Paczki

by Danny Zawacki

You know it’s Lent, right? If not, it is. As a Catholic, I have very strict rules about things I can and cannot do during Lent, which I mostly ignore. I don’t “give up” (or fast as it’s called) anything other than meats on Fridays because that’s still a challenge for me. Maybe someday I’ll feel as though I’ve mastered it and then I can work on fasting in an additional way.

You know I’m Polish, right? If not, I am. Half, for what it’s worth. Both my parents are half Polish and some days it shows, other days it doesn’t. Ever since my stint in Ukraine, I’ve been fascinated with my Polish heritage, mostly focusing on the food. I have a cookbook full of recipes which I tell myself I’ll get around to cooking one day. Most of them are kind of weird, like duck blood soup (Czernina) and far too may recipes calling for calf brain (which I’ve learned is hard to find due to mad cow disease). But as a whole, they’re not weird. They’re delicious and hearty and will stick to your ribs. There’s one, however, that I’ve meant to make because it’s Lent. Paczki.

Fresh Polish Paczki

These delicious homemade paczki can be made in an afternoon. Best enjoyed fresh.

Granted, the recipe I used I got from my mom and it didn’t come from my recipe book but whatever, that isn’t really the point of this, is it? She got it from an old newspaper clipping and transcribed it for me and every ounce of me is grateful for it. Why, you might ask? Because paczki are a traditional pre-Lenten treat made to use up the milk and eggs and sugars in the house so they won’t spoil in the 40 days of Lent in the pre-refrigeration state of the world. I didn’t have the time to make them on the Thursday before Lent, as is the tradition, because I didn’t have the recipe then and I barely could have managed these four-hour delicacies after a full day of work. But paczki are Polish jelly donuts. And you need to make them.

These damned fine donuts take a long time to make, they’re not a Sunday morning breakfast treat, unless you want to get up at 5 a.m. to start them. Every second is worth it, especially if you have something to kill the waiting time. You mix. Let rise. Punch. Roll. Cut. Set aside to rise. Fry, cool, and fill. Again, every second of it is worth it and fortunately they’re not too complex that the average person can’t make it.

Filling the paczki

The recipe says to slit the side and spoon in some jelly, but we found it was easier to use a pastry bag to inject each one to bursting point.

And there’s a secret that makes them not overly soaked in oil. Vodka. I’m a big lover of vodka ever since that stint in Ukraine, I get it and I marvel in its beauty and taste and swish it around in my mouth before swallowing. But vodka in a donut? Perfect? The vodka is actually what keeps the dough from being laden down with oil. As the dough cooks, the vodka heats and evaporates, offsetting the oil from seeping to the middle. It’s genius. A colleague of mine speculated this is why beer battered fish is less greasy than non-beer batters. While I can’t confirm that, the logic is there.

So, want to take the plunge and make your own homemade Polish jelly donuts? Here’s the paczki recipe I used, the one my mom clipped and transcribed from the old yellowed newspaper:

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