Paczki (Polish Jam Donuts) – baked, not fried!

Happy Hanukkah everyone!

Baked Paczki

For most of my childhood, I grew up in a community that was largely Jewish.  As I’m not Jewish, I would never claim to actually be familiar with Jewish culture and traditions – other than having been to plenty of bar/bat mitzvahs – but as kids, the seemingly only important question that came about every winter season was: which is better, Hanukkah or Christmas?  The kids who celebrated Hanukkah would boast having eight whole days of presents and celebrations, while those who celebrated Christmas would cite quality over quantity.

In the end though, one thing was clear.  Holidays, no matter how you celebrate it, provide the best opportunity to cherish your friends, family…and tastebuds 😉

Baked Paczki

All around the world, jelly donuts and other fried foods are eaten on Hanukkah to symbolically commemorate the small flask of oil that miraculously kept the temple’s menorah alight for eight days, enough time to prepare more oil.  Traditionally, jelly donuts are deep fried to crisp, fluffy, golden deliciousness – but in honor of the small flask of oil from the story, I was determined to find a low fat alternative without sacrificing texture and flavor.

I’ve tried baking yeast donuts before, but they never really satisfied – the texture always felt much too like a bread roll.  I had resigned myself to just keeping to reasonable portions whenever that deep-fried pastry craving struck…then I found this great recipe for baked paczki (Polish donuts) from Jenny Can Cook.  The dough is extra enriched using only egg yolks, keeping the pastry melt-in-your-mouth light and fluffy, even though it’s baked not fried!  While Jenny suggests brushing melted butter after baking, I opted for heart-healthy canola oil (or extra light olive oil works too) again in the spirit of the Hanukkah story.

Baked Paczki

I would not suggest skipping the oil wash, substituting the all-purpose flour with wheat flour, or substituting the egg yolk to further healthify this recipe.  The oil wash adds that perfect finish that elevates it from bread to donut, wheat flour would weigh the dough down too much, and substituting the egg yolk will take out the richness which makes these donuts so worth it.

After baking, you can fill them up with your favorite jam or filling – if you’re feeling indulgent, pastry cream is decadent!  But to keep things light I opted for filling some with sugar-free blackberry jam and the rest with apple butter when I ran out of jam.  In addition to keeping the sugar content low, the fruit in the jam provides a good dose of your daily fiber and vitamin needs – making these donuts practically healthy, right?

Baked Paczki

Baked Jelly Donuts

adapted from Jenny Can Cook
makes 12-16 donuts
low fat, low sugar, dairy free (though dairy options are available)

  • 1 1/2 + 1/4 cups (1 3/4 cups total) all purpose flour, divided
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons canola or extra light olive oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup milk of choice – I used unsweetened almond milk (or 1% milk per original recipe)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon oil for brushing (or melted butter per original recipe)
  • ~1 cup sugar free blackberry preserves, or filling of choice
  • powdered sugar for dusting (less than a tablespoon)
  1. Whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, the yeast, salt, and sugar together.
  2. Warm milk to “bathwater temperature” – when you touch it, it should feel similar or slightly warmer than your body temperature.  Whisk egg yolks, oil, and vanilla extract into the warm milk (it is best if the egg yolks and oil are at room temperature – run eggs under warm tap water before cracking to quickly warm it).
  3. Add dry to wet ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula.  The batter will be pretty wet and sticky; slowly add up to 1/4 cup more flour until the dough comes together enough to handle with your hands.  Do not add too much flour as this will result in a more bready end product.
  4. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured or oiled surface and knead lightly into a smooth ball (Jenny Can Cook instructs kneading 50 times, I just went by sight/feel).
  5. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured or oiled surface to 1/2 inch thick.  Using a circular cutter around 2 1/2 inches in diameter (I just used my 1/3 cup measuring cup), cut out circles from the dough and arrange on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart to leave room to grow.  Re-roll scraps and cut; you can freeform by hand the last donut.  Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap or a damp paper towel.
  7. Preheat oven to 375 F.  Let the dough rise for 45 minutes in a warm place or 1 hour at room temperature, until puffy though not necessarily doubled in size.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes.  Immediately after pulling from the oven, brush the donuts with oil.
  9. As soon as the donuts are cool enough to handle, poke a hole in the side using a chopstick – get as close to the other side without poking all the way through.
  10. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip, or use a plastic squeeze bottle with such a thin tip, with jam or your filling of choice – if it is a thick jam, make sure to use a larger piping tip or strain the jam so that it does not clog the tip.  Insert tip of pastry bag or bottle into the hole made by the chopstick and fill the donut until it can’t fill anymore (the filling starts oozing out of the donut when you try to fill more).
  11. Dust with powdered sugar right before serving.  These really do taste the best on the same day they’re made, preferably right out of the oven, but can be stored for a few days kept in a non-airtight container such as a cardboard box or a paper bag with the top folded over.  You can reheat by covering with a wet paper towel and nuking in the microwave for 10 seconds.

Nutritional description: baking keeps these low fat, while using sugar free jam keeps them low sugar as well!  Obviously the nutrition factor will vary depending on what filling you choose, but I highly recommend your favorite jam not only for your tastebuds but also for the vitamin C, fiber, and any other nutritious value to the type of fruit you go with.  Sign me up for breakfast with one of these any day!

Nutritional information (based on 16 donuts filled with sugar-free blackberry preserves): Calories 118, Total Fat 4.4g, Saturated Fat 0.5g, Cholesterol 23.4mg, Carbs 21.2g, Fiber 4.9g, Sugars 4g, Protein 2g, Sodium 42.2mg

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