Polish paczki are Midwest’s last fling before Lent

If you deep-fry it in fat, fill it with jelly and cover it with powdered sugar, they will consume.

Paczki are Polish doughnuts traditionally served just before Lent. / AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

That is the power of the paczki, a sweet, fatty, doughy and delicious Polish pastry that marks the beginning of Lent and the end of your diet. 
The unknowing might dismiss this pastry as little more than an ethnic jelly doughnut, but that would be like calling a barnacle a ship. No one drives for miles and then lines up early in the morning for jelly doughnuts, but they happily do so for paczki. 


A quick explanation: It looks like it should be pronounced “pak-zee” but it’s really “punch-key” or “poonch-key.” To be even more accurate, paczki is the plural form; a singular pastry is called a paczek. Paczki loyalty is especially strong in cities with large Polish enclaves such as Chicago, Milwaukee and especially Hamtramck, Mich., where residents proudly wear T-shirts declaring, “Body by Paczki.”


Tradition has it that this Polish soul food came about in the old country centuries ago when pious Poles cleared their homes of fats, sweets, butter, eggs and other treats in preparation for Lent. 
The banned goodies evolved into lard-laden treats traditionally filled with rose petal, plum or apple jam and then covered with a thin glaze or powdered sugar sprinkled with orange peel.


Over the decades those fillings have expanded to include custard, as well as prune, apricot, raspberry, strawberry and blueberry jam. (But why stop there? How about a paczek filled with … bacon jam. Think about it.)


As the natural enemy of Lipitor, each gut bomb weighs about 13 pounds (OK, 5 ounces) while packing between 400 and 600 calories per single paczek—although no one has ever been known to purchase a single paczek, which would be like buying a single kernel of popcorn at the movies. Consequently, paczki usually only travel in herds of a dozen, with each box offering up to 6,000 in sapid calories. 
As they say in Hamtramck: you don’t have to be Polish to polish off a paczki.

–Tom Greenwood is a columnist for the Detroit News

 

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13 Responses to Polish paczki are Midwest’s last fling before Lent

  1. Avatar of Emily Hilliard
    Emily Hilliard February 6, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    I’m from Northwest Indiana, about 5 minutes from Michigan, and 2 hours from Chicago, and now reside in DC. Though I hadn’t had one in years, I found myself really missing paczki about this time last year, and through some sweet tooth-driven research found that the Woodmoor Pastry Shop in Silver Spring, MD makes an excellent and very authentic variety. Highly recommended for DC-area Midwestern expats, or anyone looking to get their hands on those 13 lbs. gut bombs of dough and jam.

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti February 6, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

      That is great to know, Emily. I haven’t had a good one since I left Detroit back in 1995! The ones you see pictured are from a box I bought at a gourmet shop and they look better than they taste. I may have to take a drive up to Silver Spring.

  2. Avatar of Adri Barr Crocetti
    Adri Barr Crocetti February 7, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

    Oh my. I’ve never heard of these – they sound like the most extraordinary treat ever. I have never seen them here in Los Angeles. Darn. I am always up for deep fried treats. By the way, although I appreciate learning the singular, I bet it is rarely used!

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti February 8, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      Adri ~ I had never heard of paczki until I moved to Detroit to work at The Detroit News. You’re right ~ the singular isn’t used, just it rarely is with Italian biscotti and gnocchi.

  3. eve February 8, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Cleveland, heart of the MidWest, full of Eastern European delights, I was lucky enough to enjoy one of these tasty custard cream-filled treats last night for… dessert before a non-existant dinner? It was wonderful, still a bit warm, and each one was unique. These were handcrafted, irregular fried beauties. So not Dunkin’.

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti February 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

      Eve, your description is making me crave one ~ a good one. And it’s also making me want to take a road trip to Cleveland. Got any must-go-to places in case I get there on my way to MI next summer?

    • Avatar of Michele Kayal
      Michele Kayal February 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      Eve!! I’m so happy to see you here!! And why have you been withholding these magnificent confections all these years? The heck with the foie gras! Next Thanksgiving you best show up with some pacsektieshrica (i can’t spell.) Thanks for commenting — don’t forget to join the community. We need your voice.. xxxxx michele

  4. Avatar of Gretchen
    Gretchen February 10, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    My father used to bring paczki back to St Louis on his many trips to Chicago, this was back in the late 60s when I was a child.
    They were always a much loved treat, I just recently found a source for them from a local bakery, I am happy to report!

  5. Anne February 14, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    I had the pleasure of making 100′s of “ponzkas” (they spell it all different in this polish area of Stevens Point, WI) with one of the famous local makers “Clarence” I couldn’t believe his passioin for these tasty treats. After taking one right from the fryer to my mouth-it was HEAVEN to my taste buds, I realized why he was one of the masters in the area. Clarence would make dozens and dozens for the church bingos, bake sales or just make them for his grandchildren. He passed away a few years ago, but the week before every Lent, they are selling them all over the area, I fondly think of Clarence. I agree, they just aren’t the same once they are packaged.

  6. amanda February 14, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Very popular in the Buffalo, NY area too, which is home to a large and vibrant Polish-American community.

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