I am not gonna lie: jagodzianki, although delicious, are rather demanding when it comes to making them from scratch. The preparation requires patience, time and some physical labour (15 minutes of that, as well!). But, as you have probably guessed, the effort pays off.
Of course, you can get yourself a pretty decent, or even awesome, jagodzianka from a bakery – given that you are in Poland, and it’s bilberry season (July-August). Everything sold as jagodzianka outside this timeframe is, well, not the real stuff.
Legend has it, that jagodzianki’s history reaches as far back as 18th century Poland, when they were reportedly popular in the region of Augustów Forest, due to bilberry’s abundance in local woodlands. Nowadays, too, jagodzianki are rather popular, if not iconic element of Polish summer. You see, pączki and faworki are for Fat Thursday, and jagodzianki are the ultimate summer treat. When it comes to baked goods, at least.
The search for the perfect jagodzianka is never-ending, every summer a different bakery competes for the title of the best jagodzianka in town, and bilberry aficionados are preoccupied with finding the one even as (if not more) voraciously. One thing to remember, Dear Jagodzianki Seeker: a true jagodzianka is made with fresh bilberries (hence its seasonality and limited availability), with the healthy bilberry-pastry ratio, clearly giving preference to the fruit filling. The pastry is light, slightly sweet and smells of fresh yeast. Two most popular toppings include crumble and icing. Hungry yet?
JAGODZIANKI, POLISH BILBERRY BUNS
for the pastry
50g fresh yeast (sold in most Polish shops)
250ml warm milk
5 egg yolks
100g golden caster sugar
for the filling
300g fresh bilberries
1tsp potato starch or cornstarch
for the crumble
20ml cold butter
1tbsp golden caster sugar
1 egg yolk
HOW TO MAKE?
1. Crumble the yeast (make sure that you take the yeast out of the fridge beforehand, so it’s not cold when using) into a bowl or a big mug, add half of the warm milk (not hot!), 1tsp of sugar and 2tsp of flour. Mix well, cover with a cloth and set aside for about 10-15 minutes. This time will allow the yeast to do the work: the mixture should raise beautifully, and double the size at least.
2. Add an egg, egg yolks and sugar into a big bowl and beat with your electric mixer until light, fluffy and doubled in size (this will take 5-7 minutes). Don’t waste the egg whites! You can make a nice meringue with them.
3. Sieve the flour into a big bowl (I use a massive plastic one, makes it easier later to knead the dough), add raised yeast mixture (if it didn’t raise, you MUST repeat the process with yeast), the rest of warm milk, egg and sugar mixture and melted, cooled butter. Mix everything with a wooden spoon, until you get a fairly mixed dough. Now, the time for hard labour: go in with your hand and work the dough for about 15 minutes. The best way to do it, is to sit on a small stool, put the bowl between your knees or ankles (depending how low your stool is), and knead away. Sounds ridiculous, but it works. You know your dough is ready when it stops sticking to your hand.
4. Cover the dough (still in the bowl) with a cloth and set aside to proof. It should raise nicely, and double in size. Bare in mind that yeasted dough does not tolerate drafts and low temperatures. My method is to place the bowl with the dough (and the cloth) in the (cold!) oven – nice and cosy, don’t you agree? The dough should be left alone to raise for about 1,5 hour.
5. When the dough has doubled in size, move it onto a pastry board sprinkled with flour. Knead it for about a minute or two, to get rid of air bubbles. Divide the dough into about 16 even parts. Make sure to sprinkle some flour under the dough, otherwise it will stick to the pastry board!
6. Take the first piece of dough, flatten it in your hand (should be about 1cm thick), add 2-3 tsp of bilberries in the middle and stick the edges of the flatten dough together, similar as if you were making pierogi. Make sure the bilberries are properly ‘sealed’ inside the dough. Move the ball delicately in your hands, until it becomes oval in shape. Place on the baking tray lined with baking parchment, the seal-side down. Repeat with all the parts of the dough.
7. Leave the ready buns to proof for another 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and prepare the crumble. To do so, add all the crumble ingredients to a bowl (flour, grated or cut into small pieces cold butter and sugar) and work with your fingers until the mixture will be of sandlike consistency. Gather the mixture into a ball, set aside.
8. When the buns have risen, glaze each of them with an egg yolk lightly beaten with 2tbsp of milk, and then sprinkle with ready crumble.
9. Place the buns in the preheated oven and bake for 18-20minutes, not longer! If you bake them for too long, the buns will become rather dry and will lose their fluffiness.
10. Jagodzianki taste best freshly baked, in Poland often eaten still warm, with a glass of cold milk on the side. If you happen to make too many, you can also freeze some of your baked bilberry buns! Enjoy!