The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » Monthly - November 3, 2015
Regional and Traditional Products
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Sweet Crescent Rolls
   
On St. Martin’s Day, Nov. 11, the residents of Poznań and surrounding localities eat 250 tons of sweet crescent-shaped pastries with a filling made from white poppy seeds. The Rogal Świętomarciński (St. Martin’s roll), which resembles a croissant, is also known abroad, having been listed since 2008 as a protected food product in the EU.

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 a shoe the saint’s horse had lost.

Credit for the fame of the Rogal Świętomarciński, which is registered on the European Union’s list of products with protected geographical indication (PGI) status, goes to the confectioners and bakers of Poznań, the main city of the Wielkopolska region in western Poland, who follow a traditional recipe in making this pastry. It 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 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 Świętomarciński an original product not found anywhere else.

The Rogal Świętomarciński has been hugely popular in Poznań for at least 150 years, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s website at www.minrol.gov.pl. Many legends and tales of its origins testify to its fame. According to one legend, the Poznań pastry was pioneered by Józef Melzer, a confectioner working at a bakery who convinced his employer to bake cakes 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.

Another legend has it that the shape of the pastry is linked to Polish King Jan III Sobieski’s victory over the Turks at Vienna. In 1683, the king seized many Turkish banners. They all featured a crescent and this shape served as the model for the Rogal Świętomarciński that commemorated the king’s victory.

After World War II, the tradition of making Rogal Âwi´tomarciński 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 Świętomarciński has become a symbol of Poznań and is served to official guests. These days it is also available in other major Polish cities.