A year ago, on the eve of Fat Tuesday, I came across a table full of assorted boxes of Paczki at my local grocery store. Wanting to treat my family, I seized the opportunity to buy a box of six. But I quickly realized there were several different fillings to choose from. I was overwhelmed. All of them sounded delicious, so I ended up grabbing four boxes. Yes, it was gluttonous.
Upon arriving home with a gallon of milk in one hand and 24 paczki in the other, I watched my husband and kids dive into the scrumptious fruit-filled ambrosia. They couldn’t get their hands on them fast enough. Fat Tuesday hadn’t even arrived, and my family had become ravenous sweet-toothed beasts. A half-hour later, when they were supposed to be eating dinner, they all looked and felt ill. For those who may not be familiar with paczki (plural, pronounced ‘POON-shkee’), they are polish pastries that are inextricably linked with Fat Tuesday celebrations. Here in the Detroit area, where we are blessed with a large and active Polish population, they are widely known and annually sought after. The closest American analogy to the paczek (singular, pronounced ‘PON-check) is the jelly-filled donut. But if you refer to a paczek as a donut in front of a true Pole, they will promptly correct you. They truly are a superior delight when authentically made. There is another observation to be made about paczki and their role as a herald to Lent. Our Polish neighbor used to say, “Eating one makes you happy, eating three makes you sick.” I never understood where eating two paczki went in that little anecdote, but I think we get the idea. Paczki are good, and all that is good comes from God. Enjoy one, and thank God for the sweet things he provides us in life. But consume too much, and you won’t really be thanking anyone for anything … as my husband and children learned. Somewhere along the line, Fat Tuesday has evolved from “use up the surplus fats in your kitchen before the Lenten fast” into “consume as much as you can so you have partaken in enough decadence to last the whole Lenten fast.” But our Polish neighbor claims that pattern wasn’t observed so much back in her youth in Poland. Just as she would claim her paczki recipe was far more authentic than the store-bought varieties, she also was convinced that Lent was more authentically observed without the over-indulgence of Fat Tuesday. Although Fat Tuesday (Carnival, Mardi Gras, etc.) is celebrated in many countries around the world, including Poland, which has graced us with the paczki, I like my old neighbor’s view … treat yourself, but don’t go crazy. So try a paczek – but not three – and have a blessed Lent!
1 cup lukewarm whole milk
1 package active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
2 ½ - 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons butter (melted and cooled slightly)
Canola oil (for frying)
Any fruit jam (optional for filling)
Heat milk in a small saucepan and let cool to lukewarm. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in milk and let stand for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth and let stand for about 30 minutes or until bubbles have formed.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks until frothy. Add sugar, salt and vanilla and continue to whisk until combined.
Add the sugar/egg mixture to the bubbly dough and vigorously mix with a wooden spoon. Add melted butter and continue to stir. Gradually combine remaining flour until a slightly sticky but soft dough comes together. Knead a few times and form dough into a ball.
Place dough in a large greased mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm area until dough has doubled in size (40-50 minutes).
Roll dough to a ½-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut out dough rounds using an upside down coffee mug and place onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another 30 minutes (in a warm place).
Heat a deep skillet with 1 ½-inches of canola oil (to about 350 degrees). Place 3-4 paczki in skillet (at a time) and fry for about 20-30 seconds or until golden brown on each side (using tongs to flip). Repeat process for remaining paczki.
Gently place on paper towel-lined plate and then dip into granulated or powdered sugar. Using a piping bag, fill paczki with fruit jam of choice.