Every place you go will have its own culinary tradition, something it’s known for, something that the locals take great pride in suggesting that you order. In Chicago, it’s the pizza. In Dublin, it’s the Guinness. In Vienna, it’s the sausage. In Poznań, it’s the rogali świętomarciński (roh-gah-lee sh-vee-en-toh-march-een-ski).
Okay, so that’s a mouthful, and not just linguistically. The rogale świętomarciński, or the St. Martin’s croissant, for those of us that speak English, is a type of pastry shaped like a croissant, but with a sweet filling made from white poppy seeds, crushed nuts, and dried fruit. Sounds yummy, right? Well, if you want to try one, you’ll have to go to Poznań. In order for it to truly be a St. Martin’s croissant, it must be made by a certified pastry baker, in the city of Poznań, and weigh between 150 and 250 grams. In other words, it’s a big honkin’ croissant, and “you can’t make it back home, Chicago,” as I was informed (in Poznań, I told someone I was from Chicago, and was thus addressed for the duration of my visit).
I had heard of these croissants, and had fully intended on buying one – or three – when I visited Poznań. But imagine my delight when I was told that there was a place you could go in Poznań dedicated to croissants: the Rogalowe Muzeum Poznania. This was too quirky to resist. Plus, you can watch the famous fighting goats at noon from the museum windows while eating a croissant. Sold.
You have to really know what you’re looking for in order to find the Rogalowe Muzeum Poznania; it’s not something the average tourist would just stumble across. It’s in a beautiful Renaissance-era building, right on the stary rynek (old market square), facing the town hall building, but the entrance is on the back side of the building. The website has a handy little map, complete with a red line showing potential visitors how to get from the town hall to the door. There are several shows per day, and one of the shows includes front-row seats to the main attraction in Poznań: the fighting goats, which emerge from the clock tower every day at noon and batter each other with all of their Renaissance mechanical might.
The show I attended was definitely geared toward children. In fact, for the first five or ten minutes, I thought I would be the only person who wasn’t a part of the school group that was there. More people did show up, and all of us English speakers were grouped together so that the two guys putting on the show could do real-time translations for us.
The show started out with an introduction to the city of Poznań and the Poznań dialect. The kids really seemed to get a kick out of hearing the little idiosyncrasies added to their own language. Even I enjoyed that part – learning Polish as I am, it was interesting to hear a different facet of the language. The part that really entertained everyone was when the presenter looked at me – the token American in the group – and explained how, in the Poznań dialect, the derriere is referred to as ‘America.’ The kids liked it because they could talk about butts, and the adults liked it because, who doesn’t like to make fun of the American? It was all in good fun, even if I was the butt of the joke, so to speak. We then moved into a history of the St. Martin’s croissant, which is more interesting than you’d think. It’s tied with the tradition of charity, and on St. Martin’s day, tons – literally, tons – of these croissants are baked and given away to the hungry.
After the talking, we got baking. This was a hands-on show. We had all been given poofy hats and aprons before the start of the show, and we put them to use. Kids were called up in groups to knead the dough, roll the dough, fold the croissants, and everything in between. I was recruited to cut the dough using a saber – also a part of the tradition. I also failed at cutting the dough with the saber, which led to some hilarity among the munchkins. To be completely fair, it wasn’t a very sharp saber.
After cutting comes the rolling. There’s a very specific way to roll these croissants, which allows the filling to bubble out of the sides while it’s baking. I was told that, unlike in a doughnut, “You don’t look for filling. Filling looks for you.” It’s completely true, and it’s wonderful. I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I’m almost always disappointed by the filling – or lack thereof – in pastries. Not in Poznań. Bakeries all across town make these croissants the same way, which means that, no matter which bakery you go to, your croissant will have plenty of tasty goodness in every bite.
At this point in the show, we took a break to watch the goat fight. As the clock struck twelve, the goats head-butted each other twelve times, and we, in the Rogalowe Muzeum, took pictures with one hand and taste-tested some croissants with the other.
As sad as we all were to see the goats retreat into the clock tower, we were all happy to return to the croissants. With whatever was left of our croissants, we went back to our seats and watched as hot pastries were pulled from the oven, then painted with icing and sprinkled with nuts. The final step of the process was figuring out whether or not it was really a St. Martin’s croissant: we had to weigh it. We took bets on how much the croissant weighed, with winner-takes-croissant stakes. Alas, I did not win this contest.
I did, however, find another croissant before skipping town.