I don’t know if it’s just me or Big Brother monitoring my whereabouts and Googling habits or what, but it seems to me that pączki is having a moment. From completely irresistible stories of adorable church ladies organizing long-standing fundraisers (hello, an annual Pączki Dance?!), to local news coverage, to trend-obsessed food websites shouting out where to get a fix, I can’t seem to get away from having my cravings encouraged. For the unfamiliar, pączki (pronounced “POONCH-key”, among other variations, but that’s more or less the idea) is a sort of glorified doughnut, a fried golden orb stuffed with any manner of delicious sweet fillings, from jam to thick whipped cream to custards and fresh fruit (rose hip jam or stewed prunes are the real tradition, but I think I’llll…maybe pick something else).
Right now, in the days approaching Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Eat All the Things Before Lent Day, pączki are all over the Midwest, thanks to a wonderfully rich Polish immigrant influence throughout much of the area, and a general love of eating completely ridiculous things that have absolutely nothing to do with kale in order to get through the winter doldrums. I’ve been revisiting and researching the baking history of the Midwest since settling back here, and one thing is clear: whatever it is, if it’s yeasted, and especially yeasted and then fried, you won’t find a better version of it outside this region.
I know we’re all busy with holiday whatnot, so I’ll get right down to it:
I recently ate my weight in banana fritters and I feel great about it.
I don’t often deep fry, but when I do, it’s because a terrific recipe sucks me in and won’t let go until I bust out a heavy pot and thermometer and get down to business.
So a couple of weeks ago, in a fit of I don’t know what (parental duty? insanity? John Mellencamp-esque inspiration?), we packed the kids into the car and headed north to the Marin County Fair. All things considered, it ended up being a near-perfect day, with minimal crowds and the most fantastically sunny, warm-yet-breezy weather that we sorely lack down here in San Francisco during the summer months. We lazily walked the grounds, listened to a showy preteen girl belt out pop songs for the talent contest, hung out with farm animals. The baby napped in the stroller. I ate a second hot dog as a snack like some kind of aspiring Biggest Loser contestant. Family outing success!
Speaking of that hot dog snack, let’s talk about fair food. Is there anything better? I mean, you have to get on board with the whole thing before you even get there. Just give in, be in it to win it, and accept that you’ll be eating something fried on a stick more than once in a two-hour period. Ain’t that America?
Oh, no. You heard right.
I first found this recipe in the June/July 2007 issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray while on a flight to Denver. I know I can’t be the only one who is suddenly starving as soon as an airplane reaches cruising altitude, trapped at 30,000 feet with nothing but microscopic bags of generic “snack mix” and mushy, ten-dollar Chicken Caesar Somethings to choose from; it kind of reminds me of the intense hunger that would immediately follow childhood fluoride treatments at the dentist when one couldn’t eat for what was undoubtedly the longest 30 minutes in history. Anyway, I saw this recipe during one of those kind of starving moments, and wondered if I would still be as interested in it once I touched the ground.
Well, nearly two months later I still have the magazine, and I think I must have thought of making these about 200 times in that time period. And I finally made it happen. And, oh my, did it happen. These were really great, and one of my first forays into the world of fritter/doughnut making. Unless you count my graduating from Hush Puppies University for Yankees.
I was really pleased this recipe. I opted to halve it and the results were still great. They were light, fluffy, and full of earthy peanut flavor, with a tender, deep golden exterior. I may add a bit more brown sugar next time, as I usually only have all-natural peanut butter on hand and used it in these–I would have liked them a bit sweeter on their own. But a dusting of powdered sugar and some of my homemade strawberry jam made up for it. Also, the peanut butter I had around was chunky, and it didn’t effect the finished product one bit. The additional crunchy texture was welcome. And not like these need any more embellishment, but I may try dipping them in some melted dark chocolate next time.
Oh yes, I went there.
Peanut Butter Fritters
From Everyday with Rachael Ray
Makes 20 to 25
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Peanut oil, for frying
Whipped cream and raspberry jam, for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 200°. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, peanut butter, egg and vanilla. Lightly mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients; the batter will be fairly thick.
2. Pour enough oil into a small, deep saucepan to reach a depth of 1 1/2 inches and heat over medium-high heat until the oil registers 310° on a deep-fry or candy thermometer.
3. Working in 3 or 4 batches, drop the batter by rounded teaspoons into the hot oil and cook, turning once, until lightly browned, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.
4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain. Keep the fritters in the oven as you continue frying. Serve hot with the whipped cream and jam.
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