I hardly ever use recipes from the internet, least of all from unknown food bloggers (of whom there seem to be a few million). Usually I spend hours, days even, researching the thing I want to make in various books and then come up with a hybrid recipe that, for me, takes the best of each. But these Polish doughnuts are an exception. With barely a thought (OK, I did check in a few books, very quickly) I followed this recipe from the For the Body and Soul blog pretty much exactly and it worked so well I’ve barely tweaked it. So thank you Karolcia (from Poland, studying in Canada).
My aim was to recreate the light, puffy, too-easy-to-eat doughnuts we’d had at Cukiernia Samanta – a fantastic bakery in Zakopane, Poland where they make literally millions of doughnuts, especially in time for Fat Thursday (at the start of Lent) when all of Poland goes doughnut crazy. We begged for their recipe, but it is a closely guarded family secret. After many hours of mixing, kneading, resting, shaping and frying this beautiful enriched dough, I succeeded. My note to self for next time is to let the dough rise (more slowly) in the fridge as it would be easier to roll and shape when cold.
Lacto-fermenting is another way of pickling. Instead of using vinegar, you use a salt solution and wait for some special (naturally existing) bacteria to work their magic. The gherkins retain more of their vitamins and there are other health benefits too. More importantly, they don’t have that overpowering vinegary tang and taste delicious.
Here’s the science bit: The salt solution favours the proliferation of lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria (of which there are many species) ferment carbohydrates into lactic acid, carbon dioxide and other organic acids without the need for oxygen. This turns the solution acidic and replaces the air at the top of the jar with carbon dioxide gas. So, other (unwanted) bacteria will now not be able to reproduce.
American recipe books will contain warnings, or not include this method of preserving at all. But this kind of fermentation has been used across the world for centuries. We came across plenty of food preserved this way on our culinary travels in 2008: In Poland we loved the big barrels of gherkins and cabbage (ie sauerkraut); in Turkey we ate and drank yoghurt with everything we could; in Morocco our chicken tagines came with preserved lemons; in Mali we drank lots of millet beer; and in Ghana we filled up on fufu (fermented cassava and unripe plantain, pounded to a sticky stodge).
A day without vodka has done Barnaby the power of good and he is now back on solid food. To nurse himself back to health he has been nibbling on his favourite of all Polish cheeses – oscypek (‘os-tsi-pek’), smoked mountain sheep’s cheese.
Oscypek is a speciality of the Tatras mountains around Zakopane. The sheep’s milk curds are packed into carved wooden moulds, most traditionally a spindle shape, to harden, and then hung in woodsmoke to acquire their classic colour and flavour.
Apparently unscrupulous market traders paint their cheeses with coffee to imitate the authentic oscypek appearance. But this one came from an impeccable source via Richard and Marzena’s cheese lady.
A good oscypek should squeak when you bite into it and have a rich buttery taste. Barnaby likes his sliced and fried until crispy golden-brown on the outside and gooey on the inside.
Well since leaving France we’ve come quite a long way (now about 3,500km on the clock in fact). We shifted across Germany pretty fast, eating nice fresh apples and sticky spätzle by the Bodensee and then great griesenschmalz in the Bayrisches Wald. But we wanted more – spätzle only get you so far – so we crossed over the mountains into the snowy Böhmerwald and the Czech Republic, immediately being rewarded with the first dumpling sightings of the journey.
This was only the beginning – we soon made our way to Bohemia and Český Krumlov, where we learnt all about why Czech beer tastes so good, and about its ideal accompaniment in the form of (imagine the excitement) the stuffed dumpling. Next to Moravia …
Of course, the best place to stay in Poland is where we spent most of our time – with Richard and Marzena and their two lovely daughters at their home in Zakopane.
But if you’re not lucky enough to know them, you could try one of these other places which we would highly recommend. (Places we would not recommend not included.) Most fun is to stay in an agrotourism, along with the goats, rabbits, cows and sheep…
I know we’ve already done Poland, but this was amazing: żurek with kielbasa (i.e. fermented sour rye soup with sausage). Both were home-made by our hosts here in Barcice Dolny, and both were wonderful.
Today Barnaby challenged Malina to a staring contest. They both claim to have won but we couldn’t really tell.
Malina (Polish for ‘Raspberry’) was enjoying some free time between morning and evening milkings. She provides the entire Łatka family, and us today, with organic milk.
Mrs Łatka cleverly transforms the milk into sour cream, butter and cottage cheese, using not much other than a warm room and a food processor. The whey and buttermilk don’t go to waste – not only do they make delicious drinks on their own, but they also go into a number of Mrs Łatka’s homemade treats, including her żurek soup and linseed bread. Go and stay with them in Barcice Dolne and you’ll see what I mean.
Luckily, by the time we’d reached the remote Bieszczady Mountains we’d learnt enough Polish to recognize that ‘kozie sery’ meant ‘goat’s cheeses’. (It’s great being married to a linguist.) So when the hand-painted wooden sign appeared by the side of the road we slammed on the brakes – and then tentatively approached the farm gate, while two enormous barking dogs approached us from the other side, a lot less tentatively.
The farmer came to our rescue, and proceeded to introduce us to his goats and cheeses with great generosity of spirit. You’d be forgiven for thinking that in this far-flung corner of southeastern Poland he was making cheese the way his great-grandfather had, according to time-honoured Polish tradition, isolated from the world. But you’d be wrong (as we were). In fact, Zbigniew Wantula’s cheeses have truly international dimensions, but with traditional cores. We were to discover how Germany, France, Greece and the UK were all playing their part…