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Poland: Chrusciki (Fried Bow Tie Pastries)

Chrusciki

This favorite Polish pastry is, as EuroCuisineGuy likes to say, "very more-ish": it's hard to stop eating them. They have a perfect tender crunch that makes you reach for another one the same way potato crisps / chips do ...

and they're so good that you find yourself not particularly caring that everything around you is getting covered with powdered-sugar fallout. (NB: another spelling is "krusczyki".)

The word chruscik may or may not (depending on who you ask) be related to an old Polish word for twigs or brushwood, which the simply twisted version of the pastry does resemble. In any case, chrusciki seem to be yet another variation on the pre-Lenten fried pastries of many other central European cuisines. In fact, one northern Italian version is called crustci, raising the possibility that one of these countries might have passed the pastry to the other. But wherever they were made, these pastries had a hidden agenda: they were designed to help use up all those forbidden foods like eggs, fat and sugar before the holiday period started in earnest. Later they seem to have drifted into other holiday traditions as well: some Polish people remember them as a favorite Christmas treat. In some areas of the US they're known as "angel wings", correctly suggesting how light and delicate they're meant to be. (In some other areas they're referred to as "elephant ears", hopefully referring to their size rather than their texture.)

There are many recipes for these in various cookbooks and drifting around the Web, but they seem to fall into two basic categories: those that contain an artificial raising agent like baking powder, and those that don't. The non-raised ones are probably the older and more traditional version, as baking powder is an innovation of the last couple of centuries. The older recipes rely on air trapped in the dough for the unique, bubbly, flaky texture: the heat of the frying causes the air to explode inside the pastry and puff it up as it fries. Lacking the slightly acid taste of baking powder, this version would probably taste better. Additionally, the alcohol in the recipe enhances the puffing effect somewhat, as the volatile alcohol flashes into trapped vapor when the high heat hits it, inflating the pastry further. (Obviously the alcohol burns off during this process.)

Though the recipe calls for the chrusciki to be fairly small, they can also be pretty large if your deep-fat fryer is up to it. (The ones made by the White Eagle Bakery -- which was located near New York City in EuroCuisineLady's youth, and is now located in Lakewood, New Jersey -- weren't "tied", and were often irregular shapes sometimes nearly the size of a quarter or even half of a letter-sized sheet of paper.)

While the "bowtie" shape is traditional, there's nothing to stop you from using cookie or biscuit cutters on the dough, bearing in mind that the frying process will inevitably distort the shapes.

Chrusciki are apparently getting easier to find (see, for example, this local bakery in Philadelphia: and the White Eagle people supply them to the major supermarkets in the NY / NJ area). But if you can't find them, you can always make them yourself.

(Previous visitors, please note: we have changed the recipe from the one originally posted here. The old one was too vague about some of the ingredients and how to treat them.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons dairy sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon vodka, whiskey or vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Vegetable shortening or oil for deep frying
  • Enough powdered sugar to dust the cookies / pastries with

Place the flour in a large bowl: make a well in the center. Add the egg yolks and rub in with the fingers until combined (or pulse in the food processor until you get the same result. NB: if you're doing this in the processor, use the plastic blade, not the steel one). Add all the other ingredients except the confectioners' / powdered sugar, and blend well. On a lightly floured work surface, knead the mixture for a good long while into a smooth dough. You need to trap as much air in the dough as you can during this process. If kneading by hand, just keep repeating a pattern of folding the dough, flattening it, folding again, flattening it, for at least half an hour. If using a mixer with a dough hook, knead for at least fifteen minutes. You should be able to see at least some little air bubbles in the dough.

Wrap in plastic wrap / cling film and allow to rest in the refrigerator for twenty minutes / half an hour. (You can let it rest overnight if you like.)

When ready to fry, roll out 1/16th inch thick. Slice into 1 1/2-inch wide strips. Cut the strips diagonally into 5-inch lengths. In each strip, cut a one-inch slit the long way, in the middle of the strip. Pull one end of the strip through the slit so that it looks kind of like a bowtie.

Heat the frying oil to 375F / 190C, or until a 1-inch bread cube turns golden brown in 50 seconds. Deep fry the strips in small batches until they turn light golden, turning once. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool. Dust with confectioners' sugar.

Try not to eat them all yourself.