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Rich, hearty, and prepared with plenty of love, Polish desserts are a real treat for any foodie travelers with a particularly sweet tooth.
Central Europe is renowned for its classic desserts. Strudels and cakes are wildly popular in the cuisines of the region, and Polish cuisine is no exception.
Fuse honest, humble Polish home-cooking with influences from the likes of Germany and Austria, and culinary magic is inevitable.
Prepare for a rich and sweet stimulation of the senses, as a local writer takes us through 15 popular Polish desserts that nuzzle the tastebuds and cuddle the stomach.
Traditional and Popular Polish Desserts
1 – Pączki – Polish Donuts
Pączki are the epitome of Polish desserts. Pączki are yeast cake donuts, and they are a central fixture in a Polish cukiernia (confectionary shop).
Pączki are fried and have a jam-filled center. Traditionally, this jam is usually a plum jam called powidło, which is flavored with wild roses for extra complexity.
Nowadays, pączki are veering further and further away from their traditional plum jam fillings; raspberry, lemon, and even chocolate have become popular fillings in recent years.
Pączki have either a powdered sugar or a royal icing topping, which adds to their visual appeal.
Pączki are often eaten on Tłusty Czwartek, a holiday that commemorates the beginning of the Roman Catholic period of Lent, which is meant to be a time for fasting.
Gorging on pączki sounds like a great way to celebrate the Polish equivalent of Mardi Gras!
2 – Makowiec – Poppy Seed Cake
Poppies are a popular ingredient in Polish desserts. This is due to the fact that, historically, poppy seeds were an easily accessible ingredient in this part of Europe.
Makowiec is a perfect celebration of this sweet fixture in Polish desserts. It is a roll cake made with a sweet yeast cake base.
The roll is filled with poppy seeds, which are often accompanied by raisins, chopped nuts, and candied orange peel.
Often you can find a royal icing topping, which is sprinkled with more chopped nuts or candied orange peel on top.
Although poppy seeds are by far the most popular filling, makowiec is sometimes filled with a paste made of chestnuts or walnuts.
Makowiec is one of Poland’s iconic desserts, and it has variations across Central and Eastern Europe.
3 – Naleśniki – Polish Crepes
Naleśniki, or Polish crepes, are a fixture on almost every Polish restaurant menu.
Naleśniki are rolled thinly in the shape of cigars instead of being served flat like their French counterparts. They are often filled with a variety of sweet jams or farmer’s style cheese that has been sweetened with sugar.
They are then browned in a pan with a hearty serving of butter. Although naleśniki are a dessert, they are sometimes ordered as a dinner item at restaurants across the country!
It is worth noting that maple syrup is a little known luxury in Europe, and is still extremely expensive in Poland.
For this reason, this favorite topping of the North American pancake has not yet found a place on a plate full of naleśniki.
Instead, you will find fresh fruit, whipped cream, fruit coulis, or chocolate sauce on naleśniki.
4 – Pierniki – Polish Gingerbread Cookies
Pierniki, or Polish gingerbread cookies, are more than a food. They are a popular souvenir to purchase for loved ones when visiting cities like Toruń or Kraków.
Polish gingerbread varies greatly depending on the region you find yourself in. It is most typically a cookie rather than a cake.
These famous souvenir cookies are often in the shape of a heart, with messages of affection written on them in stiff royal icing.
Some popular variations of pierniki have spiced nuts or dried fruits. Others are coated in chocolate with a sweet plum jam in the center.
Even the consistency of pierniki varies: they can be soft and chewy or hard and crumbly!
We recommend trying them all. How else will you determine your favorite?
5 – Chrusty – Ribbon-Shaped Cookies
Chrusty, or chruściki, are also referred to as faworki, depending on the region of Poland you find yourself in.
Chrusty are a sweet pastry formed into the shape of twisted lengths of ribbon.
They are deep-fried, and they become crunchy, crispy cookies that are sprinkled with a healthy serving of powdered sugar.
Chrusty originated in Ancient Roman cuisine, and they feature heavily in many European culinary traditions.
Chruściki have a central place on the dessert table around Christmas time. Many Poles form and fry hundreds of these cookies before large family gatherings.
They are also eaten alongside pączki during Tłusty Czwartek, the period before Lent.
Trust us, it’s easy for a plate that was once brimming with these ribbon-shaped cookies to disappear in the blink of an eye!
6 – Ziemniaczki – Polish Rum Balls
Ziemniaczki, or bajaderki, are a remnant of humbler times in Poland’s history when food was not something to be wasted or thrown away.
