Pączki: My Big Fat Polish Donut

Pączki: My Big Fat Polish Donut

Lemon, custard and strawberry paczki tempt...

Lemon, custard and strawberry paczki tempt…

Tuesday, February 13 is Pączki Day and with the Detroit area’s large Polish population this annual tradition has not only thrived, but it’s been embraced beyond its ethnic roots to all nationalities, religions—anyone needing a reason to indulge in a deep-fried donut at least once a year.

paczki-sign_9726Polish pączki (say it poonch-key) evolved from the tradition of using up all the fats and sugars for a pre-Lenten splurge before the period of fasting mandated by the Catholic church.

On Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the lines for pączki form early at bakeries in Hamtramck, the original homebase for Polish immigrants to the Detroit area.

Although now home to a broader international population, the city retains a connection to its roots through a few remaining ethnic restaurants, shops, St. Florian Roman Catholic Church (on Poland Street!) and the Polish Art Center. But you needn’t trek to Hamtramck; this donut holiday is so popular that pączki are available throughout the state, as I’ve found since we moved to the Upper Peninsula. paczki

TJ is Polish, and some of my best friends are Polish—heck, our kids are 49% Polish— so I feel obligated to eat pączki each year.

Funny, though, how selective we who are not Polish can be about traditions and foods. Somehow, plump blobs of deep-fried dough stuffed with jelly or custard and covered with a sugar glaze or powdered sugar are worth clamoring for; czarnina (Duck Blood Soup), not so much.

You can find paczki at grocery stores in both peninsulas, and that’s what we’ll have to settle for in our bakery-free neck of the woods. Although Jack’s Fresh Market in Manistique has a great in-house bakery and I’m sure their paczki will be good, I wonder if we can convince the local Amish ladies, who make delish donuts, to venture into paczki-making next year?

If you’re in the area of a paczki-pumping bakery I’d recommend dropping by for a freshly made, once-a-year splurge of a big fat Polish donut. Or two. Everyone’s got their favorite bake shop; here are some I recommend:


Cuddly, calorie-free paczki

In the Detroit area:

Sweetheart Bakery (Harper Woods) makes thousands of paczki in about a dozen fillings, including custard, lemon, strawberry, raspberry, Bavarian creme, buttercream and prune.

For the authentic  Hamtramck experience head to the New Palace Bakery or New Martha Washington Bakery.

And outside of the Detroit area:

Ann Arbor: Zingerman’s Bakehouse

Clare (with “precincts” in Gaylord and Ludington: Cops & Doughnuts

Grayling: Goodale’s Bakery

Ishpeming and Marquette:  Huron Mountain Bakery

Petoskey: Johans Pastry Shop

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Sweetheart Bakery turns out thousands of the pre-Lenten pastries in several flavors

Sweetheart Bakery turns out thousands of the pre-Lenten pastries in many yummy flavors


Story and photos are copyright Kath Usitalo and may not be used without permission


This is an updated version of an older post, “My Big Fat Polish Donut”