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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » April 28, 2011
Polska…tastes good!
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Traditional and Regional Products Sweet Crescent Rolls
April 28, 2011   
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On St. Martin’s Day (Nov. 11) the residents of Poznań and surrounding localities consume 250 tons of sweet crescent-shaped pastries with a filling made from white poppy seeds. The Rogal ¦więtomarciński (St. Martin’s roll) is also known in Europe, having been listed since the end of 2008 as a European Union good protected under the regulation on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs.

The St. Martin’s roll tradition dates back to pagan times, when sacrifices were made to the gods in the fall, usually oxen or—as a substitute—pastry rolled to look like ox horns. The church took over the custom and linked it to St. Martin. The pastry’s shape was interpreted as a reference to the shoe the saint’s horse had lost.

Credit for the fame of the Rogal ¦więtomarciński goes to the confectioners and bakers of Poznań, the capital of the Wielkopolska region. The unique features of this pastry are the result of the knowledge and skills of the makers, who follow strict rules. The croissant is unique because of its appearance, shape, taste, aroma and the use of a special ingredient—white poppy seeds for the filling. There are two important factors in the product’s special character: the rough puff pastry made from wheat flour, margarine, milk, eggs, sugar, yeast, salt and lemon flavoring, and the filling from white poppy seeds with added sugar, sponge cake crumbs, whole egg pulp, margarine, raisins, nuts, fruit in syrup or candied fruit (cherries, pears, orange peel) and almond flavoring. The way the pastry is rolled up with the poppy seed filling and then decorated with icing and chopped nuts is another special feature. All these elements together with the croissant’s special flaky pastry make the Rogal ¦więtomarciński an original product not found anywhere else.

The Rogal ¦więtomarciński has been hugely popular in Poznań for at least 150 years. Many legends and tales of its origins testify to its fame. According to one legend, the Poznań croissant was pioneered by Józef Melzer, a confectioner working at a bakery who convinced his employer to bake croissants to give away to the city’s poor. He apparently got the idea in November 1891 after hearing a sermon by Father Jan Lewicki, parish priest at St. Martin’s Church, who encouraged his parishioners to celebrate the day of this saint—the personification of love of one’s neighbor and the patron saint of bakers—through a charitable act to help the poor residents of Poznań.

The shape of the pastry also has a traditional source. It is believed to come from the time of King Jan III Sobieski’s victory over the Turks at Vienna. In 1683 King Jan seized many Turkish banners. They all featured a crescent and this shape served as the model for the Rogal ¦więtomarciński that commemorated the victory

The oldest known mention of croissants baked for St. Martin’s Day appeared Nov. 10, 1852 in Gazeta Wielkiego Księstwa Poznańskiego by the patisserie of Antoni Pfitzner, established three years earlier on Wrocławska Street in Poznań: “Tomorrow, on Thursday, filled croissants variously priced, at A. Pfitzner’s patisserie, Wrocławska Street.”

The first reported use of the name Rogal ¦więtomarciński was in a press advertisement from Nov. 11, 1860. After World War II, the tradition of making Rogal ¦więtomarciński pastries was continued by privately owned bakeries in Poznań. That was when the filling was changed. Due to problems with supplies, the ingredients needed for the traditional almond filling became virtually impossible to find, so bakers started substituting a white poppy seed paste for the almond paste.

Starting from the 1960s, newspapers often informed their readers of the number of croissants consumed by Poznań’s residents on Nov. 11. That’s how we know today that consumption grew from under 20 tons in the early 1960s to about 42.5 tons in 1969. Nowadays bakers from Poznań sell 250 tons of croissants on St. Martin’s Day on average, and about 500 tons throughout the year.

The Rogal ¦więtomarciński has become a symbol of Poznań and is served to official guests.
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