Thursday, which I didn’t even know existed! Apparently, Fat Thursday is a traditional Christian feast marking the last Thursday before Lent. Traditionally, it is a day dedicated to eating, when people meet with friends and family to eat large quantities of sweets, cakes and other meals forbidden during Lent. I couldn’t really find anything that spelled out a discernible difference between Fat Tuesday and Fat Thursday, except that it seems certain regions and religions tend to celebrate one or the other. The concept is definitely the same – indulge as much as possible right before Lent!
Now, back to the paczki… The difference between these and a basic doughnut is that paczki are made with a very rich, sweet yeast dough consisting of eggs, butter and milk. Sort of like a brioche doughnut, only better, if you can imagine!
I made a mental note of paczki last year and definitely wanted to make them when the time rolled around again, and here we are! Tomorrow is Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday is just around the corner. Let’s get frying!
When I started to poke around for recipes, I called my grandma (who is 100% Polish) to see if she had a recipe for paczki. Sadly, she did not, but said that her mom used to make them. Bummed, I started Googling “paczki recipe” and then got smart and revised it to “grandma’s paczki recipe”. I wanted something really authentic and I found more than a handful of recipes originating with someone’s grandma. While all of the ingredients were the same, the quantities and methods varied from recipe to recipe, so I hacked together what I thought sounded delicious and started on my way.
The most traditional paczki recipes call for filling the doughnuts with fruit preserves or prune butter, while others said their grandma never used a filling. Some say they must be rolled in powdered sugar, while others say they had always been rolled in granulated sugar. I did a batch of each: filled/powdered, filled/granulated, unfilled/powdered, and unfilled/granulated. For the filled ones, I did half raspberry and half apricot preserves.
My Chief Culinary Consultant and I taste tested all of them and both came to the conclusion that the unfilled ones rolled in granulated sugar were the bee’s knees. Jelly doughnuts were never my thing, so I wasn’t surprised that I preferred the unfilled ones. As for the sugar coating, both tasted good, but I love the crunch of granulated sugar on the outside of a doughnut. So hard to beat it!
If you’re planning to celebrate Fat Thursday tomorrow, or Fat Tuesday next week, you neeeeeed to make paczki part of your menu!
One year ago: Sesame Chicken and Macadmia Nut, Coconut & White Chocolate Blondies
Two years ago: Beer Battered Cod and Capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding)
Three years ago: Grilled Fish Tacos and Fig, Date and Almond Granola Bars
Paczki (Polish Doughnuts)
Yield: About 20 to 24 paczki
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Traditional Polish paczki - yeasted doughnuts filled with fruit preserves and rolled in sugar, popular on Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday.
2 cups whole milk, warmed to 110 degrees F
4½ teaspoons active dry yeast (2 packages)
¾ cup + 1 pinch granulated sugar, divided
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, divided
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Peanut oil, canola oil or lard, for frying
Fruit preserves, for filling
Powdered and granulated sugars, for coating
1. Pour warm milk into bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it has become bubbly.
2. Add 2 cups of flour to the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot for 30 minutes. The mixture should have risen and be very bubbly.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and egg yolks until pale yellow and frothy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt, and whisk until combined and smooth.
4. Attach the dough hook to the mixer, add the egg mixture to the dough and mix on medium-low speed until mostly combined. Add the melted butter and mix to combine. Gradually add 3 more cups of flour to the mixture and continue to knead until a very soft dough comes together. (It will not clean the sides of the bowl or form a ball; it will be rather slack and a bit sticky.) If necessary, add up to another 1 cup of flour, a spoonful at a time, until the dough forms.
5. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm spot until it has doubled in size.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl and turn out onto a floured work surface. With your fingers, push down the dough into an even layer. Sprinkle flour on the dough and roll it out to ½-inch thickness. If the dough doesn't hold its shape and springs back, cover with a damp towel and let rest for a few minutes and try again.
7. Use a 3-inch biscuit cutter to cut out rounds of dough. Transfer the dough rounds to parchment-lined baking sheets. Gather scraps of dough and again roll out and cut until you have used up all of the dough. Cover the baking sheets loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free spot until almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, heat at least 1½ inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet) over medium heat to 350 degrees F. Carefully lower about six paczki into the oil at a time (be sure not to over-crowd the pan) and fry until the bottom is golden brown. Carefully turn them over and continue to fry until the other side is golden brown. Use a spider strainer or slotted spoon to remove them to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Allow the oil to come back to temperature, then repeat until all of the paczki have been fried.
9. Allow the paczki to cool until you are able to handle them easily. Using a filling tip, pipe fruit preserves into the sides of the paczki, then roll in sugar. The paczki are best the same day they are made, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.