I won’t lie. I
sampled inhaled one. Or two. Okay, fine. A dozen. It was more like a dozen of these decadent paczki since I started experimenting with the recipe. Don’t judge. When you make them and take your first bite, you’ll understand.
Besides, I couldn’t put up a recipe that I wouldn’t eat myself. So really, I was just doing a thorough job of quality control. You’re welcome!
Paczki (pronounced poonch-key) are the stuff that dreams are made of. That is NOT an exaggeration. You know how that obsession with anything and everything doughnuts? Well, paczki are like the upper echelon of donuts. They’re so good that you can’t call them donuts. They command the respect of correct spelling. That’s right, D-O-U-G-H-N-U-T-S.
How do you describe lighter than air, yeast doughnuts fried to a golden perfection and stuffed with decadent fruit jams, velvety custards, sinful whipped cream and coated in granulated sugar? I mean serious business with this paczki recipe; I have gone through two, 5-pound bags of flour to perfect this recipe. That’s right, TWO.FULL.BAGS.OF.FLOUR. I’ve had visions of paczkis in my dreams. I have woken up to write down modifications to my recipe in the middle of the night, a dash more this, a pinch less that. You get the picture. I can make packzis in my sleep now, but I probably shouldn’t.
And I’ve added a twist: ras malaai filled paczki. I’ll say it again, ras.malaai.paczki. These three magical words mean one, beautiful thing: I filled the paczki with velvety, creamy, sweetened ricotta, infused with cardamom and perfumed with rosewater. Then it is iced with a rosewater glazed and topped with bits of pistachio. In other words, I took a traditional, popular Indian dessert, lightened up a little (or a lot) and then merged it with a traditional Polish delicacy. Talk about the melting pot. Now that’s true decadence!
Look at it. Just look at it. YOU NEED THIS IN YOUR LIFE! Memorize it, internalize it, live it. I.NEED.THIS.IN.MY.LIFE.
Paczki are a traditional, Polish doughnut made the days before Lent, to use up all the fat, sugar, and eggs in one’s house before the somber period of Lent begins. This very important part of Polish culture, given the large Polish population in the Midwest has become a mainstream Fat Tuesday tradition. There is an abundance of pastry shops in Chicago that sell these treats the week before Lent. And while I’m partial to the more traditional raspberry jam paczki, I also tried my hand at Nutella and peanut butter & jelly. Because um, hello. PEANUT BUTTAH’ JELLY!
Just. Look. At. Them. OHMYGOD these are so NOM!
Guys, lets get one thing clear right now. You can’t bake paczki; it’s simply against the rules. They won’t plump up to a crispy, golden perfection in an oven the way they do when you drop them off for a hot bath in oil. If you use fresh (read: clean) oil, wait until the oil is hot enough, and the paczki have rested adequately, the dough won’t actually absorb much oil at all. That clean and hot oil is key to light, fluffy paczki. Once you get the hang of it, you too will be turning out perfectly cooked, light paczki like a boss. or a jedi. Probably a paczki jedi.
Lesson of the day—>yeasty dough + hot oil bath=heavenly doughnuts.
Paczkis and I have a deep, emotional history. They remind me for my father. As a self-declared food enthusiast and culinary adventurer, my father first brought home one dozen paczki, when I was about twelve years old and we raved about them for weeks. They were unlike any doughnut I’ve ever had and I was hooked and I would eagerly wait for paczkis every year. After my father passed away, I stopped eating paczkis, but The Mister, after his move to Chicago, and also sharing the same adventurous spirit, brought home a dozen paczki one day and my love for paczki was rekindled. And with an attempt to merge those two memories, I set out to recreate this beloved treat of both my father and my mister.
Back to the star of the show. Remember when I said you have to let the dough rest long enough? Yeah, don’t get impatient and cut that step short. THE DOUGH NEEDS TO RISE TWICE. The first rise happens after all of the flour has been mixed into the rest of the yeast mixture. The dough rests in a covered bowl, in a warm, draft free place; doubles in size; is punched down and rolled to 1/2-inch thickness; cut into circles which are then covered and rest again, to double in size. THEN you can drop them off in the hot oil.
I know making paczki sounds like it’s the world’s most involved and time consuming task but it’s actually not that labor intensive. If you have an electric mixer or a stand mixer, you literally do not have to knead anything. The rising and resting times of the dough is what set it back in the time category. But like everything, good things come to those who wait. And guys, if filling the paczki sounds intimdating to you, just do a little bit of cheating, and split the cooked paczki in half and fill it, like a sandwich. Or don’t fill them at all and just roll them in sugar.
Some helpful suggestions:
- using room temperature eggs makes it much easier to whip air into the eggs and egg yolks. You want the egg mixture to be light and airy because when you fold it into the flour, it produces very light doughnuts. If you don’t beat them until they get to be a fluffy mixture, your doughnuts may not be as light but they’ll still taste good. But that texture really does make all the difference between a good doughnut and an amazing one.
- when setting the dough to rise in a warm place, I’ve had success with placing the covered bowl on a cookie sheet and then on the stove and turning the oven on low. Just make sure it’s not too hot,otherwise the heat will start to cook the dough and you’ll end up with pieces of cooked dough as the dough rises.
- to test if the dough is ready to be rolled out, insert a finger into the dough. If the impression stays after you’ve removed your finger, the dough is ready. If it bounces back, let the dough rest for a few more minutes. When rolling it out, the dough should not spring back. If it does, it needs to rest more.
