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Paczki: A Polish Treat That Comes Once A Year

It’s pronounced “poonch-key” and you better not call it a donut. But what is this Polish sweet treat and why the fuss every year?
by Eric Gibson | Updated: February 15, 2023

A short read on our long adventures.

This story originally ran on our sister site, Brewhoppin. It has been updated with even more delicious paczki love.

I knew something was up when all the area bakeries had lines out the door well before dawn.  

“Seems like a lot of fuss for some King Cake,” I mused.  I would be wrong.  

In northern Ohio, where Polish blood runs thick, they celebrate Fat Tuesday with a different dessert.  Without the tiny baby choking hazard. And it is definitely not just a donut. It’s the paczki.

Similar in shape and appearance to a jelly donut, the paczki features a much sweeter yeast and egg dough, richer and heavier than other pastries. And a dash of Spiritus for good measure.  Insides are full of fruit fillings that vary from apple and cherry to more obscure flavors like apricot and prune. Powdered sugar tops them, but variations can be found glazed or iced.   

“But why the fuss?” I scoff.  It turns out these elusive pastries only come once a year.  Hysteria ensues for good reason.

The celebration, Paczki Day, falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the end of worldwide celebrations and the beginning of Lent for Catholics. There are even parades in some parts of the midwest.  Why wouldn’t you have a parade!?

The Best paczki

Rudy’s Strudel and Bakery

Just outside of Cleveland, OH in Polish Village, Rudy’s Strudel and Bakery has been the definitive paczki purveyor. This year they celebrate 75 years in business so the party will be huge.

While the humble paczki might not carry the same weight that a clutch of beads and a colorful king cake or beignet might have, we don’t care.  Not at all.  

I’ve quickly learned to stop being surprised when the mixed bag of heritage and food traditions of the Rust Belt combine into amazing feasts and celebrations. The food has never disappointed and the revelries have always been spirited.  

Na zdrowie!

Most local bakeries in the mid-west carry the paczki this time of year, but if you are reading this we assume they are already sold out.  However, with a little sleuthing, they can be found year-round.  We will update this as we find them.

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