Thursday, April 7, 2011
Polish Easter Placek.
Placek (plah-sek) in Polish just means cake, but placek around Buffalo (and probably other cities with a high Polish population) refers to a sweet yeast bread topped with sugary crumble, with or without golden raisins served on Easter. It seems like paczki have found their way around the blog world fairly easily (I assume because everyone has an obsession with doughnuts and things cooked in hot oil), but you hardly see placek, which is a shame! Placek dough is a unique combination of a fermented yeast sponge (warm milk, yeast, a bit of sugar and flour) combined with a creamed butter, sugar, flour and egg mixture. Even though I've made so many other bread recipes over the years, the smell of yeast still reminds me of placek - every year when my mom would bring out the biggest bowl in the kitchen, I knew it was time to make Easter placek.
Although the representation of yeast breads on this blog isn't much, I love working with yeast a great deal, but the problem with bread is that it makes quite a bit and stales quickly. Around holidays this seems to be an easier issue to tackle since more people are around to eat things. I know Easter isn't for a couple of weeks, but I think yeast breads can seem daunting to people so it might be easier to spread the workload over a few days. This bread can also be wrapped well and frozen, then taken out as necessary for eating and giving away, meaning it can be made ahead of time!
Placek is the kind of bread that begs to be spread with butter - it's not like a moist sour cream coffee cake. It has a drier crumb, making it an even better partner to coffee or tea. Traditionally, my mom always added sliced almonds to the crumb topping and golden raisins to the bread dough but I've also seen recipes without them. Either way, I'm proud to present this placek recipe - a true family tradition I can't imagine an Easter morning without!
2 cups milk, around 105 degrees to 115 degrees F.
2 packages active dry yeast, or 5 teaspoons
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups of flour
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk with the sugar and let stand until foamy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the flour, then cover the bowl and let the sponge rise until doubled in size, 30 minutes to an hour.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of ground nutmeg
Zest of one orange or lemon
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 1 1/2 cups golden raisins
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs in one at a time and beat until fluffy. Add in the salt, nutmeg, zest and 2 cups of flour, then beat well. When the sponge has risen, add that to the creamed mixture along with the last 2 cups of flour and the golden raisins, then knead or use the dough hook on a mixer for 5 minutes, until you have a very smooth, elastic, sticky dough. Using greased hands, place the dough into a large greased or buttered bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in size, an hour to 2 1/2 hours. You can also refrigerate the dough at this point up to 3 days. When you're ready to shape the loaves, let the dough come to room temperature first.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 2 cups sliced almonds
Cut the butter into the sugar and flour until it's fully mixed in and crumbly, then stir in the almonds.
When the dough has risen, use greased or wet hands to remove portions of it and divide it among 4 greased 9x5" loaf pans (or mini loaf and cake pans, as I like to do. My mom tended to do 1 9x5" and 2 9" cake pans, it doesn't really matter, use what works for you!) Divide the crumb mixture over the loaves, pressing in lightly (you will almost definitely have some left over, I always do and you can see how much I use.) Cover the pans, then let the dough rise until doubled or until they're almost risen to the top.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. and when the loaves have risen, bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until golden brown on top. Let them cool on wire racks, then invert them and cool completely before wrapping and freezing or keeping airtight at room temperature. I won't lie and say there's an easy way to get these out of the pan without all of the crumbs coming off, but that's why the crumb recipe makes so much!
Enjoy sliced and slathered with butter :)