No matter what you prefer to call it–Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Pancake Day, or Paczki Day–the Tuesday before lent is set aside for gorging oneself before a hollow period of ruthless self-denial. I think there should be more holidays set aside for this activity. Once a year is not enough. I want to be challenged to eat as much fried dough as I can bear at least thrice calendrically. That seems more reasonable, right?
I grew up in the suburbs of Metro Detroit in a not-particularly-pious family so, for me, the sighting of an iconic red-and-white Paczki bakery box served as the primary cue that the lenten season was upon us. I would then make my selection(s) amongst the various glazed delicacies (usually brimming with jam, lemon curd, or pastry cream) and that would conclude my devotional practice until Easter.
Let’s briefly address a few particularities. Paczki are Polish in origin and are pronounced poonch-key, punch-key or pownch-key (depending on which midwesterner you ask). As far as I can discern, they are only distinguished from a standard jelly-filled donut in that the dough is super enriched with eggs, fat, and sugar. And to a point: the original purpose was to use up all of those luxurious ingredients before lent. Get it out of the house, so to speak.
Another small, but nonetheless controversial, detail regarding the authenticity of any given Paczki is its filling. Many sources I found named Prune or Rose Hip Jam as the most authentic. Having never seen either of these at the grocery store, or anywhere else, I shamefully bowed to the Amazon monster and purchased a jar of D’arbo Rose Hip Fruit Spread. It arrived in a day. One more point for Jeff Bezos, one less for humanity *sighs heavily*.
While I’ll be the first to admit that home-frying is not the simplest or cleanest method of cooking, I think it pays off, even if only for the novelty of making your own donuts. My biggest tip is to get thyself a candy thermometer in order to accurately monitor the temperature of the oil. Also, pay attention to your burner size. The medium-large burner worked best for me at being able to sustain an even temperature for the longest (though you will still probably have to adjust the flame a few times throughout the process). And, remember, this wonderful day only happens once a year…savor it while it lasts.
- 1 1/2 cups warm milk (around 105° F)
- 1 package yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 5-6 cups flour
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Granulated or powdered sugar for rolling
- Store-bought Rose Hip jam, or jam of choice
In a large bowl (I used the stainless steel bowl of my mixer), combine warm milk, yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Let sit 5-10 minutes until slightly bubbly and yeasty smelling. Add 2 cups flour and stir until just combine. Lightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt.
After 30 minutes, when the dough is bubbly, use an electric mixer (w/ paddle attachment) to mix the egg mixture into the dough. On low speed, add the butter gradually until combined. Slowly add the remaining 3-4 cups of flour (I used 3 1/2 cups) until the dough is no longer wet but has come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead the dough a few times until any remaining flour on the dough is incorporated and the dough has a fairly smooth appearance. Transfer the dough into a large, lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. If making Paczki the same day, leave on counter to rise until the dough is doubled in size and then continue on with next step. If making Paczki the next day, place bowl in the fridge to rise overnight.
If the dough was in the fridge overnight leave it on the counter for 20-30 minutes to come up to temperature a bit. Working with half the dough at a time, gently roll out on a floured surface to 1/2″ thickness and then stamp out with a 3″ biscuit cutter. Re-roll scraps. Transfer to two, parchment-lined sheet pans, lightly cover with plastic wrap and leave to let rise for another 30 minutes-1 hour, until the dough has puffed up.*
In a deep skillet or saucepan, heat at least 1 1/2″ of oil to 350°. Fry, a couple at a time, (flipping over halfway through) until golden brown. Transfer to paper towel to drain off excess oil. Let cool slightly, then roll in sugar and inject jam into side of Paczki using a pastry bag and tip.
*It’s best to do this in a warm, draft-free area. I often pre-heat the oven for just a minute or two, turn it off and let some of the hot air out, and then put the pans into the oven to finish proving.
Recipe adapted from an article by Glenda Haut that appeared in The Detroit News (1988).