In Search of Perfect Pączki


I cannot be in Hamtramck, pączki capital of the world, on this “Pączki Day” (aka Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras) so I decided to seek out the best pączek I could find within a three mile radius of my house in Chicago. As most Polish Americans know, pączki are sinfully fat and sweet jelly doughnuts that are consumed by the thousands in Polish homes in Polish neighborhoods all over America, especially the Midwest. In Chicago, you have to reserve your pączki early or risk losing out.

Pączki are the perfect treat for Tłusty Wtorek—Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday—since they are full of fat and carbs and deep-fried in fat. My grandmother used to make them on the wood stove in our farm house. Although they were delicious, hers did not compare to the works of art Polish bakeries now make of them.

Since I did not want to place a large order, I did not reserve my pączki ahead of time; I did not see the need. First I drove down to the Alliance Bakery on Division Street and bought one large strawberry pączek, then on the Kasia’s Deli on Chicago Avenue where I bought another one. At Kurowski’s Sausage Shop on Milwaukee Avenue, the doughnut racks were stripped bare. Last, I decided to try good old Jewel, Chicago’s ubiquitous grocery store chain, where much to my surprise I found an entire Pączki Day display. However, they were only sold in boxes of six—but I couldn’t resist buying a box anyway.

When I got home, I poured myself a cup of coffee and started sampling. The Alliance Bakery and the Jewel pączki were not authentic in any way—more like giant versions of the jelly doughnuts you can buy at Dunkin’ Donuts (where I did stop and found not even a hint of Pączki Day). I hit the jackpot with Kasia’s pączek. Not surprising, since Kasia’s Deli is a Chicago success story, founded in 1982 by the late Kasia Bober, a Polish immigrant. Kasia’s pączki are rounder, browner, and chewier than the others, exactly the way my grandmother made them.

I own a slew of Polish cookbooks, and one of the best recipes I have found for these traditional delights is in a wonderful memoir/cookbook titled At Hanka’s Table by Hanka Sawka and Hanna Maria Sawka. Highly recommended.

Happy Pączki Day. Now I am quite sure that I will give them up for Lent!

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One Response to “In Search of Perfect Pączki”

  1. Anthony Bukoski says:

    The Super One food store chain in northern Wisconsin/Minnesota sells paczki in colorful red-and-white boxes. The word “paczki” even has the diacritical mark beneath the “a.” Alas, the “paczki” Super One sells are no different from the jelly-doughnuts you mention in your blog post. They’re sure nothing like my grandmothers, aunts, and my mother made. Nevertheless, I appreciate Super One for celebrating Polish custom in this small way. Whereas they take one step forward, they also take one step back. The bakery ALWAYS spells “Warsaw” on its pumpernickel bread as “Warsau.” I suppose someone confuses “Warsaw” with “Wausau,” a city in central Wisconsin.

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