Polish Food 101 ‒ Iconic Sweets
small, Polish Food 101 ‒ Iconic Sweets, Wedel shop in Kraków, photo: PAP, sklep-wedel-krakow-pap.jpg
Crispy Prince Polo, chewy caramels… These and other sweets gained popularity in Poland under communism, but are still popular today. Here is Culture.pl's subjective (and probably incomplete) guide to iconic Polish candies. We encourage you to complete the list in the comments below.
Who isn’t fond of this light, milky, vanilla fluff dipped in chocolate? These marshmallow-based treats (translated literally, 'bird’s milk') have survived a number of changes in Poland’s political system. Today, few remember that before 1989, they were a highly sought-after product and not always available.
The history of Ptasie Mleczko dates back to the interwar period. Where does the name come from? It was coined by Jan Wedel – the owner of the largest chocolate factory in pre-war Poland, founded in the mid-nineteenth century by Charles Wedel. 'Ptasie Mleczko' was a registered trademark for the company E. Wedel before 1939. Recipes for the dessert’s characteristic foamy filling, however – called a 'milk' of various flavours – can be found in old Polish cookbooks, such as Maria Ochorowicz-Monatowa’s The Universal Cookbook from the early 20th century.
The Bitter-Sweet Story Of Wedel, Poland’s Famous Chocolatier
When the trademark on 'Ptasie Mleczko' expired in the 1950s, a number of confectionary plants began to produce sweets under the same name. The trademark has since been renewed by Wedel, and while other manufacturers can produce similar sweets, they must now find other names for them.
Prince Polo & Princessa
Because Poles so often purchase them at the spur of the moment, Prince Polo chocolate wafers are said to be 'impulse buys'. Research suggests it was Poland that pioneered these wafer sweets. Why are they so popular? Some of it has to do with the era of Poland under communism, when wafers like these were produced by many small private establishments. Thus, they were readily available – and even used to prepare homemade desserts, including the very popular 'Tort a la Pischinger'.
While many Poles grew up on the familiar taste of Prince Polo, they aren't alone. Produced since the 1950s, the wafers have been exported to many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, but have gained greatest popularity in Iceland. While Poles imported Icelandic herring, Icelanders couldn't enough Prince Polo... Forty years ago, the average Icelander consumed at least a kilogram of Prince Polos every year! A recent Icelandic Prime Minister even suggested that a whole generation of Icelanders grew up on the chocolate confection.
Poland Will Be the Next Iceland
Prince Polo is still prospering. Besides the classic chocolate, new flavours continue to be introduced, including milk, peanut, and coconut. Today, Prince Polo’s leading competitor is the candy bar Princessa – a leading product of the Poznań’s chocolatier Goplana.
Krówki from Milanówek, photo: Wojciech Surdziel / AG
The popular Polish krówka candy is made from a creamy caramel mix of milk, butter, and sugar. These simple ingredients are stirred and boiled, then poured out and cooled. After the mixture has set, it is sliced and packaged in paper wrappers with the image of a cow – hence the name ('krówka' means 'cow' in Polish). When very fresh, the caramel is entirely chewy, but over time, the sugar crystallises and the candy develops a crumbly exterior.
The history of these caramels dates back to the early 20th century. Feliks Pomorski learned to make them from his uncle in Żytomierz. By the 1920s, he began production of the sweets on an industrial scale in Poznań. Despite great difficulties during and after World War II, production of the candies resumed in Milanówek, near Warsaw. Even after nationalization, Pomorski never gave up – he moved all of the manufacturing to a backyard garden.
The Misleading Geography of Polish Cuisine
The company exists to this day. Now, of course, most of these treats are produced on an industrial scale across many different plants, but the best krówki are still made by hand. The mixture can also be purchased in cans from many shops in Poland.
Irys, photo: Jutrzenka Dobre Miasto Sp. z o.o.
These iconic toffee candies ('irysy' means 'irises') feature in a poem by Wanda Chotomska, one of the most popular Polish authors for children: 'If tigers ate Irysy, the world would not be so bad, for if every tiger bit toffee, they wouldn’t bite meat instead'. It's not too surprising that Irys candies have become the stuff of poetry – like krówki, they have been around since the Interwar Period. Their distinctive taste and colour are produced by boiling milk solids.
