What is a paczki? They are yeasty deep fried pieces of dough shaped into rounds and filled with sweet jellies and creams. Traditional filling flavors include: raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, apple, and custard cream. Paczki are usually covered in powdered sugar or covered with an icing or glaze.
These little doughnuts originated in Poland in the middle ages. In Poland, the paczki are eaten on Fat Thursday, the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.
In Chicago, paczki are eaten on Fat Tuesday, Fat Thursday, and even on Casimir Pulaski Day. In some areas, there are paczki eating contests. In Evanston, Illinois, this contest started in 2010 and is held on the Wednesday before Fat Tuesday.
I had never heard of these treats until I moved to the Chicago area. The first year, I remember going to the local grocery store and seeing at least 100 boxes of powdered sugar doughnuts labeled “Paczki”.
When I got to work the next day, I asked around as to what these doughnuts were and was quickly corrected by my Polish coworker that they are pronounced (Punch-Keys), not (Pack-Zee). She also gave me the inside scoop on how her family makes them, but only fills them with prunes. I am sure my face said it all because she just busted out laughing.
That evening, I decided that I was going back to the grocery to buy a box of the delicacies. I arrived at 5pm and they were all sold out! I couldn’t believe it. There were tons of boxes in that store the day before. Within 24 hours they were all gone! I went to work the next day and told everyone about my unfortunate experience.
The same coworker who corrected me the day before told me about a bakery near her home that should still have some left. We called because the bakery was a little far from our office, and they confirmed there were plenty there. After work, off I went to the bakery.
As promised, they still had a bunch. There were at least 5 different flavors. I asked the grandma-looking lady behind the counter which were the best sellers. She said, “The raspberry and the prune.” Ugh, there was that prune again. And, since raspberries taste like perfume to me, I chose a cream filled and a strawberry filled.
I quickly scurried home so that I could enjoy them in privacy. I grabbed a butter knife from the kitchen and cut each of them into halves. I decided to try the strawberry one first. It was a nice light doughnut, but the filling was really thick and gummy.
Next, I took a bite of the cream filled. The custard was creamy and not that sweet, which was good. However, I would have liked to have a little chocolate on the top instead of just powdered sugar. Oh well, I still ate the whole cream filled one and called it a night.
I didn’t hate or love them in the end. Krispy Kreme doughnuts had always been my favorite doughnuts and still were. However, over time these doughnuts keep coming back to our local store. Each year I would take a pass reminding myself that I didn’t love them.
Fast forward a bit and now I have kids. Yeah, it seemed kind of fast, but this is just a blog article and not a book. Now they want to try these notorious paczki doughnuts. My mother-in-law has talked them up and now my kids are practically drooling.
So, I decided to try and make them. The first time was an epic fail. I didn’t realize it, but my yeast didn’t activate. They ended up like rock hard beignets. The next time they worked out much better.
I still prefer a smaller sized paczki than what you will find in the grocery stores and bakeries. Primarily this is because I like to try several different flavors before getting a sugar rush. Some of our favorites are filled with cherry, strawberry, and of course a cream. Keep in mind, I try to use homemade jams and my cream is a lighter version of the custard.
Paczki, like all doughnuts, are best on the day they are made. But, they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. (Cream filled should be refrigerated.)
I hope you enjoy this one as much as we have. Also, if you try this recipe, please let me know how it went and what flavors you created.
Helpful Tips I Wish I Would Have Known:
- Make sure that you don’t overheat your milk. If the temperature is over 110 degrees you will kill your yeast and the doughnuts will not rise.
- You will have to find a “warm place” to allow the dough to rise several times. I turned my oven to the “warm” setting and left it on for about 10 minutes and then turned it off. This was my “warm place” and it worked really well.
- When filling your Paczki, take a bamboo skewer or small utensil to dig out a hole beforehand. Otherwise, you will not have a big enough hole to pipe in the fillings and it will but out the bottom or sides of the doughnut.
Polish Doughnuts – Paczki
- 2 cups whole milk warmed to 104 degrees
- 2 packets active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 5 cups flour
- 1 egg
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Jams for filling
- powdered sugar if desired for rolling
Whipped Cream Filling Ingredients:
- 1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
- 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- Warm milk in microwave to 104 degrees. Be sure to use thermometer to check. Stir in yeast with a tablespoon of granulated sugar to activate. Leave it for 15-20 minutes in a dark warm place. Yeast should be bubbly.
- Add 2 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture with a spoon until combined. It will blend pretty well, but there will still be a few lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for 30 minutes. It is ready when it has risen and bubbly.
- In an electric mixer, beat egg and yolks for about 4 minutes on medium speed. Add sugar, extract, and salt. Continue to beat on medium until thickened and well combined.
- Change out the whisk attachment on the mixer to the dough hook. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture. Mix on low until combined. Add melted butter. Add the remaining 3 cups of flour. Dough will be thick and sticky.
- Once dough has formed, move into a large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for another 30 minutes. It should double in size.
- Move the dough onto a heavily floured workspace. Add additional flour on top of the dough and rolling pin. Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness. Dough should spring back.
- Use a 2 inch cutter to cut dough into rounds. (I used a small jelly jar.) Transfer rounds onto parchment paper lined pans. Make sure you lightly spray parchment paper with cooking spray before adding dough otherwise it will stick. After rolling out all dough and placing onto pans, place in a warm spot for another 30 minutes. (I know, it is kind of a process!)
- Add vegetable oil to fryer or large skillet. (I used a fryer.) Bring oil to 350 degrees. Gently add the doughnuts to the oil once it reaches cooking temperature. Do not overcrowd. I added 4 at a time. They cook up fast so be ready with tongs to turn after about a minute or 2. Remove from oil and place on paper towel lined tray to cool.
- Before attempting to fill the doughnuts allow them to come to room temperature. This will give you time to whip up the cream filling and get your jams in order. When ready, pipe a generous amout of filling into each doughnut. Roll in powdered sugar if desired. Refrigerate any cream filled doughnuts if not eating within a couple of hours. Enjoy!
Whipped Cream Filling Directions:
- Place heavy whipping cream into medium sized bowl and beat with electric mixer until soft peaks form.
- Add vanilla and powdered sugar and beat for another minute until well combined. Enjoy!
Chocolate Ganache Directions:
- Warm heavy whipping cream in the microwave. Do not boil. It took mine only 30 seconds.
- Add chocolate chips to the warm milk and stir until fully dissolved. Enjoy!