It’s that time of year when many people start preparing for a season of spiritual rigor and renewal. That means parties and festivals and, of course, lots of amazing annual food treats like…paczki! Pronounced Poonch-Key, they are spongy, round filled donuts, richer than regular jelly donuts.
What Is A Paczki?
Originated in Poland during the Middle Ages. At the time of King Augustus III, when French cooks came to Poland, the dough was made lighter and spongier. According to Dobra Bielinski of Delightful Pastries in Chicago, the main differences between typical jelly-filled donuts and paczki are that the paczki dough will bounce right back when you take a bite. There is also less filling and more of that lovely dough. To the Polish people, the dough is the central delight while the filling is an accent.
There are many delicious fillings, from traditional jams like plum and rose hips to fresh strawberries and whipped cream, and even “drunken” versions like those from Delightful Pastries, including Jameson Whiskey with Chocolate Custard, Vodka and Custard with Madagascar Vanilla and Lemon Curd with Moonshine. We think Delightful Pastries makes the best paczki in Chicago. Dobra and her staff have been making over 50,000 each year for Fat Tuesday for Chicagoland fans. Get your order in early so you won’t be disappointed!
Want to learn more about how they’re made just watch this short video of paczki being made at Delightful Pastries below:
In Poland, Paczki Day is generally celebrated on Fat Thursday, the last Thursday before Lent. In the U.S. and other Polish communities, it is often celebrated on Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday) the day before Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season. The traditional reason for making these rich yeasty dough delights was to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the household before the Lenten fast when their consumption was forbidden.
Are You Full Yet?
Some bakeries have even held annual paczki-eating contests. Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston, Illinois had been hosting its Annual Paczki Eating Competition since 2010. The contest is the weekend before Fat Tuesday. 8 teams of 2 compete for sweet bakery prizes! While you’re there be sure to sample Bennison’s king cake, bread, and cookies. Unfortunately, it was not held in 2020.
Another Chicagoland favorite is Reuters Bakery. For over 85 years they have been making bread, cakes, and more on the far west side of Grand Avenue.
They have a full selection of the classic paczki but their strawberry and peach are split in half and stuffed with juicy fresh fruit. If you get there early you’ll see the ladies slicing the fresh strawberries by hand. These little pastries are a bit messy and not the traditional paczki but they sure are tasty.
Here in Madison if you’re looking for paczki your selection may not be as plentiful but you can find some tasty paczki. Try one of our local favorites The Rolling Pin. It’s a European bakery that’s actually in Fitchburg (a small suburb just south of Madison). If you’re a Good Trouble fan you will recognize Fitchburg as the home town of one of the characters. They have some pretty authentic tasting paczki and in quite a few varieties too.
We also like the paczki from Grebe’s Bakery in Milwaukee. We haven’t had the good fortune to get to the bakery in MKE but our local grocer Metcalfe’s saves us the trip and brings lots of Grebe bakery goods in their stores – especially around the holidays and Paczki Day is no exception. You have to get there early before they’re all gone.
Where ever you pick you a plumb delicious paczki enjoy it. You’ll discover why so many people indulge in these sweet treats every year on Fat Tuesday or Fat Thursday.
THE QUICK BITE: Poland’s special filled donuts called paczki have made their way into the hearts and hands of pastry lovers around the world. They have become modern taste treats with delicious dough and memorable fillings – even some boozy ones.
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Updated February 2021