Paczki: Polish Jelly Donuts

| May 20, 2007 | 3 Comments
  • 3 Comments

One of the first cookbooks in my collection is also one of my favorites: Polish Heritage Cookery. I came across this heavy tome at a quirky bookstore that once lived on Polk Street, before a fire ravaged the floors above and water rained down upon its randomly, precariously stacked books. The store’s hours were irregular, and those who paid in cash received half off new cover prices. While it was the absolute last place a claustrophobe would want to spend time, Books and Co. was heaven for lovers of books about art, history and food. It epitomized the browsing experience at its most enjoyable.

Polish Heritage Cookery has the voice I miss in old recipes, where strong opinions and sometimes random advice were sprinkled in among the teaspoons and tablespoons. The authors, Robert and Maria Strybel, gathered an impressive 2,200 recipes covering a wide expanse from vanilla sugar to air-dried Pomeranian pork sausage. While illustrated with helpful drawings for the more complicated recipes, the book is free of photographs. Instead, the recipes unroll in story-like paragraphs and Polish names add poetry to every title. Old World classics and their multiple variations reveal Lithuanian, Italian, French, Jewish, Bohemian and Bavarian influences and trace a fascinating culinary history of Eastern European food.

Whey Soup with Rice (or the sweeter Whey Soup with Raisins), Roast Hare in Sour Cream Polonaise, Carp Baked with Apples, Carpathian Mountain Cake, Cherry Butter, and pages upon pages of pickle recipes include hints that only a grandmother might pass along. Adding skins from black bread helps “hurry-up” the curing of pickles. A glass of cold sour milk is recommended for the morning after “an overabundance of partying.” At the end of a baked potato recipe, the authors note that adding a piece of kielbasa and a tomato would make a balanced meal, while on the next page, hearty Potato and Salt Pork Sausage is not recommended for “those with delicate stomachs.”

The most stained pages in my own copy of the Strybels’ cookbook span the pastry and preserve chapters. For the last two years, I’ve been hosting Doughnuts of the World brunches. A loose definition of doughnut allows me to experiment with angel wings, churros and beignets. Polish jam-filled paczki, however, would please even the most hard-core of the purists.

Below are excerpts from the Strybels’ detailed description for making small paczki.


Homemade raspberry jam stands in for the rose-hip jelly, cherry preserves or powidla (thick plum butter) suggested in the original recipe.

“Although these luscious doughnuts are available year-round at Polish pastry shops, they reign supreme on Thusty Czwartek (Fat Tuesday), which begins the final fling of the Pre-Lenten karnawal of zapusty. More paczki are sold that day than at any other time of the year. You can try your hand at making your own by proceeding according to this recipe. Dissolve 2 cakes crushed yeast in 1 c. lukewarm milk, sift in 1 c. flour, add 1 T. sugar, mix, cover, and let stand in a warm place to rise. Beat 8 egg yolks with 2/3 c. powdered sugar and 2 T. vanilla sugar until fluffy. Sift 2 1/2 c. flour into bowl, add sponge, egg mixture, and 2 T. grain alcohol or 3 T. rum, and knead well until dough is smooth and glossy. Gradually add 1 stick melted lukewarm butter and continue kneading until dough no longer clings to hands and bowl and air blisters appear. Cover with cloth and let rise in warm place until doubled. Punch down dough and let rise again. Transfer dough to floured board, sprinkle top with flour, and roll out about 1/2 inch thick. With glass or biscuit cutter, cut into rounds. Arrange on floured board.” [NB: I substituted 1 1/2 packets of dry yeast for the yeast cakes.]


The soft dough feels lovely. Still, some of my guests decide flat, American-style jelly doughnuts are easier to form and fry.

“Place a small spoonful of fruit filling (rose-hip preserves, cherry preserves, powidla, or other thick jam) off center on each round. Raise edges of dough and pinch together over filling, then roll between palms snowball fashion to form balls. Let rise in warm place until doubled.”


The Strybel’s write that Polish pastries like paczki “may be fried in vegetable shortening or oil instead of lard, but they won’t be as tasty. The choice is yours.”

“Heat 1 1/2-2 lbs. lard in deep pan so paczki can float freely during frying. It is hot enough when a small piece of dough dropped into the hot fat immediately floats up. Fry packzi under cover without crowding several min. until nicely browned on bottom, then turn over and fry uncovered on the other side another 3 min. or so. If fat begins to burn, add several slices of peeled raw potato which will both lower the temp. and absorb any burnt flavor. Transfer fried paczki to absorbent paper and set aside to cool, When cool, dust generously with powdered sugar, glaze or icing.”

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About the Author ()

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place. Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.
  • shuna fish lydon

    Thy!

    These look absolutely delicious. Goodness.

    How does one get on the mailing list for such brunches? { We appear to have the same doughnut day ideas! }

    Also– where do you get your lard? and can you talk about some of the differences between one lard over another?

  • Anonymous

    That was my favorite bookstore. I still morn the loss everytime I go by the site. Have you found any bookstore that compares?

  • Thy Tran

    Shuna — My lard-loving friends and I finally joined forces. We created a lard cartel for ordering quality, rendered lard from some of our favorite sources (Niman Ranch, Golden Gate Meat, Bryan’s) where a bulk order is required. Even I cannot go through 20 pounds of pork fat by myself. Mexican markets will very often sell convenient tubs of rendered lard (look near the chicharron). If you’re looking for fat from cleanly, humanely raised pigs, be sure to buy from a trusted source.

    For those of you buying lard for the first time, look for a pure, white color. Then poke it. It should be soft at room temperature, not hard or waxy. If chilled, it should still give some. Avoid any with preservatives or other chemicals.

    Every once in a blue moon, I render my own lard from 5 pounds of good backfat. It freezes well. Among the best instructions for rendering lard can be found, of all places, at a homeschooling site. Famiy fun indeed!

    As for finding a bookstore to fill the hole left by Books and Co’s demise….Oh, how I wish! Nothing even comes close.

    Has anyone else had better luck?