Every Fat Tuesday, people here in Michigan flock to the grocery store or their very local bakery to pick up their Paczki. In the Eat Like No One Else tradition, I don't spend a morning in some long line at a bakery nor did I sell out some dough for a box of fattening treats at my local supermarket. I made my own paczki. I would love to post the recipe here, however I got it out out a cookbook and don't have premission to copy the recipe here. But I can tell you it's from the wonderful King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. I have made them four times now. Some years they came out terrible and some not so terrible. One of the best challenges I have had in the kitchen is with this doughnut. Frying yeast dough comes takes a lot of work and you need everything to go right. I know I am not exactly encouraging head to your kitchen instead of your local bakery.
What is a Paczki?
Simply put it's a jelly filled doughnut. But it's more than that. The dough of a true, genuine Paczki is a lot richer than your everyday jelly doughnut. Like I mentioned above it's commonly eaten once a year on Fat Tuesday, which is the day before the beginning of the Catholic season of Lent. The idea is to use up ingredients you have around the house that you are to fast from during this period. The practice of eating Paczki has a Polish background. Where you find a large population with Polish hertiage, there you will find Paczki. One of the largest populations can be found in Hamtramack, Michigan. So these doughnuts have become a tradition throughout the entire state.
The Challenges of Making a Paczki
Whenever you are dealing with yeast, there can be trouble. If you don't create enough gluten, the Paczki won't puff up when fried. You have to be careful how you shape them. You want a nice round ball without any dents or cresses. You don't want any spot for oil to collect.
When your paczki are rising make sure they don't touch and that you oil the bottom of whatever you put them in. As you can see by the picture on the right, I ended up with some of mine touching. You want the paczki to go from their rising location to the oil with as little disruptions as possible. If they are stick somewhere in the pan, then you won't get that perfectly round shape that is desired. A few of mine weren't perfectly round all the way over. So next year I will use two pans to make sure this doesn't happen.
The other challenge is making sure your oil is maintained close to 375 degrees. This is best done in a dutch oven with a deep fry theromemeter. Electric deep fryers aren't good at maintaining the heat. My theromemeter broke, so I had to use an electric deep fryer and I could not maintain the temperature well. This reason why this is important is you want to cook the paczki as quick as you can so that it doesn't absorb too much oil.
When it comes to filling a paczki, I don't stick to the traditions. I used an apple filling that I made with sugar, spices, water, and corn starch. My 3 year old requested strawberry, so I made a strawberry filling using the same process as the apple, without the spices. We also had some homemade peach jam from last summer, so we used that to fill a couple of them.
Fried doughs are not for the beginner baker. They are a challenge, but if you can conquer that challenge, the payoff is huge! People will be really impressed.
For some reason I am getting a lot of people coming to my site searching for sources of Paczkis in Kansas City. I wish I could help you but this Paczki tradition doesn't seem to strength that far west.