Monday, March 7, 2011


So, tomorrow is Fat Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  There are so many  food traditions connected with religion that I could probably have a blog exclusively devoted to "religious foods."  And I'm not excluding Lutheran Basement Ladies from those traditions (more on that at another date).

No, the tradition that I'm talking about is one that I did not grow up with, but one of my Besties did.  She often fondly reminisces about making food with her family, and food from her childhood.  She will spoil me on a regular basis by making amazing pierogi and let me burn my tongue eating them fresh from the pot.   But I'm talking paczki today.  It's pronounced PUNCH-key, and you risk getting punched if you don't say it right.  Trust me, this Teutonic girl was pronouncing it PATCH-key, and was firmly corrected by my Bestie doing a mighty fine imitation of a Polish babcia (grandmother), with kerchief on her head and all.

No, I'm truly grateful that she invited me to participate in a food ritual that she associates with home, love, traditions, her mother, and comfort.  Our food rituals are sacred and intimate, and it is an honor when someone not only lets you in, tells you stories about them, but also lets you photograph the process AND has agreed to share the recipe with me.  Now that is something special.

She speaks so fondly of her heritage and the food, that I love to hear her tell the stories surrounding her family's food traditions.  And they are strong let me tell you.  And they have sustained this family through a lot.  She talks about the "Red Book" which is the Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans.  Here is her copy:

BUT...that's not where her recipe comes from.  I'd love to say that her recipe comes from generations of Polish women, handed down from generations...but it's from the Buffalo News.  Unfortunately, I forgot to get it for you, I'll get it in the next few days and amend this.  Promise!

First, a little history of paczki before I make with the pretty pictures.  Paczki (one is called a paczek (pohn-check) by the way) have been around since the Middle Ages.   Traditionally, they were made to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the larder before Lent when Catholics were/are forbidden to eat these things while fasting.  They resemble bismarcks, but they are a richer dough than a doughnut.  They are coated with either powdered sugar or a granulated sugar mixture and then filled.  Plum jam and rose hip jam are the traditional fillings, but just about any type of fruit filling are being substituted in commercially made paczki (don't let them fool you with the custard-filled ones, those are just bismarcks in disguise). They are darker in color than doughnuts, and this is a good way to spot the authentic paczki rather than a cheap imitation.

 So, without further adieu, here we dive into the paczki adventure!

She recommended Crisco to fry in because it has a lower melting point and does not soak into the dough as much as vegetable oil.  They were beautiful.  She also had the advantage of having a digital probe thermometer (jealous!) to watch the temperature and ensure that the oil didn't get too hot.

A mixture of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and orange oil sat beside the frying station.  Every time I opened the bag it smelled like Christmas.  I was the appointed sugar shaker, but she was whipping those little suckers out as fast as I could coat them!  So I found myself slacking off, mesmerized by the little islands of dough spinning around in pan, trails of bubbles propelling them from one side to the other.  Sometimes they became unbalanced as they swelled with fluffy goodness and capsized to the raw side, forcing my Bestie to hold the poor paczki down in the oil until it was done.  Then I gave it a good shake in the sugar bag and tossed it in the mixing bowl with the others.  So brutal!  We were forced to eat some of the less than uniform ones...ok, a lot of and moist and fluffy, little puffs of steam bursting as you bite into them, just cool enough not to blister your lips.

Because she decided to make smaller versions of paczki, they were too small to be filled, not to mention that is a long and complicated process, so she made a delectable sauce for dipping.  Red currant jelly, plum and apricot fruit paste, a splash or two of good balsamic vinegar, and a few grinds of pepper melted down into a sauce that cut the sweetness of the paczki.  I would love to see these become full size paczki with a filling similar to this one.

And that's the end of my paczki tale.  As you can see, it was a pretty sweet one.  

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