Pączki (Polish Donuts)

Ready to treat yourself to a taste of Poland? Dive into this delicious pączki recipe, a delightful Polish donut that promises to sweeten your day with its rich fillings and indulgent texture.

Glazed paczki with vanilla cream filling and sprinkles

Recipe At a Glance

Pączki (pronounced “poonch-key”) are a cherished Polish pastry, especially popular on Fat Thursday, the festive precursor to Lent.

(Familiar with Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras? In Poland, we celebrate Fat Thursday, which falls the Thursday before Fat Tuesday.)

These Polish donuts resemble American donuts in that they are deep-fried and typically topped or glazed. However, unlike donuts, pączki don’t have a hole in the middle. Instead, they are filled with jams, pastry creams, or other sweet delights.

The dough for pączki usually includes fresh yeast, but it’s not that difficult to work with. I’ll also show you how to substitute instant yeast if that’s more convenient for you.

The recipe process is straightforward, and you’ll find it familiar if you have experience working with yeast.

Trying your hand at making pączki for the first time? Be sure to review the ingredient notes, detailed instructions, and helpful tips. If you’ve made them before, you might want to skip straight to the recipe card.

Vanilla cream filled polish donut anatomy
Polish donut anatomy

Ingredients Notes and Substitutes

Paczki ingredients
  • All-purpose flour: The essential foundation for your dough.
  • Milk: Opt for full-fat to achieve the best richness and texture.
  • Fresh yeast: You can easily substitute instant yeast, which I’ll discuss further in the tips section.
  • Sugar: Regular white sugar is ideal.
  • Egg yolks: These enrich the dough, making it tender and delicate. Some recipes suggest using additional yolks for enhanced richness.
  • Butter: Please use regular unsalted butter.
  • Salt: A bit of sea salt is all it takes.
  • Vanilla extract: This is optional but recommended to enhance the flavor of your pączki.
  • Vodka: Also optional, but a splash is highly recommended. It helps reduce oil absorption during frying, resulting in lighter, less greasy pastries. In Poland, we use “Spirytus rektyfikowany,” a 190-proof spirit similar to grain alcohol. If unavailable, regular vodka is a good enough substitute and is more readily accessible.
  • Frying oil: While lard is the traditional choice for frying and my preferred option, feel free to use any oil suitable for deep frying.

How to Make Pączki (Polish Donuts)

  1. Mise en place. Prepare and measure out all the ingredients.
  2. Warm up the milk. Heat the milk to about 100°F (40°C). It should be warm to the touch but not hot to help activate the yeast effectively.
Warm milk
Warm milk ready for adding yeast
  1. Make the starter. Mix the fresh yeast with a third of the warm milk in a large bowl until dissolved. Add two teaspoons of sugar and two tablespoons of flour (taken from your measured ingredients), stir well, cover with a dish towel, and set in a warm place for 15 minutes. You should see a noticeable increase in volume and a bubbly/frothy layer forming on the surface. If not, let it sit for an additional 5 to 10 minutes. Though optional, preparing a starter ensures the yeast is active and can speed up the rising process later.
  1. Melt butter. While waiting for the starter to do its thing, melt the butter on the stove or in the microwave and combine it with the warmed-up milk. Make sure the mixture is warm but not hot before adding it to the dough in the following step.
  1. Make the dough. Take the starter bowl and add the remaining flour, sugar, egg yolks, salt, vodka, vanilla extract, and the milk-butter mixture. Mix with a large wooden spoon until just combined—it will be very sticky. Transition to kneading with your hands, pushing the dough away with the heel of your hand, folding it over, and turning. Continue until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl (or “clears the bowl”), usually 5 to 10 minutes. Cover with a dish towel and place in a warm area for 60 to 90 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
  1. Divide the dough. On a floured surface, divide the risen dough into 14 to 15 equal pieces. If using a kitchen scale (highly recommended), each piece should weigh about 70 to 75 grams (approximately 2.5 oz).
  1. Form donuts. Take a portion of the dough with lightly floured hands and fold it under itself as you rotate it around. The goal is to stretch the outer layer of the dough while the bottom accumulates all the seams and irregularities you’re continually pinching together. You want to end up with a round ball with no seam on the bottom. Slightly flatten each ball and place it on a floured surface, ensuring space between each for expansion. Let them rest and rise uncovered for 30 minutes to develop a dry crust that limits oil absorption during frying.
  1. Frying prep. Grab a large pot, add frying fat, making sure it’s at least as high as the height of your donuts, and preheat it to around 350°F (or 175°C). Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the temperature, as it’s by far the most accurate method. A too-high temperature will burn your pączki, while one that’s too low will slow down cooking and result in more oil being absorbed. You’re ready to fry once the oil stabilizes at the mentioned temperature.
Preheat frying oil to around 350°F (or 175°C)
  1. Fry the donuts. Gently place the donuts in the hot oil, dry crust side down, and fry for seven minutes, turning halfway through. Each side should turn a light golden brown, ideally with a pale ring between. Do not overcrowd the pot. Transfer the fried donuts to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil, then move them to a wire rack to cool after a couple of minutes.
  1. Fill and serve. Once the donuts are nice and cool, fill them with whatever filling you’ve got on hand, top them if you like, and serve.

