I was so caught up in the fever of Valentine’s Day this year – making mugs for besties, baking peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies for care packages, and planning a fun day with Bear – that I totally blew it on Paczki Day! In case this is the first time you’ve encountered the word, paczkis (pronounced PUNCH-key) are basically a glorified Polish jelly donut filled with either a custard or fruit preserve. They usually have a glazed or powdered sugar exterior, though on occasion they’re left plain. The dough is rich and buttery and, in most cases, the pastry is deep-fried.
Pause. Take it in. Maybe wipe away the drool. Do we need to re-cap? Custard, jellies, glaze, powdered sugar, butter, and fried sweet dough. What’s not to love? These decadent little puffs are traditionally made in early February and kept around at some bakeries through Easter Sunday. But official Paczki Day, which traditionally falls on the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (commonly known as Fat Tuesday), is for some bakers the only day in the whole year that they make and sell them! Just a taste of gluttony before that month of fasting and penance. Oh, Catholicism!
While we had plans to track down and sample paczkis from the small handful of locations in the Twin Cities and prepare a formal dossier, we only managed to try two versions. We had a set from our local grocery store last week, which were decent enough for a donut fix. Their fillings were custard, raspberry, and lemon; all a bit too sweet for my tastes and pretty artificial in terms of flavor. Considering the dearth of decent, cheap donuts available though, they definitely filled some sort of void…which was later replaced with some feelings of regret.
We also made it to Sarah Jane’s Bakery in Northeast Minneapolis and sampled their selection – chocolate-covered custard, glazed raspberry and peach. These were much better in that you could taste the butter in the dough and they had that yellow hue that only comes from real eggs. The dough itself was my favorite part, with their glazes also being really delicious and slightly crunchy. I would have been one content cupcake with just a glazed, un-filled paczki, but this is tradition we’re talking about and there are to be no substitutions. The custard and raspberry confiture were average, but the peach paczki really out-shined them both. The woman behind the counter convinced us to try one and I’m glad we gave in because it was the best of the bunch.
Having not been able to seek out paczkis on actual Paczki Day, we missed a few local spots to sample from, but there’s always next year. Considering the number of paczkis we’ve eaten in the last few weeks, coupled with Valentine’s Day sweets and candy, our pancreas are probably all the better for it.
If you’re looking to try making paczkis yourself, this looks like a really fantastic recipe.