Celebrate Fat Tuesday the way it was intended, and stuff yourself full of delicious Pączki! Polish Donuts are fried dough dusted in sugar and sometimes filled with jams or custards.
What kind of Polish girl would I be if I didn’t share this scrumptious tradition of Pączki with you the week before Fat Tuesday? Perfect timing, too – you have all weekend to make some for yourself!
I can’t take all of the credit though, I need to thank a reader of mine, who contacted me recently and asked if I had a Pączki recipe. Funny thing was, I had just been gifted an old Polish cookbook, and when I went through and marked pages of things I wanted to try, it was one of the first!
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You all know I love a good doughnut, right? In fact, I have quite a few recipes that I have shared over the years. Typically the baked variety of donuts, nothing like these fried Paçzki, until today, that is!
Baked Donuts Recipes to Try:
- Powdered Sugar Donuts
- Baked Banana Donuts
- Glazed Pumpkin Donuts
- Cherry Limeade Baked Donuts
- Baked Glazed Lemon Donuts
- Double Chocolate Baked Donuts
- Baked Chocolate Covered Strawberry Donuts
Classic Polish Pączki
My daughter’s fiance’s aunt gave me this cookbook. It is from the 1970s and it’s a collection of recipes put together by one woman’s daughters. It’s like a goldmine! (Thanks, Aunt Pat!)
Pączki might look like a donut, but don’t let that fool you. These amazing pastries taste even better!
So, in case you are wondering how to pronounce it… Pączki is pronounced “Pownch-ki”. I know you don’t see the “n” in there but roll with it.
My Journey For Perfect Pączki
Since making Pączki has been a tradition in my family history forever, I couldn’t wait to share this recipe. Typically, making them is fairly simple. Make the dough, let it rise, then knead it back down. Let it rise again.
Normally that is never an issue. However, I think my ancestors must have been messing with me for not having made them before. It took me four tries to get the second rise out of my dough to work the way I wanted it to!
I am not one to give up easily though. And it wasn’t like the attempts didn’t taste good either. But I was looking for that perfect balance of fluffy dough filled with sweet fillings. So I had to keep going until I got it just right.
The first batch turned out beautifully, but they were really little. I should have cut them larger. However, everyone loved them, as I dusted them in sugar and left those unfilled.
The second and third batches didn’t rise the way they should have the second time, and I credited it to the yeast. Yeast is really touchy, as you know. The third batch was perfect, albeit, not as puffy as some I have seen, but delicious just the same.
Why Are Pączki Made Before Lent?
Traditionally, the period from Fat Tuesday to Ash Wednesday is the time to get in all the big sweet treats and splurge on food before the restrictions of Lent set in. The idea was to use up all the lard, sugar, fruit, and eggs so those would not be a temptation during Lent.
In some places, Fat Tuesday and Fat Thursday are even referred to as “ Pączki Day”!
What Makes Pączki Dough Special?
Unlike German “Berliners” or Portuguese “Malasadas”, Pączki has especially rich dough containing eggs, fats, sugar, yeast, and milk. This rich dough helps them taste even better and it holds up well to fillings.
In fact, the dough recipe originated in France during the middle ages, and it traveled fast. In Poland, it just became improved and perfected.
So it might look like a donut by any other name, but it is like the best donut you ever tasted.
Rising the dough in a warm oven seems to be the most successful for me. No drafts and it was particularly chilly the day I was making these.
Tips On Getting A Good Second Rise From The Dough
I think I had trouble getting a good second rise from my dough. It could have been a number of things. Make sure you check the date on your yeast. I used active dry yeast, and I had three different kinds in my pantry.
The first one I used was close to expiring, yet not expired. I do recommend making sure you get quality yeast and not using that stuff that has been on your shelf for the last however many years.
You will be much happier for it.
Pączki Dough Rising Tips
Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure your eggs and butter are room temperature to start. If you keep a really cold house then you can use your oven to get a nice warm temp.
- The dough rises best at temps between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not go any warmer or you will kill the yeast. Much colder and you might inhibit the yeast from doing its thing.
- I warmed my oven to 250 degrees, then I shut it off before placing the covered dough inside.
- If using a mixer for your dough and the dough rises up on the kneading hook, then change the speed. It should pull the dough back down. When the dough rises up the hook like that it is a good sign your dough is almost ready.
How Do I Properly Scald Milk?
Some folks get nervous about scalding milk. I don’t blame them because burnt milk is pretty nasty. Don’t let that deter you though! Scalding the milk is a lot easier than it sounds.
