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MM Recipe of the Month

When Martha’s mother, Martha Kostyra, used to make chrusciki, Martha and her sister Kathy would hover about the kitchen, waiting to pounce as soon as the crisp, golden-brown confections were pulled from the skillet. Today, Martha’s niece Sophie learns a few tricks from her grandmother so that she can carry on the tradition.

Loosely translated, chrusciki means “cookie” in Polish. Known as angels’ wings or bow ties in North America and chiacchiere in Italy, these sugar-dusted sweets are associated with the pre-Lenten carnival in Poland; in the U.S., they are served at Polish-American weddings and other festivities.

Chrusciki are almost lighter than air. This is the result of a fairly extended kneading process, which forces as much air into the dough as possible. Traditionally, chrusciki are fried in lard, but they can be made in oil as well. The shortening must be very hot in order to cook the chrusciki quickly. It is hot enough when a small piece of dough floats immediately to the surface. If the shortening becomes too hot, add a small cube of bread to lower the temperature. Fry the pastries in small batches, so that they float freely, without touching. Each chrusciki will take about a minute total to fry. (This includes both sides.) As soon as the confection turns golden brown, turn it over with a long fork, and fry the other side. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and store in an airtight container.

Martha stacks a tower of chrusciki on a pressed-glass cake stand, largest chrusciki first, to make a Christmas-tree formation.

RECIPE FOR CHRUSCIKI

Makes about 7 dozen cookies

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 large eggs

5 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon orange extract

1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar

1 tablespoon rum

3 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour

Vegetable shortening, for deep-frying

Sifted confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling <Picture>1. Melt the butter, and combine with eggs, egg yolks, granulated sugar, salt, extracts, vinegar, rum, and sour cream in a large, heavy mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-high until lemon-colored. Add citrus rinds. Gradually add enough flour to produce a fairly stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured board, and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, adding flour if necessary, until the dough blisters, becomes elastic, and can be handled easily. Cut the dough in half, and wrap one half with plastic wrap; reserve at room temperature.

2. Roll 1/2 of dough very, very thin and cut into strips about 4 inches long and 1 1/4 inches wide. Cut the ends on a diagonal. Slit each piece in the center, and pull one end through the slit. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and cover with a towel to keep moist. Repeat with other half of dough.

3. Heat the shortening in a cast-iron frying pan to 375 degrees, and fry the dough strips, a few at a time, for about 1 minute, until lightly browned, turning once with a long fork or tongs.

4. Drain chrusciki on brown paper bags; transfer to a cooling rack and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Store, tightly covered, in wax-paper-lined tins.

Note: This recipe makes an enormous quantity, so it can be halved if you wish, but do not divide the orange, lemon, and vanilla extracts.

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Martha Kostyra & Sophie Herbert .


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