Why is that so many places around the world celebrate Carnival and we don’t? New Orleans has Mardi Gras. Brazil, Carnival. Croatia has Maškare. Even Quebec celebrates it with Le Carnaval and Bonhomme; the gigantic snowman that all Canadian kids learn about in French class. So it looks like us English-speaking Canadians got the short end of the stick when it comes to Carnival. I guess it’s not so bad when you come to think about it. We may not have days of wild parties, skimpy clothing and winter fun, but we do have pancakes. Ha! Who am I kidding. We DO have the short end of the stick!
My early memories of Shrove Tuesday originate somewhere around the age of 7 or 8. I remember my classmates and I waiting patiently in line as teachers flipped stacks of pancakes for us for lunch. All the teachers brought in their plug-in griddles. The school supplied the syrup and juice and us kids got a sugar high for the rest of the day!
Then somewhere along the line, probably around grade 5 or 6, the pancakes turned into Paczki, the Polish doughnuts that weigh half a kilo and are filled with anything from jam to custard to chocolate. Don’t get me wrong these are delicious! I mean which kid wouldn’t like a doughnut as big as their face? But there was just something about the lineups at the pancake stands and the camaraderie of sharing a pancake lunch with your besties that turned Shrove Tuesday into a celebration.
At home, we celebrated Shrove Tuesday with krafne – also known as krofne, pokladnice, fanke, buhline. They’re the Croatian version of the Polish Paczki. Traditionally these were always made in the height of winter, especially during the Carnival season. Their high sugar and fat content were the perfect sources of fuel during the long winter months and a special treat to the Carnival goers. They were also – and probably still are – my most favourite treat my grandmother makes. She would make these on Sunday’s when we would come to visit. Her version was rolled around in granulated sugar and filled with her homemade jam. When my siblings and cousins all conglomerated at Baka and Deda’s, we would sit on the floor in their family room, probably watching something like America’s Funniest Home Videos, eating fanke (that’s what my grandparents call them) with small plates jammed under our chins, faces and fingers covered in sugar and mouths smeared with jam, eating one after another. Oh, those were the days.
If you haven’t tried these before, know that they are heaven in the form of a yeasty pillow of sweetness. They’re light, airy, about as big as the palm of your hand; thus, perfectly constructed to eat more than one! You can eat 2 or 3 and not feel the least bit guilty. Ok, maybe a little bit, but who cares! It’s Fat Tuesday! You’re supposed to pig out! So go ahead and make yourself a big stack of pancakes for dinner and follow that up with a dessert of a few krafne. You’ve got all Lent to watch what you eat!
Krafne (Croatian Doughnuts)
When making this recipe, I had to make it twice. The first one failed. I put in all the flour at once and ended up with a hard mass that resembled pie dough. Not what you want here. It’s very important to slowly add in the flour and only add what you need. If you find that the dough is no longer sticking to your spoon or bowl but you still have some flour left, that’s ok; don’t use the rest. If you add too much flour your krafne will be too dense and will not rise properly.
When I made the first batch that failed, I used my mixer. The second time, I did it the old school way, or the Croatian Baka way and that’s with a wooden spoon. No wonder our grandmother’s are so tough! My arm is killing me this morning! You can do it in a Kitchen Aid mixture by slowly adding the flour like I mentioned above. Since I had to do it again, I chose to employ the traditional wooden spoon and put a little elbow grease into it. Yes, your arm gets tired, but you really get a sense of what the final product should look like by slowly hand mixing it. Either way, as long as you add in the flour slowly, you’ll get a great product!
Finally, the traditional filling for krafne is apricot jam (I read this from a various number of sources). I bought a lovely jar of it at the grocery store this weekend and planned to fill my krafne with them, when lo and behold, my husband comes in the kitchen asking, nonchalantly, “What kind of filling are you putting in there?”
“Well,” I replied, “I’m going to use the traditional filling of apricot jam.”
“Apricot jam?” My husband asks with a funny look on his face, “but I don’t like apricot jam.”
“Fine,” I responded, “I’ll use strawberry.”
And that’s how these krafne ended up with strawberry jam.
Adapted from Pokladnice, Hrvatska za Stolom
Makes 14-16 krafne
For the Yeast:
1 package traditional yeast
1/4 cup luke warm milk
1 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
4 egg yolks
2 tsps dark cooking rum or rum extract
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/8 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour
150 mL milk
Canola or vegetable oil for frying
1/2 cup strawberry jam (or any jam that you like)
In a small measuring cup with luke warm milk, sprinkle in yeast and sugar and set aside to proof. The yeast should double in volume.
In a large bowl cream together the sugar and butter. Whisk in egg yolks one at a time, fully incorporating one egg before you add the next. Add rum, lemon zest and salt and combine thoroughly.
Using a wooden spoon add 1/2 cup of flour to the mixture, stir to combine and then pour in the yeast. Stir until almost all of the flour and yeast is combined. Slowly begin incorporating the rest of the flour and 150 mL of milk by adding 1/2 cup of flour at a time while alternating with 2 or 3 tablespoons of milk. Your dough should be very sticky and elastic at this point. In the beginning you can add each addition before the previous one has been fully incorporated into the dough. Once you have used up all of your milk and the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time, only after no traces of the previous addition remains. Keep stirring and adding flour until the dough no longer sticks to the spoon. The dough will still stick to the bottom of the bowl, but that’s ok. Place the dough in a clean bowl, lightly dusted with flour. Cover with a clean dish towel and put in a warm, draftless area in your kitchen to rise for 1 hour and double in size.
After the hour has elapsed, roll out dough on a clean floured surface to a thickness of 1/2”. Dip a drinking glass in flour and proceed to cut out your krafne. Combine scraps into a ball, lightly need, roll out and cut out again. Repeat this step until you no longer have enough dough to work with. Save a small scrap of dough to test the temperature of the oil for frying. Place krafne on a floured baking sheet, cover and allow to rise for another 20 minutes before frying.
While krafne are rising, heat oil in a wide shallow pan. You should have about 2” of oil for frying. The oil is ready when you drop a piece of dough and it rises to the surface immediately. Fry 5 or 6 krafne at a time (depending on the size of your pan) and flip once the underside is golden. Fry on the other side. You should have a lovely pale ring around your krafne as they rise and cook through. Remove and allow to drain on a baking sheet, lined with paper towels. Repeat the same process with the rest of the krafne; however, decrease the heat slightly after the first batch. By this point the oil is very hot and may brown the krafne too quickly, resulting in an underdone centre.
Once the krafne have cooled slightly, you can fill them with jam using a pastry bag or leave them plain and sprinkle with powdered sugar. A great alternative is to roll them around in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon (I prefer this version without filling). Serve while still warm.