This is the final week of recipes for a reader named Jean, who wrote in asking for traditional Ukrainian dishes. Pampushke are delicious fried yeast pastries made with a poppy seed filling. This is usually a Christmas treat, but I received so many responses I wanted to make them right away. Thanks to Florence Semeniuk of Pine River, whose recipe for pampushke dough comes from her mother, who listed the ingredients but not the instructions. As Florence suggests, her mother wrote down recipes "as if everyone knew exactly what to do... And she did." Thanks also to Aster Hansen of St. Adolphe for her recipe for poppy seed filling and to Johanne O'Brien, who sent in an option for prune filling.
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Sweet Pampushke Dough
125 ml (1/2 cup) lukewarm water (38-43 C, or 100-110 F)
10 ml (2 tsp) granulated sugar
2 packets active dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp or 16 g or 22 ml)
250 ml (1 cup) whole milk, scalded
60 ml (1/4 cup) soft shortening
250 ml (1 cup) water
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
125 ml (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1.6 l (about 7 cups) all-purpose flour
Canola oil, for frying
In small bowl or cup, dissolve sugar into warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit for 10 minutes until foamy. In a medium bowl, place scalded milk, stir in shortening while milk is still warm and stir to blend. Cool slightly and add water, salt, sugar and eggs. In a large bowl, place flour. Make a well in the middle, pour milk mixture and yeast mixture into well and stir to blend. Dough should be soft. Knead on a lightly floured surface for about 10 minutes, then place in a lightly oiled bowl and turn dough once. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 90 minutes. Punch down and let rise again.
To make pampushke: You can roll out dough on a floured surface until about 6 mm (1/4 inch) thick and cut out 7.5 cm (3 inches) rounds. Or, you can pinch off a small ball of dough and pat out in your palm until 6 mm (1/4 inch) thick and 7.5 cm (3 inches) round. Place about 5 ml (1 tsp) filling in centre of dough round, cover with another round and seal edges. (Edges must be clear of filling.) Gently shape into a ball. Place on a lightly floured surface about 5 cm (2 inches) apart, cover and let rise about 20 minutes. Check for any gaps in seams and reseal if necessary. Using a deep-fat fryer or a large, heavy-bottomed pot with about 7.5 cm (3 inches) of oil, heat oil to 175 C (350 F) and fry pampushke in batches, turning once until golden on both sides, about 3-5 minutes. Do not crowd. Drain on paper towels. Roll warm pampushke in sugar or cinnamon sugar or sift icing sugar over tops of cooled pampushke,
Tester's notes: A nice light and slightly sweet dough. Some recipes indicate a second rise, and some recipes leave it out and go straight to shaping. I included a second rise, letting the dough sit for about 30 minutes until it gained in size and softness. This seemed to work well, and I got a soft, light dough. I'm always eager to pack in filling, but I found I had to be very careful to keep the edges clear of filling or the seams would open up. Keep an eye on the temperature when frying: You want to ensure the pampushke are cooked through without over-browning.
Poppy Seed Filling
250 ml (1 cup) ground poppy seeds
80 ml (1/3 cup) honey
5 ml (1 tsp) grated lemon rind
1 egg white
Prepare poppy seeds by soaking in water overnight and draining very well, or by covering with boiling water, letting sit for 30 minutes and then draining very well. Grind using a spice mill or grinder. In small bowl, combine ground poppy seeds, honey and lemon rind. In a separate bowl, beat egg white until stiff and then fold into poppy seed mixture.
Tester's notes: The honey and lemon rind are a perfect finish to the nutty poppy seeds. I don't have a spice mill so I used my food processor, which is not ideal and took some time. (When properly ground, the mixture will be dark but there will be some a milky whiteness at the edges.) You can also buy ground poppy seed mixture at some specialty stores. Check for freshness, though, as ground poppy seeds can go rancid quickly.
454 g (1 lb) pitted prunes
250 ml (1 cup) granulated sugar
15 ml (1 tbsp) cinnamon
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
In a medium pot, place prunes with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 125 ml (1/2 cup) juice, and mash prunes. Combine drained, mashed prunes, reserved juice, sugar and cinnamon in same pot and bring just to boil, then remove from stove. Add vanilla.
Tester's notes: I like the dark, melting sweetness of this filling. I found it didn't take long to soften the prunes. The ones I bought were actually called "soft California plums," all part of the recent re-branding of the prune.