Thursday, September 12, 2019

Dzien Dobry from Poland.......

Dzein dobry, (jane dob ray) or good morning from Poland. Today we are in the beautiful city of Poznan in western Poland. While I expected this to be a tiny place, Poznan is actually the 5th largest city in the country with a population of around 600,000. Known for its universities and colorful Old Town, there is also another hidden secret about this place. Poznan is famous for its croissants and even has a museum here dedicated to these sweet delights. 

But unlike its French counterpart, the St. Martin's croissants are folded 81 times. Between each layer the baker spreads a mixture of white poppy seeds, nuts, raisins, almonds, sugar and butter. Then each one is glazed and sprinkled with more sugar and nuts and MUST weigh between 150 and 250 grams (5 and a half to 8 and a half ounces, for our US friends). These suckers are huge and heavy. There is a local museum which is more like a show where participants are allowed to sling some dough of their own as they learn about the history of these famous sweets. Unfortunately for us, we ventured out too late in the day yesterday only to discover that we had missed the English speaking presentation.

According to the legend, one local baker was so inspired by a sermon he heard at St. Martin's church in the late 19th century, he took to heart the priest's message of feeding the poor by creating this special croissant. Since he had recently seen a horse lose it's shoe he had the idea to craft these pastries in the shape of horse shoes which he then gave out to those in need. 

These croissants are actually protected by European law and any baker who wishes to make these for distribution must apply for a license every year. Each Pierkarnia or bakery must display a sign bearing a photo of the croissant letting patrons know that they have permission to bake and sell these guarded desserts. 

We did search bakeries yesterday afternoon until we found one that had Rogale Marcinskie, also known as St. Martin's croissants. While we both DO love sweet treats neither of us found these to be what we thought. Perhaps had we gone out earlier in the day and tried them while they were still warm the outcome would have been different? Or perhaps as Americans we are so used to desserts being overly sweet that these paled in comparison? Either way it's actually a good thing that we did not fall in love with these croissants since we don't need more food in our lives.

But speaking of food, I did grow rather attached to Torun, the last town we visited with it's history of Pierniki or gingerbread. What could have been more pleasant than having a gingerbread factory directly next to our hotel? Everyday felt like Christmas! With each passing breeze my nostrils would inhale the sweet aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and other delectable scents. Add to that the fact that our cheap $45 a night hotel featured a jar of cookies on the front desk for guests to enjoy. We could not pass by without grabbing a few before climbing up 60 steep, winding stairs to our room on the top floor. Yes, this is Europe where elevators are not common as buildings are old. 

Although Clyde did enjoy eating the gingerbread cookies it seemed like it was me that was having this love affair with these adorable treats. We did embark on a tour of the pierniki museum, or so it was called, which was simply an explanation and demonstration of how the cookies were made. Our tour included a master baker along with a kitchen witch who took us back in time to medieval days in the kitchen. First the entire group was forced to take an oath that we would not reveal the secret, age old recipe to anyone.....ever! The witch let us know that IF we ever revealed the secret we would develop a mole on our tongues which would prevent us from talking ever again.

The factory experience was interactive and we were each given dough, a rolling pin and wooden molds to make our own cookie as a keepsake. Since I have always enjoyed baking I was surprised to discover that the most important ingredient in gingerbread is, pepper. It is pepper that gives it the spicy taste that give our tongue a bit of a nip when we eat the whole bag of cookies.....uh not that I have done such a thing, but I have heard this can happen. 

Also interesting is that the dough needs to mature for at least 3 months before rolling out and baking. Since we didn't have that long to wait we were given dough made by someone else for our cookie experiment. In the end our cookies looked good but lacked much taste. In medieval times sugar was not invented yet so they only had honey to use. And baking powder was not available yet either so our cookies were hard and tasteless. But the experience was so much fun and we highly recommend it to anyone visiting Torun, Poland. 

Typically when we travel we rent a car to get us around. This time Clyde wanted to try the trains which had really added to our whole adventure here in Poland. We are visiting seven different cities, which means six different train trips.  Some trains have been sleek and modern in design and we were even served free drinks. Other trains were old and our wagon was entered through a glass hallway. Each wagon would hold 8 people, 4 on each side facing each other. Luggage was placed either under the seats or on the overhead shelves. Trains here do feature bathroom facilities which have been spacious and clean, so overall our train experience has been good.

The train station in Gdansk lacked proper signs indicating the schedules and even the Poles we talked to were confused. Lines at the ticket counters were so long, sometimes with one agent and 20 or more people standing in line. By the time Clyde managed to buy our tickets the train was long gone and he had to get back in line and start again. Just part of the overall experience and adventure!

Today we have a twenty minute walk to the train station here in Poznan. Our next stop is Wroclaw, about a 3 hour train ride from here. Stay tuned for more adventures in Poland.....along the gringo trail.

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