Tips

  • Control temperature. Regularly check the oil temperature, especially after each batch or when flipping the donuts. If your pączki are only lightly browned, the oil may be too cool. Conversely, the oil is too hot if they’re turning deep brown or nearing black. Monitoring the oil temperature is crucial for perfect pączki.
  • Substitute instant yeast. You can use instant yeast as a substitute for fresh yeast. To convert fresh yeast to instant yeast, refer to conversion tables available online (like this one). For this recipe, you’ll need two packets of instant yeast.
Traditional paczki topped with powdered sugar
Polish donuts topped with powdered sugar
  • Use the oven to proof and rise the dough. Yeast performs best in warm conditions. If it’s a cool day and your dough isn’t rising well, an easy fix is to preheat your oven on the lowest setting for 2 to 3 minutes, turn it off, and then place the dough inside. This creates an ideal environment for the dough to rise.
Glazed polish donut with pistachio cream filling

Fillings & Glazes

Rosehip jam is the classic filling for pączki, but these days, you can find them filled with just about any sweet flavor you can think of.

From the usual suspects like raspberry and strawberry to richer options like vanilla cream, chocolate, pistachio, and toffee, there’s a pączek (singular form of ‘pączki’) out there for every taste.

Vanilla cream-filled polish donuts with glaze
Vanilla cream-filled polish donuts with glaze

The range of fillings has definitely gotten more creative over time, mixing traditional tastes with some new twists.

Here are a few filling ideas to get you started:

  • Jams and preserves. Any store-bought or homemade jam or preserve is a fantastic choice for filling your Polish donuts.
  • Pastry creams. Pastry creams are thick, thick, and creamy, making them a perfect candidate for pączki filling. Need some inspiration? Check out my pastry cream recipes: vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, coffee, or raspberry.
  • Spreads. Love Nutella? Nothing wrong with filling your pączki with a generous scoop of Nutella. The same idea works for nut butters and other sweet(ish) spreads.

For toppings, powdered sugar is a simple and effective choice.

Another option is a powdered sugar glaze, made by mixing powdered sugar with either milk or lemon juice. This glaze lets you add extras like sprinkles for vanilla pączki or chopped pistachios for those filled with pistachio cream. Just ensure the topping complements the filling.

Glazed pistachio filled polish donuts
Polish donut with pistachio cream filling

Storage

Store unfilled Polish donuts in an airtight container or paper bag (the same you use for bread) on the counter for 3 to 4 days. As for filled pączki, seal them tightly and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Like most pastries, pączki are best the day they are made, and their quality drops over time.

Glazed paczki with vanilla cream filling and sprinkles

Pączki (Polish Donuts)

Ready to treat yourself to a taste of Poland? Dive into this delicious pączki recipe, a delightful Polish donut that promises to sweeten your day with its rich fillings and indulgent texture.
Prep Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Rising: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Polish
Keyword: Donuts, Polish Donuts, Yeast

Equipment

  • 1 whisk
  • Stand mixer

Ingredients

  • 17 oz all-purpose flour 480g or 4 cups
  • 1 cup full-fat milk 240 g
  • 1.5 oz fresh yeast 42 g
  • 1/2 cup sugar 100 g
  • 4 egg yolks large
  • 5 1/2 tbsp butter ~77 g
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vodka
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • cooking oil

Instructions

  • Prep Ingredients: Measure and prepare all ingredients.
  • Heat Milk: Warm milk to about 100°F (40°C) to activate the yeast.
    1 cup full-fat milk
  • Prepare Starter: In a large bowl, dissolve fresh yeast in 1/3 of the warm milk. Add 2 teaspoons sugar and 2 tablespoons flour, stir, cover with a dish towel, and let rise for 15 minutes until frothy.
    1.5 oz fresh yeast
  • Melt Butter: Melt butter, mix with the remaining warm milk.
    5 1/2 tbsp butter
  • Dough Making: Combine the starter, remaining flour, sugar, egg yolks, salt, vodka, vanilla, and milk-butter mixture. Mix and knead until the dough is smooth and clears the bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 60-90 minutes.
    1/2 cup sugar, 4 egg yolks, 1/4 tsp salt, 2 tsp vodka, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 17 oz all-purpose flour
  • Divide Dough: Divide risen dough into 14-15 pieces, each about 70-75 grams.
  • Shape Donuts: Form each piece into a smooth ball and slightly flatten. Allow to rise uncovered for 30 minutes on a floured surface.
  • Prepare for Frying: Heat oil in a large pot to 350°F (175°C). Ensure there's enough oil to cover the donuts.
    cooking oil
  • Frying: Fry donuts for about 7 minutes, turning halfway, until golden. Check the oil temperature often. Drain on paper towels and cool on a wire rack.
  • Fill and Serve: Fill cooled donuts with desired filling and serve.

Notes

Read the recipe above for in-depth instructions, step-by-step photos, and tips.
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