Proof in the Pączki

Pączki: a pre-lenten cultural component of much of the midwest. Today, we are testing a common claim about an ingredient that makes its way into some of the more traditional recipes.

Initial observation:

In looking into ways to do science to pączki, we ran across several places that discussed the purpose of adding alcohol in the dough. According to a polish baker in Kate’s adventures in making pączki out on the east coast (for midwesterners and Michiganders having withdrawal symptoms – there’s a map for that): “the secret was to add alcohol to the dough, so the dough doesn’t absorb as much oil”.

This truism was repeated several places (e.g. Thrillist) and even spawned a question on Chowhound. Thus, we have a reason to investigate and a reason to make pączki!

Question:

Does the relatively small amount of alcohol in the dough actually impact the amount of oil absorbed, or might this be one of those things that sounds plausible so people just ran with it?

Equipment & Materials:

Procedure:

  1. make the dough as described but divide in half by weight before adding the rum. 
  2. add 1/2 the specified rum quantity (1.5 TB) to one half of the dough
  3. continue following the directions with each half of the dough
  4. instead of rolling the dough out and cutting with a round biscuit cutter, each half was rolled into a log, then cut into (roughly) equal sections, and shaped by hand into disks – here’s another example of hand shaped pączki
  5. after cutting the dough into rounds but before frying, record the mass of each proto-pączek
  6. fry as directed
  7. re-weigh each donut before any other modifications are made (e.g. filling/sugaring)
img_6341

A bowl full of Paczki

Data:

Table 1: Mass results for the non-rum dough

Sample Raw mass (g) Cooked mass (g) Difference (g)

1

41.4

44.2

2.8

2

45.6

49.8

4.2

3

49.3

54.6

5.3

4

46.0

52.7

6.7

5

42.7

47.6

4.9

6

52.2

57.3

5.1

7

48.4

52.9

4.5

8

45.4

50.1

4.7

9

50.0

55.2

5.2

10

44.5

50.4

5.9

11

42.0

46.7

4.7

12

48.1

52.6

4.5

Table 2: Mass results for the rum-ed dough

Sample Raw mass (g) Cooked mass (g) Difference (g)

1

41.7

43.6

1.9

2

40.5

42.9

2.4

3

49.7

51.9

2.2

4

48.7

51.3

2.6

5

46.4

48.7

2.3

6

41.0

42.6

1.6

7

47.7

50.2

2.5

8

40.4

42.5

2.1

9

40.2

41.8

1.6

10

46.9

48.2

1.3

11

44.5

46.3

1.8

12

42.3

44.3

2.0

paczki_graph

Average mass change before and after frying for the two doughs. 99.9% confidence intervals (vertical black bars) indicate that there is a statistically significant difference between the two doughs in terms of the amount of oil absorbed.

Surprise Results:

For some reason the rum versions ended up distinctly more rounded than most of the non-rum ones, even after distinct efforts were made to flatten the dough disks out before frying.

Less Surprising Results:

The doughs showed very different loft potential after the two specified rise times. Given that yeast are eventually killed off by their own alcohols produced during fermentation, it is unsurprising that adding a high-proof rum would impact the rise, but it was a little shocking the see the difference side-by-side:

img_6329

After a 1 hour and 45 minute rise time, the non-rum dough (left) is significantly larger than the rum-ed dough (right).

Conclusion:

Adding alcohol to the dough does result in doughnuts that absorb less oil than dough made without alcohol. The exact reason for this is uncertain and we have not ruled out the idea that it may be related to the resulting shape of the doughnuts (spheres vs disks).

These are definitely better fresh when the exterior has a nice crispness.

Future Questions:

Is the lower oil absorption somehow related to the shape of the doughnut rather than the alcohol content? The very first non-rum doughnut also turned out somewhat spherical and had a low oil absorption.

The cooked rum Pączki ended up with a distinct rum/boozy quality. It was noted that some sources recommended grain alcohol or vodka, so how would those options impact flavor?

How significantly would a lower proof alcohol impact the yeastie-beasties ability to raise the dough?

Further Reading:

Penfold, A. “American Classics: Paczki”. Serious Eats.

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