What Are Pączki?
Pączek (plural: pączki) is a traditional Polish doughnut made of yeast dough consisting of wheat flour, eggs, milk and butter.
Pączek is formed into slightly flattened ball, filled (or injected) with prune or rose petal preserves; and deep fried – traditionally in lard. As a finishing touch, they’re bathed in a flat icing and sprinkled with candied orange peel on top.
How To Pronounce “Pączki” In Polish?
The closest way to the Polish pronunciation would be: “pawn-chkey”
Non-Polish speakers often use the plural form “pączki”, even if they’re referring to a single doughnut.
A single “pączek” sounds like: “pawn-check”
Early on, pączki were made with bread dough, filled with pork fat and topped with pork scratchings. In the late 16th century they evolved into a sweet pastry, but they were much tougher then those we know today. In 18th century yeast was added to the recipe, and the doughnuts became larger and softer.
Fun fact: Old Polish custom associated with pączki involved placing an almond (or any other nut) in some of them. The one who came across this “surprise” was to be guaranteed happiness and prosperity throughout the year (perhaps with a tooth missing as well…)
Fat Tuesday, Fat Thursday & Pączki Day
Pączki are sold in Polish bakeries on everyday basis, but in leading to Lent, millions are sold in mere hours.
In Poland we enjoy them in large quantity while celebrating “Tłusty Czwartek” (“Fat Thursday”), the last Thursday prior to the beginning of Lent.
Abroad, pączki are accompanying Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras. On the same day in North America – particularly where the large Polish communities reside – “Pączki Day” is celebrated annually.
Pączki vs Doughnuts
What’s the difference between pączki and doughnuts? Pączki are made of a yeast dough – enriched with eggs, milk and butter. The texture is quite dense with an almost chewy texture that stretches delightfully over the tongue. Doughnuts are much lighter and crumblier in comparison.
Moreover, pączki are filled with a hearty amount of jam (or other fillings), while doughnuts often have a hole punched in the middle.
Popular Pączki Fillings
- Rose petal marmalade
- Prune filling / damson jam
- Fruit jam / fruit jelly
- Budyń (Polish custard)
For the doughnuts
- 4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
- 1.8 oz (50 g) fresh yeast; can be replaced with 1 packet (14 g) dry yeast, added directly to the flour
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk; lukewarm
- 1/4 cup (50 g) caster sugar
- 5 teaspoons (25 ml) alcohol: vodka or rum
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 vanilla pod; can be replaced with 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 3.5 tablespoons (50 g) butter; melted and chilled
For the Filling
- 7 oz (200 g) rose petal preserve; can be substituted with prune or another fruit preserve
- 2.2 lb (1 kg) lard; can be replaced with neutral cooking oil
For Topping / Icing
- 1 cup (125 g) icing sugar
- 2 tablespoons water, warm
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- candied orange peel; optional
30 minutes before baking, take all of the ingredients out of the fridge and leave them at room temperature. Please note, that we'll need to melt and chill 3.5 tablespoons of butter, so it's better to prepare it in advance.
Using fresh yeast
- Crumble the fresh yeast into a bowl. Blend it with 1 tablespoon of sugar, a cup of flour and half a cup of lukewarm milk. Set aside in a warm place for an hour.
- When yeast raises, add in 3 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, sugar, the rest of the flour (3 cups) - together with milk, lemon juice & zest, alcohol, grated vanilla and a generous pinch of salt.
- Knead the dough by hand, or using a stand mixer with a dough hook. Knead until the dough becomes shiny, and no longer sticky (that usually takes 8-10 minutes). Add in the butter (melted & chilled), knead the dough again (for another 8-10 minutes) and set aside in a warm place again for an hour. It should double its size.
Using dry yeast
- In a large bowl (or in a bowl that comes with your stand mixer) combine all of the ingredients from the 'For the doughnuts' section, minus the butter.
- Knead the dough until it becomes shiny is no longer sticky (that usually takes 8-10 minutes). Add in the butter (melted & chilled), knead the dough again (for another 8-10 minutes) and set aside in a warm place for an hour or two. It should double its size.
- Grab a spoonful of dough (around 40 g / 1.4 oz) and form small discs by hand (it's easier if you grease your hands beforehand). Place 1/2 teaspoon of preserves in the middle of a disc and close the dough together.
- Place each doughnut onto floured worktop (with the seam facing down). Keep some space between them. Once you're done, cover pączki with a cloth. Let them rise for 30-45 minutes.
- Once they're risen, start heating up the fat (lard or neutral cooking oil) in a large pot. Test the temperature with a small piece of raw dough. If it browns immediately, that means we can start frying. Alternatively, use a kitchen thermometer and aim for 356°F (180°C).
- Submerge a few doughnuts into the fat, make sure they don't stick to each other. Fry on a medium heat until golden (approx. 1.5-2 minutes each side). Once pączki are fried on both sides, retrieve them with a slotted spoon and rest them on a paper towel.
- In a bowl, combine icing sugar with water and lemon juice. Add these liquids gradually, stirring as you go and monitoring the consistency of the icing.
- Cover each pączek with icing, and sprinkle generously with candied orange peel.
The recipe was adapted from “Kuchnia Polska: Dania na każdą okazję” by Marek Łebkowski, 1997 p.610
Nutrition Information:Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 185Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 38mgSodium: 41mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 5g