Contrary to popular belief, doughnuts are actually a Polish invention. They were most likely introduced to other countries via Polish immigrants. Unlike American ring doughnuts, Polish doughnuts, or pazcki, are small and round – similar in shape and size to a small bread roll. Sweet doughnuts are also a fairly late invention in historical terms. Records show that the first doughnuts contained savoury fillings such as minced pork and were a popular delicacy during the 16th century in Poland. It was only later, during the reign of King Augustus the Third in the 1700’s that sweet versions were introduced.
During national festivals and occasions, such as Easter, it is traditional for Polish bakers to make a few special doughnuts containing a large nut. These are then hidden in amongst the other doughnuts on the pastry shelf. It is believed that whoever eats this particular paczki will have good luck.
According to one British author, the bagel most likely originated amongst the Jewish population of Poland. Her theory is that it may be a relative of the obwarzanek or Crakow bagel, a traditional ring-shaped delicacy made from twisted baked dough that is sprinkled with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or coarse sea salt. The symbol of the city of Cracow, it was once a popular food at the Polish royal court, which was regularly frequented by members of the Jewish elite. It was not, as is commonly thought, produced to honour King John III Sobieski for saving Austria from the Turkish during the Battle of Vienna.
Sourdough, or naturally leavened Polish bread, which is free of baker’s yeast, contains lactobacilli, or ‘good’ bacteria – the very same stuff you get from eating ‘live’ yoghurt. Produced during the proofing process, these bacteria act as a digestive aid, whilst also preventing the overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria such as candida albicans that can lead to health problems such as cystitis, headaches, bad breath and indigestion.
The naturally occurring yeast strains found in sourdough bread, such as the rye bread made by the Polish Village bakery, work at a lower PH than normal baker’s yeast strains. During the fermentation process known as proofing, chemical reactions in the dough help to change the nature of the proteins and starches found in the dough, making them easier to digest as well as lowering the carbohydrate content of the bread. During this slow but important process, special enzymes develop that break down phytic acid in the dough – a substance that would otherwise prevent your body from absorbing the many nutritious vitamins and minerals found in good quality baked bread.
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