by Esme Addison
When most people think of Polish culture, they probably think of Polish food first. If you live near a large Polish community or have Polish family, you’ve probably had some great kielbasa, freshly made pierogis or zupa ogórkowa – creamy dill pickle soup (my personal favorite dish of all!!!) But I also think it’s safe to say that Polish desserts are the star of the culinary show!
When I first thought of creating a cozy mystery, my working title was Polish Family Cozy Mystery, to give you an idea of how I was conceptualizing the story. And because my first cozy mystery love will always be culinary, I thought to place my fictional family in a Polish bakery. They weren’t necessarily going to be witches at this time, just a family and a bakery and a small town with a high percentage of murders. 🙂
But after talking to a few cozy mystery acquiring editors, I knew culinary wasn’t the way to go. Not in that moment. Apparently, the industry had had it with food-based cozies, so I had to think of something else. And I did. I discovered the myth of the Mermaid of Warsaw and I knew I had my idea.
And I also knew that even though there wouldn’t be a bakery, there’d be a lot of Polish desserts. Below are the five treats featured in A Spell For Trouble. No recipes in this post, but I’m working on getting my mother-in-law’s recipes (if she’ll give them to me!) for posting later.
Kołaczki (Cream Cheese Cookie)
Kołaczki (pronounced ko-Loch-kee in America) is a favorite during Christmas and Easter but can be enjoyed as a breakfast pastry or anytime. They are made with a cream cheese dough that bakes up buttery and super flaky. Kołaczki can be round, square or diamond-shaped – though I’ve only had them from my mother-in-law and she makes them rectangular. The dough can be flaky or yeast-risen, and the spelling varies widely. In fact, this cookie is popular throughout Eastern Europe (and beyond) and known by various other names. The filling is usually made from fruit preserves like raspberry, blueberry or apricot – my favorite is raspberry. Something about the sweet-tart taste that contrasts with the butter and the dusting of sugar on top that makes these a bit addictive for me.
Pączki (Polish Doughnut)
Similar to our American jelly donuts, this treat (pronounced POON-shkee; the singular is pączek, pronounced PON-check) is made from deep-fried flat dough filled with fruit or cream and lightly dusted with powdered sugar. The traditional fruit filling is prune, but nowadays they come in a wide variety of flavors including apricot, lemon, blueberry, raspberry, chocolate, and custard. They’re usually eaten on Fat Tuesday but that doesn’t stop ciocia – or aunt Lidia from making them for her family in A Spell For Trouble!
Sernik (Polish Cheesecake)
Every time my mother-in-law has made sernik (pronounced SEHRR-neek) it has been rectangular in shape and served with chocolate drizzled on top, so that is the quintessential Polish cheesecake for me. Unlike American cheesecake, this treat is prepared with a sweet pastry crust and a filling made with quark or farmer’s cheese: a dry-curd cheese known as twaróg (TVAH-rroog) in Poland. It’s not super sweet, but I find that to be the case with most Polish desserts (European desserts, generally?). And honestly, it’s refreshing to find desserts (much like in Japan (I lived there for three years)) that focus on fresh ingredients, technique and of course, love. 🙂
This dessert is one of my mother-in-law’s go-to desserts for any occasion, and it is always served with coffee. So good!
Makowiec (Poppy Seed Roll)
Makowiec (pronounced Mak-ov-yetz) is a strudel-like, yeast poppy seed cake that’s one of Poland’s most popular desserts. Its main attraction is the filling spun inside, made of finely-ground poppy seeds, honey, butter, raisins and walnuts. However, in eastern Poland where my in-laws live, only poppyseeds are used. And this is how I’ve had it in the past. Again, this is a pastry that goes well with coffee – but then again, I think every dessert goes well with coffee.
Like many of the desserts on this list, piernik (pronounced pye-rnyeek) is traditionally associated with the holidays, especially Christmas. Unlike the American version which is sweetened with molasses, piernik uses honey plus all of the traditional spices to flavor this bread. Piernik is usually covered with a chocolate glaze, however, recipes may vary from family to family and from region to region. The ones I’ve had in the past were very simple, just a nice moist cake with lots of spice and a hint of citrus.
Probably, my most favorite Polish dessert is Szarlotka, just a simple, rustic apple cake. But oh so good! It’s not featured in A Spell For Trouble, so I didn’t include it in this list. But definitely for book two – so stay tuned!
What’s your favorite Polish dessert? I know you have one!