It's that time of year again. The time when certain monotheistic cultures celebrate one last time before they deprive themselves until the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. The whole practice sounds kind of pagan to me (other than the fact that it's for Jesus), but hey celebrations are always fun.
All joking cynicism aside, although I didn't grow up with the tradition of pączki, being neither Catholic nor Polish, I took to it quite well when introduced by some of my friends. I have always liked sugary, yeasty fried dough, and the addition of jam in the middle (rather than some sort of custardy filling) just clinched the deal for me. So after four years of delighting in the wonders of pączki every Fat Tuesday, not being able to find a decent example in Boston last year (though I've recently found out that I just didn't look in quite the right places at quite the right times) was very sad.
I was up to the challenge, though, and after finding and bookmarking an appropriate looking recipe, I decided to try my hand at it myself this year. It was certainly easier than I ever thought it would be. Frying might have taken forever with a big batch, but I thirded the recipe and was very content with what I came out with--plenty for just Chris and me.
adapted from The Novice Chef Blog
4 egg yolks
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons yeast
4 teaspoons warm water
2 tablespoons room temperature butter
3 tablespoons sugar
7-1/2 ounces (~1-1/2 cups) flour (1-3/4 ounces pastry, 5-3/4 ounces ap)
1-1/2 tablespoons (sugar plum) brandy (rum or vodka will also work)
1/3 cup scalded whipping cream
Jam for filling
Crisco for frying (oil or lard work too)
Granulated sugar for dipping
1. Dissolve the yeast in the water, and let sit for at least 5 minutes.
2. Scald the cream on medium-low heat, then remove from heat and let sit
3. Add salt to the egg yolks, then beat until mixture is thick, slightly lightened, and forms a ribbon that takes a few seconds to disappear when the beater is raised (~5 min)
4. Cream the butter, then add sugar to it gradually, beating until fluffy.
5. Slowly beat in the yeast.
6. Stir in one quarter of the flour into the butter mixture.
7. Add brandy and half of the cream.
8. Beat in another quarter of the flour.
9. Stir in remaining cream.
10. Beat in another quarter of the flour.
11. Add egg yolk mixture, and beat for 2 minutes.
12. Gradually beat in the remaining flour until the dough blisters.
13. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise. When it has doubled in bulk, punch it down. Cover and let rise again until doubled. Punch it down again.
14. Transfer the dough to a board lightly dusted with flour, roll out until it's the thickness of your pinky.
15. Using a 2-1/2 to 3 inch cutter, cut the dough into circles, wadding up the scraps and re-rolling until all the dough is used. Place on a baking pan dusted with flour. Cover again and let it double in bulk.
16. Heat oil to 350°F in a wok, a deep fryer or even a wide skillet. This was at medium heat on my stove. You can test the temperature by frying a piece of bread; it should bubble and turn golden quickly. Fry as many pączki at a time as fit comfortably without touching each other. Do not crowd as this lowers the temperature and the pączki will absorb too much grease. When one side is golden, flip with a fork to fry the other side.
17. After you've removed the pączki from the oil, dip immediately in sugar, then place on paper towels to drain any excess oil.
18. Fill them with the jam of your choice by squirting about two teaspoons into them with a pastry bag fitted with a doughnut tip.