Ziemniaczki are the remnants of other sweet treats that have been sitting in your pantry or in a sweet shop’s showcase.
It is the combination of all of these treats that makes something new: a rich, soft treat akin to the North American rum ball.
Bajaderki often feature cocoa, chocolate, hazelnuts, and sometimes, rum. They are typically coated in either finely chopped nuts or coconut flakes for texture.
Ziemniaczki are found in every Polish sweet shop, and they vary from shop to shop. Even within the same shop, different treats will be recycled.
While this Polish dessert is humble in its origins and its components, it packs a flavorful punch that is loved by so many Poles.
7 – Kremówka – Polish Cream Cake
Kremówka, also known as Napoleonka, is the Polish take on a cream pie. It is made with two layers of puff pastry, with a thick layer of vanilla pastry cream in the middle.
The thick pastry cream tastes similar to an English custard, or a boston cream donut filling.
Kremówka is topped with powdered sugar, as a finishing touch to this decadent fixture of the Polish confectionery shop.
This cake is a variation of the French mille-feuille, which traditionally has three layers of puff pastry instead of two.
The Polish kremówka rose to fame after the late Polish pope, John Paul II, remarked that it was his favorite dessert.
After that comment, tourists flocked to his native hometown of Wadowice to try the authentic Papal Kremówka. Overnight, it seemed every sweet shop in town was an expert in this popular Polish dessert!
8 – Sękacz – Tree Cake
Sękacz is a Polish cake that is cooked on a rotating spit over an open fire. Thin layers of batter are placed one on top of the other as the cake slowly cooks through.
The cake became popular many centuries ago, during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that lasted from 1569 to 1791.
The batter is extremely basic, and it is usually made of butter, eggs, flour, sugar, and cream.
The origins of sękacz are attributed to Queen Bona Sforza, an Italian Queen of Poland, or to a Baltic tribe known as the Yotvingians.
Sękacz has variations across Central and Eastern Europe. In Lithuanian cuisine, it is known as šakotis or raguolis, and in Belarusian cuisine as bankukha.
Sękacz is a quite visually appealing dessert. It looks like a modern sculpture, rather than a cake!
9 – Kołacz – Wheel Cake
Kołacz is derived from the Polish word koło, meaning wheel. As the circular shape and the name itself suggests, it is a wheel cake.
Kołacz is one of Poland’s oldest dessert traditions. It has appeared in records dating back to the thirteenth century, and it was originally served as a wedding cake.
Kołacz has a light and flaky dough that combines cream cheese with butter and flour. This combination of ingredients results in a dough that is similar to a pie crust.
The dessert is filled with sweet fillings such as plum jam, sweet cheese, poppy seeds, or a nut mixture.
This Polish pastry is less popular nowadays, but we are hoping that it makes a comeback soon!
10 – Szarlotka – Polish Apple Pie
Szarlotka is Poland’s version of the apple pie, and its name comes from the French Charlotte.
Szarlotka has a dense, cakey bottom, almost akin to shortbread. Its wholesome, crumbly topping sits atop the apples.
There is often a layer of soft meringue between the apples and the topping, which ties the whole dessert together.
The apples are usually grated and seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg before baking. Szarlotka is then topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream.
Sometimes, this dessert can be made with pears or peaches instead of apples, but the classic version remains the most popular.
Occasionally, the apples in the szarlotka are mixed with raisins. Szarlotka is a well-balanced dessert. It is less sweet than the traditional American-style apple pie but just as delicious.
11 – Sernik – Polish Cheesecake
Sernik is one of the most popular desserts in Poland. It differs from its American counterpart by using twaróg, a traditional farmer’s cheese that is sweetened with sugar or honey instead of cream cheese.
This cheese is inherently lumpy, meaning that the mixture has to be well mixed prior to baking.
Sernik has different crusts: some are crumbly, and others are made of a soft sponge. Those serniki that are served at room temperature are often topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
A popular variation of Polish sernik is served cold and has a layer of jello, filled with fresh strawberries, on top of the cheese.
The Polish sernik can look very different depending on your family’s traditions, the region of the country, and the time of year.
A chilled sernik is fantastic on a hot summer’s day! It’s a must-try Polish treat.
12 – Babka Piaskowa – Polish Bundt Cake
Literally translating to “sand babka”, this Polish dessert is far from grainy. A Polish babka is made from a basic sponge cake recipe, and it contains either milk or yogurt in its recipe.
