Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Pączki Queens

Fat Tuesday is the traditional day to overindulge before the forty days of Lent begins, especially on the Polish-style Bismarcks known as Pączki. You can buy Pączki in many bakeries around town with the customary filling of prune and also with any other filling imaginable like raspberry and even blueberry. Store-bought varieties are okay, but in my opinion, they are overly doughy, heavy cakes, which make you feel just as bad as their day’s moniker, FAT! Regardless, I still crave Pączki on Fat Tuesday no matter how they make me feel after I’ve eaten them.

When I woke up yesterday, I couldn’t get those Pączki out of my mind, so with mouth watering I called my sister, LDS, at 8 a.m. to ask, “Are you going to buy Pączki today?” She replied, “I don’t think so.” Then she asked her hubby and he called out that he was already too fat and didn’t need to add fuel to the fire. I was mildly disappointed, but agreed with her, “Yeah, I don’t need to eat any either, even though it is Fat Tuesday.” We continued talking about Pączki and I told her how I’d always wanted to try to make my own and read my recipe to her. Then she read me hers. We decided it was a lot of work to make them from scratch and ended the call.

A few minutes later my phone rang.

“What do you think if I come over right now and we make some Pączki together?” she said. I thought it was a grand idea.

We started them at 10 a.m., which any baker would tell you is insane, you really need to get up before the crack of dawn as doughnuts are usually eaten at breakfast time, but what do we know? Getting the dough made wasn’t difficult. We confidently set it to rise and, an hour later, it hadn’t done much of anything! The dough is supposed to be double in size, so we waited a little longer. Of course, I had to run out to pick up the kids from school – half day, and when I had returned LDS had patted the dough out and had cut it into circles. The Pączki were resting comfortably on cookie sheets so they could rise again.

The rest of the process isn’t too hard. We heated oil in a heavy kettle and then fried the Pączki four at a time. They really puff up even more during the frying! After one side is cooked, you give them a flip, and when they’re golden brown, drain them on paper towels. We sprinkled some with powdered sugar, and then switched to granulated. That’s better by far. As they cooled on wire racks, we made the fillings: Poppy Seed and Vanilla Custard.

The Poppy Seed filling was interesting, consisting of chopped nuts, poppy seeds, honey, sugar, flour and cream, but, after it cooled down, it came out thicker than mortar and we had to thin it with more cream. The Vanilla Custard turned out too salty, lumpy, and nearly inedible which was surprising since we’re both pretty good cooks, but we made do.

Filling the Pączki was interesting to say the least, and a trifle disturbing! We didn’t have the proper equipment – I was using a pastry bag with decorator tips. After jamming the tip into each Pączki and squeezing the heck out of the bag I realized they must make some special apparatus to fill doughnuts, I just didn’t know what and I wished I had one as my hand was cramping. Despite this, we did the best we could. A couple of the Pączki cracked on top like they were erupting and, a few minutes after stuffing all of them, the filling began oozing out of the holes. So, how did they turn out?

Delicious! Homemade Pączki aren’t too sweet or doughy. The texture is rather light, and with the added orange zest, they had a hint of citrus flavor. The fillings, especially the Poppy Seed, added just enough interest and sweetness to satisfy. And homemade Pączki don’t sit in your stomach like a brick for three hours after you eat them. This is an advantage as you can eat more than one, which we all did, but not feel like you totally overindulged. I will say that after all the time and work and fussing that there is definitely nothing better than Pączki made with your own two hands.

As we sat at the table, eating these delectable treats, everyone agreed that my sister and I are now officially the Pączki Queens of Fat Tuesday, and we decided that Pączki-making would become a yearly tradition for us.


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