You can do it on the stovetop or in the microwave. In the microwave, you can cook it on medium-high for about two to two and a half minutes. Stir it every 30 seconds. When the milk reaches 180 degrees F. you are ready.
If you scald milk on the stovetop, which is my preferred way, then get the heat up to medium-high and stir the milk constantly so it doesn’t stick. As long as you keep stirring you won’t burn it.
It will have bubbles all around the edges and steam rising from the pan. Check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. When it reads 180 degrees F. it’s ready. Don’t let the milk get hotter than 212 degrees F. or it will be no good.
For this recipe, I then cooled the scalded milk down to 110 degrees F.
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Frying The Pączki Dough
So you got through the second rise and now you are ready to start frying up your Pączki. I used a dutch oven with oil heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I love the even temperature of cast iron and that comes in especially handy when making these.
However, you can also use any deep fryer that you have handy.
Don’t put too many pieces of dough into the hot oil at one time. Because you don’t want the dough to keep dropping the temperature of the oil. I suggest only 3 or 4 at a time, depending on the size of your pan. They cook quickly so don’t feel rushed.
Monitor the temperature of your oil frequently with an instant-read thermometer, keeping it as close to 350 degrees F. as possible. Because too hot or too cool and you end up with the inside being undercooked or the exterior being overdone and crunchy.
Another tip, place the pieces of dough with the top side (the dry side) down in the oil first.
After You Fry
When the dough is done frying, carefully pull it out and place it in a large bowl with some paper towels to drain any excess grease before rolling the Pączki in either granulated or powdered sugar. (I prefer granulated). The Pączki needs to still be hot enough that the sugar will partially caramelize and stick to the fried dough easily.
Too hot and the sugar just melts. So, hot enough that you can touch them just briefly is a good sign they are ready for the sugar.
To Fill Or Not To Fill Your Pączki
That is the question. I leave it to your discretion. However, I LOVE filling them because they are amazing! So, you can fill them with a wide variety of things, jams, custards, cremes, even chocolate all work great. I filled mine with seedless raspberry jam and lemon curd, but you can try whatever sounds sweet and delicious to you.
Filling them is easy if you have a piping bag to work with. You simply poke a hole in the side with a sharp knife, then squirt in a tablespoon or two of filling inside. Alternatively, you can slice a hole into the side and spoon the filling in.
I Love Your Traditional Polish Recipes, What Else Do You Recommend?
If you like this Pączki recipe and want to learn more about the Polish recipes handed down through generations in our family, then here are some to check out:
- Kapusniak (Sauerkraut soup)
- Smoked Polish sausage
- Polish Noodles -Kluski Kapusta Kiszona or Polish Haluski
Who’s ready to dive into this Polish Fat Tuesday tradition and make (and EAT!) Some Paçzki?
- 1 cup scalded milk, cooled to a lukewarm temperature of 110 degrees F.
- 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (may need a little more or less)
- Vegetable Oil for frying
- Jam, custard, lemon curd for filling
- Sugar or confectioners' sugar for rolling
- In a saucepan, scald milk, then cool it to 110 degrees F. In the bowl of your stand mixer, add milk, butter, sugar, and vanilla. Using the whisk, mix until sugar is dissolved, and butter is incorporated. Add a package of active dry yeast and mix again until dissolved.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add each egg, one at a time, mixing in each one at a time.
- Attach the dough hook to your mixer. Turn the mixer to low speed (speed 2) and slowly add the flour to the milk mixture a little at a time. You may not need all of the flour, and you may need a bit more. Mix until dough is smooth.
- Remove the dough ball, spray the bowl with non-stick cooking spray, add the dough back in, spray the top of it with non-stick spray. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour. It will double in size. (I place mine in a warm oven)
- When the dough has risen, grabbing parts of it at a time, place on a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 1/2"-3/4" thick. Using a biscuit cutter or glass that is about 3" in diameter cut circles. Continue rolling until the dough is all cut. Transfer the rounds to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Cover lightly with a clean towel, and let rise for another 30 minutes.
- Fill a cast iron Dutch oven with about 3" of oil. Gather your sugar, and place your desired filling in a piping bag. Line a large bowl with paper towels.
- Heat oil to 350 degrees F. Add about 3-4 rounds to the hot oil, top side (dry side) in first. Watch closely and flip when they are golden brown. I used a flat slotted spoon. Remove them when they are golden on both sides, and place in the bowl lined with paper towels.
- When donuts are still warm, but able to be handled, roll them in sugar. Poke a hole in the side with a sharp knife and fill with jam using a piping bag.
- They are best eaten when warm the first day. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 182Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 46mgSodium: 54mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 1gSugar: 12gProtein: 4g