It’s Fat Thursday and time to go nuts for donuts. But DONUT eat too many!
The earliest customers, I’m told, started lining up outside the door at four in the morning, principally to avoid a queue that will most likely eventually stretch out to become the longest one in Warsaw recorded on this day.
As things stand – quite literally in this case – by mid-morning it’s already snaked behind the block before disappearing in the distance. Here, is Pracownia Cukiernicza Zagoździński, and the occasion, Tłusty Czwartek.
Originating from the practice of feasting on the last Thursday before Lent, while the religious aspect may have been diluted, the mania for doughnuts has not subsided. Seen as the traditional food on which to binge, approximately 100 million doughnuts stand to be consumed on the tastiest day in the Polish calendar. Ten thousand of these will be produced at Zagoździński.
Fondly recognized as the city’s favourite doughnut store, Zagoździński began life in 1925, and whilst the original location may have changed, the secret recipe coined by its founder, Władysław Zagoździński, hasn’t. What you eat now, are the same tastes enjoyed by Zagoździński’s most famous client, the architect of an independent Poland, Marshall Józef Piłsudski.
Steeped in history, it’s this sense of prevailing tradition that accounts for much of Zagoździński’s popularity. It’s customers have, as a habit, been coming here for years and the thought of going elsewhere is regarded as a betrayal. This attachment, however, is based on more than just emotional connection. “I’m old now,” says Wiesława, one of those standing obediently in line, “I get heartburn if I just have one doughnut from anywhere else – but here, I’m fine, in fact, they’re so good that sometimes I have two!” Today, you get the idea, will be one of those days.
For now, the queue is in good spirits, but there have been cases of things getting out of hand. At times, says one man, angry admonishments directed at queue jumpers have developed into fistfights. There’s a chance I’m being humoured, but I’m inclined to believe the gravity in his tone.
Going behind the lines and into the kitchen, one gets a glimpse of the rising desperation among the crowd outside. Every few minutes, a head pokes through the door beseeching the staff for “just the one doughnut.” The chancers persist, rapping on the door with some sob story or other.
“Look,” snaps a member of staff, “if I gave a doughnut to every person who asked I wouldn’t have a single one left!” Stamping back to the kitchen in a barely contained rage, it’s hard not to sympathize amid all the clatter and commotion. “Right now,” says the owner, Sylwia Tomaszkiewicz, “everyone knows what they’re doing, they’re working like machines, but the atmosphere can get a bit tense when the fatigue sets in.”
That, you can well imagine. Operating on ul. Górczewska since 1975, the quarters are cramped, noisy and in a state of constant action. For a fleeting moment, I’m reminded of a scene in Das Boot when the German U-Boat comes under fire from depth charges. With the staff fully-focused on the job in front, you can feel the buzz and the adrenaline surge. It’s a thrill to witness it first-hand.
Sylwia, of course, has seen it all before. The granddaughter of Władysław Zagoździński, she carries an air of steadied calm. Fervently maintaining the family’s reputation, she’s particularly proud of the quality and consistency that Zagoździński deliver. Eschewing chemical additives and modern-day shortcuts, it’s that unrivalled authenticity that appeals to these crowds – and with today’s limit set to a maximum of twenty doughnuts per person, the reason for the scramble becomes all too apparent.
The tills, though, have been ringing around town. Across the city, the award-winning MOD restaurant has exemplified the depth of the country’s food revolution through a menu that mixes Asian influences with those of classic French cuisine. Fulfilling a binary role as a doughnut store inspired by the artisanal ones of New York City, MOD have earned a name for innovative tastes, pedigree ingredients and craft techniques.
“Ours are definitely different from the traditional Polish pączek,” says co-owner Kamila, “so while it took around a year to convince the public, not once did we think of changing our philosophy. The success of the restaurant enabled us to stay true to our initial idea of hand producing the kind of doughnuts that we loved eating in America.”
Thoroughly boutique in their style, standard days mean sales of approximately 150 of these gorgeous temptations. Today, though, Kamila speculates that the figure could top out at 10,000. “We’ve already sold 5,000,” she says barely believing her own words, “and it’s not even midday!”
This has not been accomplished the easy way. Beginning production yesterday evening, MOD’s doughnut squad – many of them volunteering friends – have worked ceaselessly, with several members opting out of a shift change to continue on the frontline. There have been scares, as well, with the owners having to make a 3 a.m. dash to gather more ingredients. Even so, spirits are high.
“It’s been brilliantly fun,” says Kamila, “and the atmosphere back here has been amazing. This is our fourth year of doing this, so we’re all a lot more confident in what we’re doing.”
Though different in so many respects, leaving MOD and Zagoździński, one notices the fundamental similarities: the commitment of the staff, the enthusiasm of the crowd, and the underpinning traditions that unify them all. More than about the doughnut, it’s a day that serves to make Poland feel good.
If, after reading this, you feel the need for donuts, TFN’s photographer Kalbar reveals his own secret recipe for the perfect bite.
He says: “For perfect homemade Polish doughnuts you need:
60 g of fresh yeast
1000 g wheat-flour (Type 550)
1 spoonful fine-grained sugar
1/3 glass lukewarm milk, 400 g wheat-flour (Type 550)
80 g fine-grained sugar, 8 egg yolks (room temperature)
1 glass (250 ml) sweet cream (warmed to room temperature)
Vanilla seeds (1 pod)
150 g melted lukewarm butter
1 pinch salt
30 ml rectified spirit (99%)
1/3 grated lemon peel
1 jar multi-fruit jam
2 spoonfuls rose-petal preserve
1/2 spoonful rum
Frying fat (goosefat)
Get the yeast ready. In a bowl, mix the lukewarm milk with the yeast, add flour and one spoonful of sugar. Put the yeast aside until it grows to twice its size. In a big bowl, mix the yolks with sugar and vanilla, add the yeast and mix everything together well.
Now add sweet cream, spirit (rum) and lemon peel, mix. Add flour and salt and run slowly through a mixer (dough hook) gradually adding butter.
Mix the dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and pliable.
Let the dough grow in a cloth-covered bowl for about 1 hour. When ready, it should be double its volume.
Knead the dough by hand for a few moments to expel surplus gas, divide into around 20 equal portions.
For identically-sized doughnuts weigh off 50 g portions.
Line a large baking tray with baking paper, spread thinly with fat.
Form the dough into balls and arrange on the tray in 4-5 cm intervals.
Cover with gauze and put aside to grow.
As the doughnuts grow, heat fat to 180 degrees on the smallest flame in a broad, flat pan.
When the doughnuts have grown to almost twice their size, very gently place them into the fat by hand.
Fry at most 3-4 doughnuts at a time, they should float freely in the fat.
When one side of the doughnuts has browned, delicately turn them over with a stick. Fry until they achieve a light-brown colour.
Remove the doughnuts from the fat with a colander spoon, place on a large plane lined with a kitchen towel.
Fry the remaining doughnuts in the same way.
Mix the jam with the rose-petal preserve, put the mass in a pastry bag with a stuffing node. Stuff each doughnut inserting the node through the side or from underneath. Cover with icing sugar made of powdered sugar, rum and lemon juice.