I kinda hate doughnuts. An unfortunate mishap involving a cruller at a gas station in rural Wisconsin when I was 10 years old scarred me for life. But then came pączki. Pączki (pronounced ponch-ky) are served in Poland, and the first year we met, incredulous that I hated doughnuts, Agatha bought one for me from a local Greenpoint bakery. Hot, crispy, tender, and sweet, she proved to me that doughnuts could be awesome (though I’m still cruller averse). For our cookbook, Agatha’s dad, Zdzislaw, sent us a recipe from Agatha’s great aunt, with a serious note reminding us that pączki are good to make no matter the time of year. In homage to Eastern Europe, we’ve stuffed our version with prune butter, but any fruit spread will do.
Excerpted from Ovenly by Agatha Kulaga & Erin Patinkin (Harlequin Nonfiction). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Winona Barton-Ballentine. —Ovenly
Test Kitchen Notes
Traditionally, these sweet Polish doughnuts are eaten during Fat Tuesday, the last day to indulge in all those good-tasting foods before the 40-day fast before Easter begins. It was also a way to use up many ingredients in the fridge and pantry before the fasting as well. Once you make them, you'll discover that they taste slightly different than traditional doughnuts, as they're richer, and you can fill with fruits or cheese or whatever you've got on hand. It's very easy to make prune butter at home, which is called for in this recipe. Just simmer some pitted prunes until softened, then add whatever sweeteners, like sugar or honey, zests, and spices. Keep tasting and adjusting as you go to find the balance that speaks to you. Continue to cook and mash until the desired consistency is reached. It's easy to store for a few weeks and wonderful to have whenever breakfast or dessert rolls around. You'll be surprised by how often you end up reaching for it.
The rest of the ingredients for this recipe, such as milk, sugar, flour, butter, and eggs, you probably already have. Using rum or spirytus really puts the pączki over the top. After dissolving the yeast, there's no need to bring out a stand mixer or electric mixer—all you have to do is mix with a wooden spoon or spatula. After forming and frying, a light dusting of powdered sugar is the finishing touch for these delectable treats. Note: To ensure your pączki are perfectly fried but not greasy, heat the oil to 350°F before frying and reheat it to 350°F between batches. —The Editors
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 20 minutes
- makes about 20 pączki
1 1/2 cups
whole milk, plus more for the dough
1 1/4 ounces
active dry yeast (3 tablespoons plus 2¼ teaspoons)
6 1/2 cups
cups all-purpose flour, sifted, divided, plus more for kneading
plus ½ teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons
large egg yolks
rum, spirytus, or other neutral spirit
safflower or peanut oil, plus more the bowl
Prune butter or homemade jam, for filling
Powdered sugar, for dusting
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the milk to 110°F to 115°F. Transfer the milk to a medium bowl. Add the yeast, ½ cup of the flour, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar, whisk to dissolve, and set aside.
- In a small saucepan or in a small, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter and let cool.
- In another small bowl, vigorously whisk the egg yolks, rum, and the remaining 4 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon of the sugar.
- Place 5¾ cups of the flour in a large bowl. Whisk the yeast mixture again and pour over the flour. Add the egg mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon or a spatula until the dough just starts to come together. Add the melted butter and continue to mix until smooth.
- Turn the dough onto a generously floured work surface. Knead the dough until it comes together and no longer sticks to your hands. If the dough seems dry, add more milk. If the dough seems too wet, add more flour.
- Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down and divide into 2 balls. Flour the work surface again and roll the first ball into a disk about ½ inch thick. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter or an inverted drinking glass, cut rounds out of the dough. Set the scraps aside.
- Place 1 tablespoon of the prune butter in the center of one of the rounds. Top with another round and pinch the seams with your fingers to seal the edges. Bring together the edges of the dough on 1 side to create a sphere and pinch to make a new seam. Reshape each ball with your hands to reform into a fluffy round shape. Repeat with the remaining rounds. Set each filled pączki on a floured surface.
- Repeat this process with the remaining ball of dough. Reroll all the scraps and repeat the process again. Let the filled pączki rise for about 20 minutes, until fluffy.
- After the pączki have risen for 15 minutes, in a large heavy steel or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil until a deep-fry or candy thermometer registers 350°F. Line a large plate or a wire rack with paper towels.
- Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower 3 or 4 pączki into the hot oil. Fry for 45 seconds, until golden brown on one side. Flip the pączki and fry on the other side for 25 to 35 seconds, until golden brown. Transfer to the prepared plate or rack.
- Let cool completely. Using a fine-mesh sieve, sprinkle with the powdered sugar. Serve immediately.