Repeat after me: these are NOT pazcki (say "POONCH-key").
They have no paczki aspirations whatsoever. They're nothing like what your babka or your busia made.
Sure, they started out to be pazcki, those fat, soft, luscious jelly doughnuts served on Mardi Gras throughout the Midwest, and in Polish-American households everywhere.
But truth to tell, this Irish-Norwegian-New England baker couldn't pull them off.
A paczki pro I'm not.
I tried, I really did. Searched all over the Web for everyone's favorite family recipe. Found the common points, pulled 'em together into a single recipe, and started down the paczki path.
I kneaded and patiently waited, rolled and cut, heated my quart of oil and deep fried – and ended up with leaden, grease-soaked lumps of half-cooked dough.
Hmmm... I must have done something wrong. I tweaked the recipe; more yeast, less sugar. Sure enough, the rise was a bit better. Not much, but heck, maybe they'll come to life in the deep fat.
Nothing doing, sister.
As I dispiritedly poured the dregs of the hot fat into the dog's bowl, I admitted defeat. When it comes to anything labor-intensive and involving deep-fat frying, it's two strikes and I'm out.
But somewhere along the way, I'd seen a recipe for baked pazcki. I still had dough left over from the second batch, having deep-fried just a couple of sample paczkis before conceding defeat. How about if I just threw them on a baking sheet and into the oven?
Worth a try; raw dough's probably not good for the dog anyway, right?
So that's exactly what I did. Baked those uncooperative little rounds for about 15 minutes, and lo and behold, they actually rose in the oven.
They didn't brown much; and they were still heavy. But when I apprehensively slit one open, its texture was... nice.
Not quite a biscuit, kind of a cookie, fine-grained (though not a cake), it was a serendipitous combination of all three.
Well, in for a penny, in for a pound; might as well finish them up.
One by one I slit them open, filled the slit with jam from my handy squeeze bottle of Smuckers, and drenched them in a simple confectioners' sugar glaze, one designed to dry almost clear.
After letting them set for an hour or so, I picked one up and gingerly took a bite.
And then another.
And a third nibble, just to make sure.
Not fried pazcki. Not baked pazcki. Not paczki at all.
But still, the flavor of butter and eggs with a touch of rum and vanilla; the jam in the center; the sugary crust, all spoke of the pazcki's flavor, if not its texture.
As with so many baking adventures, we start out on a path, get lost in the forest, and end up somewhere we didn't expect at all.
And sometimes, that's exactly where we're meant to be all along.
If you're willing to put your preconceptions aside and think of these paczki pretenders as simply Mardi Gras Jam Buns, come on along with me; let's follow this new path.
Place the following in a bowl:
4 cups (17 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
2/3 cup lukewarm milk
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon rum or brandy, optional*
1/2 teaspoon Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor or Fiori di Sicilia, optional; or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
*If you don't use rum or brandy in the dough, substitute apple juice or water.
Mix and knead everything together to make a smooth dough; it'll feel silky, but will be a bit stiff (though not gnarly).
When I first started kneading this dough, it was getting "gnarly" on me - see how, instead of forming a smooth ball, it was getting lumpy (middle row, left)? I added a couple of tablespoons of water, and switched back to the beater to mix it in (bottom row, left), then went back to the dough hook.
The end result? A fairly stiff but relatively smooth dough.
Overly stiff dough is the downfall of many a bread baker. As a general rule, the stiffer/drier the dough, the less well it'll rise. Try to err on the side of slack (wet), rather than stiff (dry) – especially in winter, when flour is dry and you need to compensate by adding a bit more liquid to your yeast bread recipes.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or 8-cup measure; cover it, and let it rise for 1 hour. It'll barely show any signs of life; that's OK.
Gently deflate the dough, and let it rise again until it's quite puffy, about 1 hour.
Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased or lightly floured work surface. Roll it into a 3/8" to 1/2"-thick circle.
Cut the circle into 2 1/2" rounds; each will weigh about 1 1/4 ounces.
Again, they won't seem to rise much (bottom, left); that's OK.
Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Brush the buns with the melted butter.
Bake them for 13 to 15 minutes, until they're a light golden brown.
Remove the buns from the oven, and cool on a rack.
Cut a slit in the side of each bun, and spoon or pipe in jam or jelly. A squeezable container of jam makes this task easier.
Make the glaze by combining 1 cup confectioners' sugar, 2 tablespoons cold water, and a pinch of salt.
It'll be very thin; that's OK.
When the buns are completely cool, place them on a rack, and brush them all over with the glaze.
If you don't mind getting your fingers sticky, it's much easier to put the glaze in a small, deep bowl, and dip the buns, one at a time, letting any excess icing drain off before placing them on a rack to set.
Allow the glaze to dry completely before transferring the buns to a serving plate and covering them loosely. These are best enjoyed within a day or so.
As I mentioned earlier, the dough is rich, but not sweet; the combination of jam and glaze makes these buns just sweet enough.
And even though they're not fried, there's just SOMETHING about the flavor that says "jelly doughnut..."
Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Mardi Gras Jam Buns.
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