Paczkis: What Are Paczkis?

February 21, 2012 by staff 

Paczkis: What Are Paczkis?, It used to be you had to be Polish to know what a paczki was — and you had to know where to get one. But all over the Midwest today, break rooms and kitchen counters are laden with paczkis.

A paczki (pronounced poonch-key) is a jelly donut that’s served on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

In Poland’s Roman Catholic culture, paczkis were baked to use up lard and sugar in advance of the Lenten period of fasting and abstinence. The custom dates back as far as the 1600s, according to author Joseph Zurawski.

When I was growing up in Michigan, you could only get paczkis in Hamtramck, the Polish-American enclave of Detroit.

Obtaining them was akin to getting into a speakeasy during Prohibition. You had to know somebody who knew somebody who baked them and was willing to stand in line to get them.

Now, paczkis are everywhere, from specialty bakeries to every day grocery stores, and they’ve become a Fat Tuesday custom from Buffalo to Green Bay.

At our Midwest public media project Changing Gears, we estimate that millions of paczkis are likely to be sold around the Great Lakes today. The Oak Mill bakery, with six outlets around Chicago, expects to sell 80,000. And it’s not a light treat. According to, a typical paczki weighs in at 425 calories and 25 grams of fat.

Like everything else that takes flight in America, paczkis have evolved a good deal from the original jelly donut with a fruit filling. Here are some paczki tidbits.

Flavors: Paczki traditionally came in flavors like prune, raspberry and lemon. But we’ve heard of bacon paczki, rose-petal paczki and we’re expecting a delivery tonight of paczki filled with chocolate. Beyond those, there are now “gourmet paczki” which are cut in two, and arranged to display a cream filling along with strawberries or something else fancy.

Size: The paczki we saw growing up were about the size of a conventional jelly donut, or along the lines of a hockey puck. Now, paczki as are big as the powdered-sugar covered softballs sold by the Manchester Bakery in Manchester, Mich. We haven’t tracked down a cake sized paczki just yet, but we know that if there are cake-sized whoopie pies, somebody has fried up a cake-sized paczki.

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