Pączki (Polish Donuts)



While at the supermarket last week we stumbled on a big red and white box of commercially made Polish donuts.  So what’s the big deal you ask?  These aren’t just any donuts.  Pączki are a Polish tradition of big, sugar dusted orbs of fried donut goodness filled with jelly or plums and consumed by the thousands on Fat Thursday – not Fat Tuesday.  When I was a kid we used to get them (still hot) from the local Polish bakery after standing in a line that reached out the door and around the corner. Sometimes a family friend would send over her homemade ones. So I was quite surprised to see them in the local supermarket! Ahh, nostalgia. . .

Now, a little Polish language lesson and some history for you.  Paczki  (POONCH-key)  is the plural of paczek (pa-check), the literal translation being package. A quick search of their history indicates they were created out of necessity, as cooks had to deplete their supplies of lard, sugar, sweets, etc. in preparation for the 40 days of abstinence, penance and fasting during the Lenten season.  Hence, Fat Thursday is celebrated on the last Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

To this day, this last splurge before Lent continues in Poland and Polish communities everywhere. Oli thought it would be a good idea to make our own and splurge with friends. So today we give you our recipe for lemon filled pączki .

It’s not a difficult recipe, but the dough needs to rise several times so set a little time aside when you make them. The frying doesn’t take long at all.  When one side is golden brown, flip them over until the other side is golden brown as well.

Pączki are richer and more substantial than commercially made donuts and that’s what makes them special.  You can fill them with whatever strikes your fancy, but Oli’s lemon curd is crazy good – not too tart, not too sweet. Highly recommended by friends in the know.

Whatever you choose for a filling, and whether you celebrate Fat Thursday or Fat Tuesday, we hope you splurge and share your pączki with family and friends.

* * *

Lemon Curd

You can make the lemon curd a day ahead of time and refrigerate it until using.

Zest from one lemon – white pith removed and discarded
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

  1. Pulse zest and sugar in the bowl of a small food processor until combined and zest is quite fine.
  2. Wisk the lemon sugar and the butter in a large bowl until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  
  3. Wisk in the eggs, one at a time, whisking constantly until well blended.
  4. Stir in the lemon juice. The mixture will curdle but that’s ok. It will normalize when you heat it.
  5. Heat mixture in a medium skillet over medium low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula.  Frequently scrape the sides and bottom of the pan so the mixture heats evenly. It will slowly start to thicken. It’s ready when it coats the spatula. Use a cooking thermometer so that you can check the temperature of the curd when heating.  It should not go above 170 degrees F. 
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to stir until the curd is room temperature.

Refrigerate curd in a small bowl covered with plastic wrap until ready to use.

                                                                  * * *


Makes 18 Pączki

2 cups whole milk
4 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 cup sugar
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 of a nutmeg, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons melted butter

6-8 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying
Lemon curd for filling
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

  1.  Heat the milk in a medium sauce pan to 110 degrees F (a little warmer than luke warm). Whisk in the yeast and 1/4 cup of the sugar until dissolved. Set aside in a warm, draft free area for about 10 minutes or until the surface becomes bubbly/frothy.
  2. Stir 2 cups of the flour into the yeast mixture until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in that warm, draft free area until bubbly and doubled in size, about 20-30 minutes.
  3.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg and the remaining sugar  until light in color and the mixture has thickened. Reserve.
  4. Pour the flour/yeast mixture and the egg mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Add the vanilla, nutmeg, salt and melted butter while mixing at slow speed.  Mix until almost combined.
  5. Add the remaining flour to the mixture 1/2 cup at a time while continuing to mix on slow speed.  The ultimate consistency of the dough should be soft and a little sticky.  It won’t clear the sides of the bowl, so don’t overwork the dough.  Add more flour if necessary to get to this consistency.
  6. Place the dough into a lightly greased large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft free area until double in size.
  7. Dump the dough onto a clean, floured work surface and sprinkle the dough with some flour. Carefully roll out the dough to a little more than 1/4-inch thickness.
  8. Use a 3-inch round cutter to make about 18 rounds. Handle with care and place them on a lightly floured tray as you cut. Cover the tray with plastic wrap.  Place in that good ole warm, draft free area until double in size – again.

Now you’re ready to fry some pączki!

Two quick notes:
It’s better to deep fry these, as the deeper the oil, the more stable its temperature.

As you take the dough rounds from the try and put them into the hot oil to fry, handle them as little as possible.

  1. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F and carefully slide a few dough rounds into the oil.  Don’t let them touch, so no overcrowding.  When puffed and one side is golden brown, turn it over and fry the other side until golden brown.  Use a large slotted spoon or skimmer strainer to move each pączek to a paper towel lined tray.
  2. Carefully maintain the oil temperature at 350 degrees F and remember that as you add dough rounds the temperature will fall, then rise as they cook.  Make good use of that temperature probe.
  3. When pączki are cool take a flat skewer and from the side, poke a hole that reaches into the middle of the pączek  to make it easy to fill.
  4. Fill a piping bag fitted with a good size tip with the cold lemon curd and fill each pączek until the curd reaches the middle.
  5. Sprinkle your creations with confectioner’s sugar, pour a nice hot cup of coffee and enjoy Fat Thursday or Fat Tuesday. . . for tomorrow we diet!




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