A babka is often marbled with two types of batter: one with cocoa, and the other without. This makes a chocolate and vanilla swirl with an unforgettable taste.
Babki are traditionally made around Easter time in Poland. The babka is a central element of a Polish Easter basket. This basket is full of food that is taken to church to be blessed by a priest.
Of course, the mini Easter versions are usually much smaller than their original counterparts.
They are made in very small pans, so that they can easily fit into their baskets!
Traditionally, babki are often covered in powdered sugar, melted chocolate, or royal icing. It’s a delicious Polish treat with an important history.
13 – Drożdżówka – Yeast Cake or Buns
No list of Polish desserts can be complete without mentioning drożdżówka. This sweet yeast-based cake is a staple on the Polish breakfast table.
The wafting smell of drożdżówki baking in the early morning is a common experience of the early morning commuter in Poland.
It can be made into a cake in a large pan or into a sweet bun that is easy to grab and go.
Drożdżówka buns have many fillings: common ones include poppy seeds, sweet cheese, jams, puddings, blueberries, and plums.
Drożdżówka buns are topped with a royal icing topping. If the dough is baked as a cake, it is topped with a crumbly streusel topping called kruszonka.
Finally, the kruszonka is topped with fruits such as blueberries or plums.
However you eat this delicious Polish dessert, both variations taste sublime when served with a glass of milk.
14 – Kisiel – Polish Fruit Puree
Kisiel is a fruit-based puree that has been thickened by an agent like cornstarch, arrowroot flour, or potato flour.
It is thinner than the consistency of pudding, and it has a rather unique texture if one has not previously tried kisiel.
Today, kisiel is often prepared from instant mixes, instead of from scratch as older generations of Poles made it.
You can find many flavours in a polish grocery store, but popular choices are strawberry, cherry, and gooseberry.
Kisiel is served warm or cold, depending on one’s preference and patience. This is because you have to bring the mixture to a boil in order to activate the thickening agents (it’s hard to wait for it to cool!).
Some people consume kisiel as a drink, and others with a spoon as a sort of sweet soup dessert.
It is common to eat kisiel plain as it is already flavored, but sometimes fresh fruit is eaten alongside it.
15 – Kutia – Sweet Wheat Pudding
Kutia is a sweet Polish dish, traditionally served on Christmas Eve. It was once only popular in the southeastern region of Poland.
This is because the south borders the Ukraine, as kutia likely originated from the Ukraine, Belarus, or Lithuania. Today, its popularity is slowly spreading to other regions of the country.
Kutia is a cooked wheat pudding that is made from whole wheat or barley grains. It is sweetened with honey and filled with dried fruits and nuts.
The most common fruits that can be found in kutia are raisins, dried apples, apricots, and plums.
Walnuts, almonds, poppy seeds, and sometimes hazelnuts are found in the dish as well. In the past, kutia was simply sweetened with whatever was readily available
Kutia has hundreds of different variations, and its recipe depends on a family’s traditions. It’s a Polish treat beloved by all ages and generations.
Polish Desserts Summary
Any venture into Central Europe is always going to be full of sweet culinary delights. Poland is definitely no exception.
With such richness and sweetness, there are so many treats throughout the country to try and enjoy.
But what’s more humbling about Polish desserts is their important historical and religious significance.
Many of these desserts have been cooked and baked for generations. Plenty of the desserts are a symbol of celebration and a testament to many Poles’ resourcefulness.
The desserts of Poland are an iconic piece of the country’s cuisine. They are prepared with such love and passion and enjoyed by millions of Poles every year.
Before we leave Poland, one last time, here’s the full list of all the Polish desserts we looked at in this article.
Be sure to have this list of Polish desserts handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional foods.
- Pączki – Polish Donuts
- Makowiec – Poppy Seed Cake
- Naleśniki – Crepes
- Pierniki – Polish Gingerbread Cookies
- Chrusty – Ribbon-Shaped Cookies
- Ziemniaczki – Polish Rum Balls
- Kremówka – Polish Cream Cake
- Sękacz – Tree Cake
- Kołacz – Wheel Cake
- Szarlotka – Polish Apple Pie
- Sernik – Polish Cheesecake
- Babka Piaskowa – Polish Bundt Cake
- Drożdżówka – Yeast Cake
- Kisiel – Polish Fruit Puree
- Kutia – Sweet Wheat Pudding
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Contributor: Pauline Wegrzyn is a Polish-Canadian physiotherapist and content writer, based in British Columbia. Pauline writes professionaly in niches such as health, physiotherapy, and Polish food & drinks.
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