How much do you know about Polish desserts and patisserie? The traditional repertoire is surprisingly extensive, with ingredients such as rose jam, twaróg cheese and (a lot of) poppy seeds. Equally surprising is the pastry scene in today’s Warsaw. In recent years there has been a cautious revival of a rich tradition: the tradition of coffee salons where artists, intellectuals and students used to come together to discuss all kinds of subjects over a cup of coffee – the kind that only the Poles can make. Strong, black coffee with a sweet pastry. Bruno Van Vaerenbergh went to check out the atmosphere.
You only love what you know. And that also applies to one of the biggest countries in Europe: Poland. It is the Polish language which is still creating a kind of distance between us? Or is it the no-nonsense work ethic of these people, making them less visible in our media?
During my recent trip to Warsaw and Poznan, I had the pleasure of seeing it all in person: their gastronomy and patisserie skills are here to stay. Both disciplines are very well represented in cities, but also in competitions, events and television shows. Enjoy some of the creations below and be sure to remember these three places
Odette: haute patisserie boutique
My favourite. Absolutely worth a visit if you’re ever in Warsaw! Here you will find elegant, well-made pastries with excellent flavour combinations and playful names. An ideal haven for patissiers and foodies who want to experience and learn about a refined concept in a relaxed setting. The open workshop, the interior design and the possibility of tasting the creations in a comfortable setting seems to have really struck a chord with the Polish customers. I tried the Salvador Dalí lips. Mmm. Delicious.
Chocolaterie E. Wedel: Vintage
Less hip but oh so vintage, this chocolate temple is a few doors down from Odette. Here you can drink chocolate milk (you can pick a version to match your mood) and choose from a wide selection of high-quality pralines.
Rising star: Pawel Mieszala
Travel 300 km north and you’re in Poznan, a big town with some 600,000 inhabitants. Poznan is a very vibrant commercial and student city. And since a lot of international companies are located there, it’s got a very dynamic atmosphere and has a strong economy. Perfect breeding ground for new gastronomy.
Here I met Pawel Mieszala. He’s a talented patissier who has already proved his worth in the world of all things sweet, having got through the qualifying stages of the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie in 1997 and 2003. Today, he has a modest but smart tea & coffee bar and patisserie shop. The pastries he gave me to try were of a very refined international (French) standard. I’m certain that we’ll be bumping into Pawel Mieszala on the international pastry scene in the future
Polish patisserie: a rich tradition
A first milestone in Polish patisserie? At the beginning of the 19th century, French cuisine reached Poland and sugar became popular. Before that, honey was used to sweeten the pastries and cakes. Coffee also made its entrance: dark, as transparent as amber, with a mocha aroma and as thick as honey. The popularity of cafes and patisseries was at its highest at the start of the early 20th century and between the two world wars. After WWII some establishments were nationalised, others were shut down by the communist regime. 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall. The patisserie culture was on the point of extinction
Polish patisserie culture: a revival
Today, we’re witnessing a revival of Polish patisserie. Globalisation has meant that Western patisserie trends such as brownies and muffins, crème brûlée and fondant pastry have gained a foothold here, too. But the traditional Polish specialities are still really popular.
- Szarlotka is an apple tart, usually served warm with whipped cream.
- Sernik – cheesecake. A lot of egg yolks go into this one. A popular version of this tart combines vanilla with a chocolate glaze.
- Ciasta drożdżowe – yeast cake
The French have their croissants and pains au chocolat, the Poles have their drożdżówki, sweet rolls filled with poppy seeds, twaróg cheese, custard or seasonal fruits.
- Christmas pastry
A good example of Polish Christmas pastry is the gingerbread, which is quite difficult to make. It takes several weeks to prepare, because the dough (which contains a lot of honey) has to ferment in a cool place.
Polish doughnuts (pączki) are fried in oil and finished with a rose jam, liqueur or custard. They are hugely popular!
- Kremówka or Napoleonka ?
This indulgent pastry is a Polish version of the millefeuille. Layers of puff pastry are alternated with whipped cream, sweet cream, custard or meringue. This is then covered with a generous layer of icing sugar.