On November eleventh the people of Poznań, Poland celebrate the city’s patron, Saint Martin. Residents and visitors alike eat around one hundred-twenty tons of decadent Rogale Świętomarcińskie, or Saint Martin’s Croissants, during the festival. Local confectioners work overtime to keep up with the demand. Recognized by the European Union as a Protected Geographical Indicator, the sweet treats are inherently part of Poznań’s history as well as its intangible cultural heritage.
According to local lore, the inspiration for the sweet delicacy began on St. Martin’s Eve 1891, when the parish priest of St. Martin’s Church, Jan Lewicki, urged his congregation to help feed the poor. Local confectioner Walenty, unable to sleep after hearing Lewicki’s sermon, miraculously found an ancient horseshoe — a symbol associated with St. Martin — in his bed. Inspired by the omen, Walenty baked a batch of pastries in the shape of horseshoes and named them for the saint. He then distributed them to the poor of the city the next day and every St. Martin’s day from then on. After Walenty’s death, other bakers embraced the tradition and have kept the recipe tightly guarded to this day.
Miraculous origins or not, the Institute of Culture for the Wielkopolska Region says Rogale have been available in Poznań since the late nineteenth century, and Poznanians now shell out around the equivalent of ten euros — a good hourly wage — per kilo for the treats. In order to qualify as a genuine Rogal Świętomarciński, they must meet several strict specifications. First, a bakery must obtain a certificate from the city which grants the rights to sell the traditional treats. Second, the dough must be buttery puff pastry — a labor intensive process of folding and rolling and eventually forming eighty-one layers. Third, a Rogal’s filling must contain at least thirty-five percent white poppy seed. The other sixty-five percent should contain a mix of almonds, powdered sugar, cream, and citrus peel. Nothing else. Finally, certified Rogale Świętomarcińskie must weigh between one hundred fifty and two hundred grams. The final test separates the certified, genuine pastries from many of the lighter imposters.
A few enterprising (some might argue unscrupulous) bakeries sell “Rogale Marcińskie.” Baked with more liberties — such as pinches of cinnamon or nutmeg — the fakes ignite fierce debate here in Poznań. Many purists assert the originals are the best, but some say the certification kills creativity and raises the price for the genuine ones. According to Piotr Garbowski, a long-time resident of Poznań, “I love Rogale Świętomarcińskie. They’re about as expensive as salmon, or steak, but once a year you have to eat one. They’re only sold here, and they’re part of the city’s history.” However, resident Jacek Miłaszewski maintains that “the certification only raises the price. [Rogale] are only for tourists and journalists.” Either way, the demand for genuine Rogale is skyrocketing. Poznań’s city hall estimates that for this year’s Saint Martin’s Day, bakers will produce four hundred tons to feed Poznań’s voracious sweet tooth.
A new museum, popular with tourists and residents alike, has recently opened dedicated to Rogale Świętomarcińskie. Museum bakers demonstrate how to make Rogale while telling the history of the treats. Located in a well-preserved Renaissance-era townhouse in the old town, bakers at the Rogalowe Muzeum Poznania highlight the pastries as well as the endangered German-influenced Wielkopolska dialect of Polish. While it’s more of an interactive demonstration than a museum, the performance presents some aspects of Poznań’s intangible heritage and unique regional identity.
If you’re in Poznań and want to taste a bit of the city’s history, find a bakery — with a certificate — and enjoy! Or as they say in Poland, Smacznego!