Retro Illustrations to Children's Books
During the communist regime, Irysy were produced in the famous Jutrzenka ('Morning Star') facility. When new machines were purchased for their production in the 1970s, the candy factory became a popular destination for school trips. Irysy are exported to Germany, Hungary, France and even Canada and Saudi Arabia. To this day, they have many fans.
Bambino, Penguin, & Calypso ice cream
Pilgrims to Częstochowa rest and eat Bambino ice cream, 1985, photo: Krzysztof Pawela / Forum
The days when Polish ice cream shops offered only a few flavours are gone forever, but Bambino ice cream on a stick is often remembered from childhood as the best ice cream in the world (and on the other hand, a symbol of communist mediocrity). The sweet is still produced today, although it has dropped out of 'mainstream' circulation and now counts as a niche product. The production of the ice cream bars began in the 1960s in regional dairy cooperatives and is to this day located in a cooperative in Łódź. Similarly, other communist era ice cream treats – Penguin and Calypso – are still available today.
Warm Ice Cream
And if real ice cream wasn’t available, it remained warm. This delightful delicacy – served in a waffle cone with sweet cream and chocolate sauce – can still be found in shops and patisseries around Poland.
Four Delicious Summer Food Festivals In Poland
Eat it politely, or start with the soft biscuit and leave the jelly and chocolate to the end? Anyone who ate these famous 'dainty' cakes as a child experienced a similar dilemma. They also then experienced the disappointment of seeing the last delicious bits of the sweet treat disappear. These round biscuits with fruit jelly covered in chocolate have been available in Poland since the 1970s. Initially orange-flavoured, they are available today in several additional flavours: cherry, raspberry, blueberry and apricot.
Candy Bars: Danusia, Kasztanki, Michałki...
'Kasztanki' and 'Malaga', photo: press materials / www.wawel.com.pl
A Danusia candy bar? Along with Kasztanki, Michałki, and Malaga, it's part of a popular mix of sweets. Everyone in Poland knows that these candies are produced by the Wawel confectionary, but not everyone knows their history.
The story of Danusia, a candy bar with a chocolate-nut filling, begins in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Production started around 1913 in Adam Piasecki’s Kraków Factory of Sweets and Chocolates, founded in the late 19th century. The name Danusia comes from one of the staff, who was much admired by Piasecki. Apparently, it is her likeness that has been immortalised on the package.
Roasted Peacock & Chocolate Soup: Recipes from Pre-War Poland
Danusia Candy Bar, photo: press materials / www.wawel.com.pl
The Malaga bar, with its semi-liquid filling, has nothing to do with sweet wine or with Spain. This treat has been produced since the end of the 1960s. The Kasztanki, with its cocoa filling and crispy wafers, on the other hand, will be more familiar to Poles born in the 1970s.
You Want Candy, Go to Gierek
Workers' Day parade, with members of the party and government authorities at the tribune of honour, receiving flowers from participants in the procession. Pictured: Piotr Jaroszewicz (left) and Edward Gierek. Photo: Krzysztof Wojciechowski / Forum
‘You want candy, go to Gierek/Gierek's got it, he'll give it to you’. This was a popular refrain among kids growing up when Edward Gierek was First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party. And the candy they were seeking might well have been the cult favourite Michałek chocolates, which are still produced by many plants at present.
Communist Food Rationing Turned into a Board Game
Michałek chocolates have been at the centre of many disputes, including court cases. Although there are a number of similar products with the same name, the original Michałek chocolates have roots in Silesia – where they were created in the 1920s at the Hanka factory. Michałek chocolates from this manufacturer are still available today.
Torcik Wedlowski today, photo: manufacturer press materials
Looking for a culinary gift? Maybe kabanos or vodka? Or perhaps this famous treat from Wedel – a hand-decorated wafer cake with hazelnut cream and chocolate. The history of these small cakes dates back to the 1930s, when Wedel (famous for the production of chocolates, candy, halvah, biscuits, wafers and pralines) was already distributing them not only across Poland, but also internationally. Still decorated by hand today, they continue to enjoy unflagging popularity and are exported to dozens of countries. They're even available with customised messages for holidays and celebrations.
A Year in Polish Food: Culinary Trends for 2018
Polish Food 101
lifestyle & opinion
Originally written in Polish; translated by AA, 11th July 2016