Today is February 23, 2017 and once again, we are celebrating ‘Tłusty Czwartek’ or ‘Fat Thursday’ here in Poland. It is the advent of Lent heralded by ‘doughnut’ or ‘pączki’ day. I was out this morning paying our boring taxes and observing fellow Krakowians strolling home with boxes and bags of pączki. Yes, I peeked into every bakery window but I will not eat as many pączki, this year. Our first ‘pączki day’ in Poland was marked by complete depravity on my part as I ate my way through every variety of doughnut offered in the Old Town bakeries. Greg’s marvellous photos of the beautiful ‘pączki’ displays were so delectable last year that I must republish that ‘pączki’ blog for you. Sending temptations your way today. Go out and have a doughnut at our prompting and even better, have a pączek!
“I’m a little vague on the details but aren’t doughnuts just the most marvelous thing to ever come out of organized religion?” Kate Griffin
Being a girl with a sweet tooth and a physique that validates that fact, Pączki Day is an event I was looking forward to celebrating here in Poland. Traditionally, Thursday before Ash Wednesday is Tłusty Czwartek (twoo-sti ch-var-tech) or Fat Thursday. It is a day dedicated to eating and the start of carnival, another debauchery that heralds Lent. The Polish ‘pączek‘ (pon-check is the singular for pączki), is a deep fried, spherical doughnut filled with confection. It commands center-stage in Poland on Fat Thursday. In olden days, pączki were made and eaten as a way to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the house before Lent. Sweets were forbidden during the days of Lenten fasting.
We had been warned that the lines in the bakeries would be long and there would be a degree of frenzy around the shops. Not so. Maybe Krakowians are a more restrained lot. By the time we hit the streets in search of a pączki score, the bakeries were quiet but still offering the sumptuous and decadent sweets. We were ready to eat one, no, maybe more than one.
The traditional Polish doughnut with semi-transparent glaze running over the deeply fried spongy dumpling was highlighted in the displays. Capitulating to the modernity of the 21st century, there were improved entries in the guise of different glazes and fillings. The pączek of my childhood had been filled with either a strawberry jam or a plum conserve (nice way to say prune lekvar). To my delight, the pączki of 2016 had evolved and were begging attention. My favourite subjects were from the lovely gourmet chocolate shop, Góralskie Praliny*, on Grodzka Street. Amidst the arrays of delicate handmade chocolates, was the most decadent of Polish doughnut: “the chocolate-filled with chocolate glaze”. This was no ordinary chocolate; it was the same rich homemade confection that was used for the candies. When this pastry culprit is broken, the fried dough is yeasty, fragrant and yellow with lots of lovely air pockets and chocolate running from the interior. The proportions of this special dough-ball were extraordinary. The chocolate shop also featured pączki with pink strawberry-glaze and strawberry filling, traditional powdered sugar dusting raspberry-filled confections, white opaque glaze with rose hip jam stuffing topped with candied fruit zest, and two varieties of the aforementioned chocolate-filled dumplings with chocolate glaze and zest. All were of gargantuan size. These beauties warranted a take-home tray.
The Consonni** bakery on Plac Wszystkich Swiętych had sugar-glazed donuts filled with an advocaat mixture. Advocaat is a rich Dutch liqueur, made from a creamy blend of vanilla, egg yolks, sugar, aromatic spirits, and grape brandy. It is a little like the inside of a Cadbury egg laced with liqueur. Consonni had cardboard trays stacked thigh-high behind the counter filled with doughnuts ready for the supper rush. There were also boxes and plates full of “kruschiki” another sweet traditionally eaten on this day. Kruschiki are made with a lighter dough that is cut into wide strips and then woven and pulled through a center slit. They are deep-fried, cooled and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The flavor and consistency is similar to a New Orleans beignet. My mom used to make them for us as kids. They filled the house with their special warmth and aroma as Mama cooled them on the kitchen table on soft cotton towels. They are best eaten fresh. I loved them and have not been able to find a sample that was even close to mama’s kruschiki but here they were at Consonni, freshly fried, beautiful and singing a siren-song.
We also popped into Słodki Wentzl*** in the market square, a traditionally elegant sweet shop. Here we were distracted by the chocolates and I walked out with a white chocolate bar decorated with rose hips and raspberry crumble. Their pączki were refined and traditional set in an enticing window display. A delicious cup of coffee and a charming view of the medieval cloth market is a splendid way to celebrate the small feast of a special dough-ball.
We finished at the Arlekin Cafe on the market square watching the young customers eating their pączki in-hand on the way out the door while the older folk sat around tables and had tea with their confections. We indulged in chocolate cake, ice cream sundaes, and lattes. Our tray of chocolate and strawberry-glazed pączki were on the seat beside us waiting to be enjoyed at home. After all, it was the day of immoderation.
Whatever else Lent might bring to this solemnly Catholic country, we offer our preparations through today’s indulgences. My friend, Barbara, has already reckoned that we must eat a herring (śledzik) on Shrove Tuesday next week to launch the fast of the dark days of Lent. I’m not quite ready for the dark side yet.
Postscript: I found this lovely classy recipe for herring salad in a glass for Shrove Tuesday. It doesn’t look anyway near ‘dark’ in it’s sparkling disguise. Give it a whirl!
For more beautiful photographs from our ex-pat life, see Greg’s photos in the galleries Assignment 2016 at www.gregoryspring.com
*Góralskie Praliny http://www.goralskiepraliny.pl/index.php/pl/
**Consonni, Plac Wszystkich Świętych 7, Kraków tel: 12 426 43 15, email@example.com
***Słodki Wentzl http://slodkiwentzl.pl/slodki-wentzl