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What’s the Deal with Paczki?

A platter of paczki donuts.
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

This year, celebrate Fat Thursday or Fat Tuesday—or every day in between—by indulging in these heavenly polish pastries. These jam-filled delights will have you licking your sticky fingers with glee.

Unfamiliar with paczkis? No worries, let’s dig in and learn all about this sweet treat and a little history about Lent and gluttonous feasting festivities that come before fasting season.

How do You Pronounce Paczki?

Let’s begin with a few essential facts about the word for this Polish jam-filled doughnut. If you are eating one, it is a pączek (PON-check), although it is more commonly called “paczki,” which is the plural form of this word.

In North America, paczki is pronounced a few different ways; some say “PAUNCH-kee” while others prefer to say “POONCH-kee.” No matter how you say it, though, the thing itself is delicious.

What is Paczki?

Fried dough, with a bit of plum jam or rose jam filling inside and coated in a thin sugar glaze—these Polish donuts are to die for. While you can now purchase or make these in a variety of ways, nothing quite beats a tasty and traditional paczek.

Originally, paczki were made to use up your extra, sugar, eggs, fruit, and lard that you had in your home. Once Lent comes around, sweet treats and other rich foods are forbidden as part of the tradition of fasting during the Lenten season.

So, before Lent fasting begins, families made fresh paczki using very rich dough and delicious fillings. They come topped with a sugar glaze, but you can also get them topped with powdered or granulated sugar.

Fat Thursday, or Tuesday?

While Fat Thursday isn’t technically a national holiday, it certainly doesn’t deter people from celebrating with rich and flavorful donuts. The Polish do it right by splurging with these sweet treats.

In Poland, this festivity occurs on the last Thursday before Lent, but in North America, it’s traditionally celebrated on Fat Tuesday instead. In some areas with sizeable Polish immigrant communities, however, like Chicago, Paczki Day is celebrated on both Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday before Lent.

Lent is a time of fasting, and the days that lead up to Ash Wednesday involves feasting and indulging in foods they won’t be able to eat during Lent. We agree with the Polish people— there’s no better way to celebrate with food than with homemade doughnuts.

It is, however, essential to note that an authentic paczek from Poland is much smaller than the Americanized version you may find in the US. When comparing the two, you’ll also notice that only a bit of rose jam or plum jam goes inside. In the US, they are nearly overflowing with varied jelly fillings.

Standard Ingredients in Paczki

Like most recipes passed down, each has its own variation, and each may offer tips or secrets to success. Here is a list of standard ingredients that you’d find in authentic and traditional paczki.

Although not all listed ingredients below go into one recipe, these are ingredients commonly used in paczki recipes.

  • Flour
  • Yeast
  • Egg
  • Egg Yolks
  • Whole milk
  • Water
  • Brandy
  • Butter
  • Vanilla
  • Sugar
  • Salt

We don’t know about you, but that all sounds like the building blocks of something pretty yummy and indulgent.

Traditional and Non-traditional Fillings

Paczski donuts on a wire cooling rack, freshly dusted with powered sugar.
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

In Poland, stewed plum jam or wild rose hip jam are the two most traditional fillings; however, paczki can often get stuffed with several different contents. Here are a few other non-traditional fillings:

  • Stewed plum jam (Traditional)
  • Wild Rose Hip Jam (Traditional)
  • Blueberry jam
  • Raspberry jam
  • Strawberry jam
  • Apricot
  • Lemon curd
  • Apple jam or compote
  • Custards
  • Bavarian cream

Whether you opt for a traditional or non-traditional filling, it all sounds quite delicious, no?

Paczki Recipes to Try

Paczki from JoCooks: This recipe is perfect for someone making paczki for the first time. There are several images and a super helpful video tutorial as well. The author lists out several filling options and even includes Nutella as a possibility. How delicious.

Get the Recipe: Jo Cooks

Paczki from Seasons & Suppers: Your goal may be to find an authentic recipe for this delicious Polish pastry. If that’s the case, have a gander. As mentioned, traditional paczki usually gets topped with sugar glaze, but this author likes to roll it in granulated sugar for texture. Take the authenticity to another level and fill each paczek with stewed plum jam.

Get the Recipe: Seasons and Suppers

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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