- the best way to roll out the dough without drying it out is to lightly coat your hands in vegetable oil and then rub them all over the dough so that the dough doesn’t stick to the surface when rolling it out. Be careful not to oil the dough too much otherwise, it will get too greasy. By eliminating the use of extra flour, you keep the dough more moist and pliable so it’s easier to reuse the scraps to form more paczkis without compromising on the texture.
- use a 3 inch biscuit cutter OR use the rim of a clean, DRY glass to cut out the paczkis from the dough. I used a large plastic cup I had with no problems.
- use fresh, unused oil to fry the paczki to make sure that lingering flavors don’t work their way into the dough while cooking. Clean oil will also keep the texture of the paczki light and help the dough puff up more as it cooks.
- The cleanest way to fill the cooked paczki is to fill pastry bags with the fillings and attaching a piping tip. Alternatively, you can split the paczki open like a sandwich and fill it with a spoon.
- don’t want to too long to roll the cooked paczki in sugar. They should still be warm so the sugar adheres better. I prefer granulated sugar because it gives the paczki a crunchy texture but powdered sugar is perfectly fine too.
- 6–7 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 stick butter, melted and room temperature
- 2 cups warm whole milk, 110-120 degrees*
- 3/4 and 1 tsp sugar, divided
- 1 whole egg, at room temperature
- 3 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 1/2 tsp active yeast
- 2 tsp good quality vanilla**
- 6–7 cups vegetable oil for frying
- granulated for dusting doughnuts
- powdered sugar for dusting doughnuts
- FOR RAS MALAAI (SWEET RICOTTA CREAM) FILLING:
- 1 cup ricotta cheese, strained
- 2/3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp rosewater
- 5–6 cardamom pods, shelled and ground to a powder
- ROSEWATER ICING:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp rose water
- 2–3 tbsp cold milk
- 1/4 cup shelled pistachios, finely chopped
- FOR RASPBERRY FILLING:
- 1 cup good quality raspberry jam, filled into piping bag
- FOR PEANUT BUTTER & JELLY FILLING:
- 2/3 cup peanut butter melted and 2/3 cup grape jelly, mixed and filled into piping bag
- FOR NUTELLA FILLING:
- 1 cup Nutella, melted (30–45 seconds in the microwave)
- In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk, yeast and 1 tsp sugar. Stir and set aside, in a warm place for 10 minutes to proof. The mixture should be bubbly and foamy at the end of 10 minutes.
- With a wooden spoon, stir in 2 cups of flour to the yeast mixture and beat until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft free place for 30 minutes. The mixture will rise and fill with bubbles.
- In a medium bowl, combine whole egg and egg yolks and beat with wire whisk or electric mixer for 3-4 minutes, until the eggs become frothy, pale yellow, and thick Whisk in sugar, salt, and vanilla. Continue to whisk until sugar is dissolved.
- Attach paddle attachment to stand mixture and slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour and yeast mixture, on low speed until combined, about 1-2 minutes. Slowly pour the melted butter and beat until combined.
- Replace paddle attachment with hook attachment and mix at low speed. Slowly add in the remaining flour, one cup at a time. You may not need more than 4 cups. If dough is still in a liquid state, add flour, 1 tbsp at a time, until it becomes a soft ball. The dough will be sticky.
- Grease a large bowl and pour out the flour into the bowl, rolling into a large ball*** Cover loosely and set in a warm, draft free place to let dough double in size, about 30-45 minutes.
- Punch dough down and lightly grease hands and rub over the dough to prevent it from sticking to surface when rolling out. Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness and using a biscuit cutter or a glass rim, cut out paczki. Place on cookie sheets. Reroll the dough as necessary, using more oil if needed. Cover cookie sheets and set aside in a warm, draft free place.
- Heat oil for frying in a dutch oven or pan with high sides, on medium low to low heat. Test heat of oil by dropping a small amount of dough into the oil. The dough should sink and immediately float up to indicate readiness. Drop 4-5 paczki at a time and cook each side for 2-4 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and drain on a plate or pan lined with paper towels.
- MAKE THE RAS MALAAI FILLING: combine ricotta, cardamom, powdered sugar and rosewater and beat until mixture is smooth. Fill in piping bag and set aside.
- MAKE THE ROSEWATER ICING: Combine powdered sugar, rosewater, milk 1 tbsp at a time, until it reaches desired consistency. Cover and set aside. Stir to dissolve any hardened sugar before using.
- FILL PACZKI: insert the tip of the piping tubes into the paczki and pull out while gently squeezing. You will feel the paczki start to swell up.
- TO GLAZE WITH ROSEWATER ICING: drizzle icing over filled ras malaai filled paczki evenly. Sprinkle with pistachio and let set for 10 minutes.
- IF NOT ICING WITH ROSEWATER ICING: roll in granulated sugar or powdered sugar.
- Paczki are best eaten the same day but can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container.
*I usually heat the milk in the microwave for 1:30-2 minutes. If you overheat the milk, it will kill the yeast, rather than activating it. The milk should be mildly comfortable if on your skin-warmer than room temperature.
**I use alcohol free vanilla from Trader Joe’s. It’s the closest to pure vanilla bean and doesn’t contain alcohol.
***when working with sticky dough, it helps to rub your hands down in vegetable oil so the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Instead of using flour to roll out the dough, use vegetable oil to prevent the dough from sticking and drying out. The additional flour used to roll out dough dries out the dough and changes texture when you need to reroll. Oil keeps the dough moist and pliable and prevents the dough from stiffening up.
each filling recipe fills about 10 paczkis as written. Adjust accordingly.