Paczki (Polish Mardi Gras donuts)
Paczki have been a favorite in my household ever since Alex and I moved to Champaign. I had never heard of them before – after all, I’m neither Catholic nor did I grow up in an area with a large Catholic population – but Alex had them before and insisted we get them when we saw them at Meijer. And we have bought at least one box of them before Mardi Gras every year since 2005. Until this year, when I insisted that I try to make them.
For anyone who doesn’t want to read the above link to Wikipedia, Paczki are Polish donuts made before or for Mardi Gras to use up all the ingredients you weren’t supposed to eat during Lent. They’re usually filled, and although fruit-filled ones are tasty, I’ve always favored the “Bavarian Creme” (pastry cream) filled ones so that’s what I attempted here.
I decided to go with this Polish Paczki recipe.
1 1/2 cups warm milk
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) room-temperature butter
1 large room-temperature egg
3 large room-temperature egg yolks
1 tablespoon brandy or rum
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
oil for frying
I started by proofing my yeast in the warm milk. I stirred the yeast into the milk and let it set for about 20 minutes (the length of time it took for a leisurely morning stroll with my dog).
I creamed together the sugar and butter in my stand mixer using the paddle attachment. To that I added the egg, egg yolks (that I’d frozen previously), rum, and salt. I added the 4 1/2 cups flour and milk with yeast in stages, beginning and ending with flour. I continued to use the paddle attachment to knead the dough for about 5 minutes longer. It was still a little too sticky, so I added 2 tablespoons more flour.
I scraped the dough into a large greased metal bowl, covered it with greased plastic wrap, and placed in it a slightly-warmed oven to rise. I let it rise for about an hour and a half, until it had doubled in size. Right now I can’t decide if the original recipe calls for a single rise before shaping or two, but when I made it I decided it called for two rises; at this point I gently kneaded the very slack dough, deflating it, and covered it to let it double in bulk again. This second rise only took about an hour.
It was around this time that I made pastry cream to fill them with. I’ll talk about this a few minutes.
I turned the dough out onto a floured surface and rolled it out until it was 1/2 inch thick. The dough is very slack, so you barely have to roll it out at all. I don’t have biscuit or cookie cutters (or if I do, I’ve forgotten all about them), so I used a glass dipped in flour that is roughly 3 inches in diameter to cut the paczki. I placed them on Silpat-lined baking sheets so I could move them to a convenient place to let them rise. I rerolled the scraps of dough, and shaped 2 regular donuts with the scraps left at the end. I placed the paczki in a warm place to let rise for 30 minutes, until doubled in size again.
The paczki got to rise longer, though, because I didn’t heat my oil until they had already doubled. I decided to use my deep fryer for this, rather than a skillet on the stove. The bright side to this? Steep sides to prevent oil splatter, and a built-in temperature gauge. The downside? I only fried two at a time because I didn’t want to overcrowd my fryer. I made 20 paczki, plus two bonus donuts. Each paczki fried for 5 minutes total, so you can see that frying them took a while. I may have been able to fit 3 paczki at once, but I didn’t want to lower the oil temperature too much by trying to fry too many at once.
I heated my oil to 350F, and fried each paczki for 2 1/2 minutes on 1 side, and 2 minutes on the other. This made each donut a deep brown. I removed the paczki from the oil using my fry basket and my tongs, and I drained them on a cooling rack over a pan. I also eventually transferred them on to paper towels. The paczki, as well as the donut-shaped ones, fried up well.
I made a simple powdered sugar glaze (powdered sugar, vanilla, water, no measurements) for the paczki once they had cooled. I also tried to fill them once they were cool.
Like I said, I prefer the paczki filled with pastry cream, so I decided to make some. Let me tell you now – just buy squeezable jam to fill them. It will make your life easier. Or learn how to properly fill donuts, which I still don’t know how to do. But, I can tell you what I did.
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in heavy saucepan. Whisk in milk. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture thickens, cooking while bubbly for 1 minute. Gradually stir half of the mixture into egg yolks to temper. Gradually add egg yolk mixture back to milk mixture in saucepan. Bring to bubbly simmer and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into bowl, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate at least 1 hour until cool.
When it was time to fill the paczki, I removed the cooled filling from the fridge. I debated slitting a hole in the paczki with a knife and trying to get filling into it somehow, but my first attempt was unsatisfactory. After a few other false starts, I ultimately decided that I needed to find the pastry bags and nozzle tips that I used last year (2 years ago?!) when I made the Spiderman cake. I poured some of the pastry cream into the pastry bag, and filled it too full to use well. [If you try this, remember, you can always add more filling to your bag later. It’s easier to do if you don’t worry about filling coming out the top of your bag!]
I inserted the tip into the side of the paczki, added some filling, and moved on to the next donut. Unfortunately, I really didn’t get much filling into them. I usually eat my leftover paczki with a fork (out of a lunch container I take to work – it keeps my hands clean), so I just added some pastry cream to dip my bites in. If you actually want your paczki filled, I have two suggestions. First, you should insert your pastry tip farther into the donut than I did, and, squeeze much more filling into the paczki than I did. My second thought is that you could pre-slit all of the paczki so that there’s already room for whatever filling you’re using.
It’s also possible that the vanilla cream I used to fill the paczki simply merged with and soaked into the paczki, making it more moist in the center and less filling-filled. I think that’s true where there was filling… but there’s mostly just donut in mine.
I should note that since I used a dairy filling in my paczki, I decided to store them in the fridge.
How did they taste, once they were made? Great! They were rich and flavorful, very fluffy and tender. I originally thought I got them a little greasy, but right now I don’t think that was the case. The egg yolks and butter in the dough makes this more like a rich bread or cake than simply that of a regular yeast donut.
Much like donuts, they’re best fresh – the two donut-shaped ones I made were amazing fresh – but I’m eating one a day and a half later, and it’s still tasty. You know I’m picky, and I’m still enjoying it. Microwaving a day-old one briefly always makes it (and most baked goods) more tender and seem fresher, too, if you think it needs it. I’m disappointed with how I filled these, but the pastry cream turned out well enough and tastes good with the paczki.
Honestly, I was pretty happy with how the paczki turned out, even if my filling technique needs improvement. This was a good recipe and I would definitely try it again.