Paczkis (Poonch-Keys), the yeast raised, fried donuts often filled with jams and creams, are a Fat Tuesday tradition that are enjoyed before pre-Easter fasting begins. They are a Polish tradition, so any city with a large Polish or Polish-American population, like Chicago, is going to be freshly frying up these donuts as demand requires. Depending on the neighborhood, the Thursday before Mardi Gras is often considered the official Paczki Day, but most commonly it's celebrated on Fat Tuesday itself, which falls on February 13th this year.
I'm think I'm late to the party, because it seems like everyone I know already has a love affair with these delicious treats. If you're new to (or even a seasoned expert on) this edible tradition, there's always more to learn. Let's discover what they are, how to pronounce them, and how to make them from scratch.
I've realized that this tradition is a really, really big deal here in Chicago, and everyone wants to get their hands on a freshly-fried paczki all at the same time. So, careful planning in advance seems to be a necessary step to avoid any disappointment. If you’re going with the Polish bakery version, you're looking at detailed order forms, strict deadlines, and then waiting in a long line for pick-up.
I love a good donut like anyone else, but I'm not sure I’m willing to spend my time waiting in line in the freezing cold. So what's my solution? Make them from scratch! The recipe makes more than one, two, three or even four people can eat, so invite some friends over and have your own Paczki Party! Alternatively, you can come to The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square on Saturday, February 10th for our Paczki Party class! We'll take care of the set up and clean up, so all you’ll need to focus on is learning how to make the dough, how to properly deep fry and fill these beauties, and, best of all, eat the freshly-fried donuts.
I made the recipe at home last weekend, and OMG! The Paczki totally exceeded my expectations. Not only did the dough come together beautifully, the final product was seriously outstanding! The Paczki were light, fluffy, beautiful and delicious. My husband and kids were freaking out! We ate them for both breakfast and lunch that day.
Yield: Approximately 2 dozen
Active time: 1 hour
Start to finish: 3 hours
2 cups milk, 110º to 120º
4 1/2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
1 pinch granulated sugar
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, divided
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Additional flour for dusting
Oil for frying
1 1/2 cups fruit preserves
Granulated sugar, for coating
1 recipe Pastry Cream
Powdered sugar, for dusting
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, stir together the warm milk, yeast and a pinch of sugar. Allow to stand for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture becomes bubbly. This step is to ensure the yeast is alive.
2. Add 2 cups of flour, and stir until you have a smooth batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm spot for about 30 minutes. The mixture should have risen and be very bubbly.
3. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract and salt.
4. Add the egg mixture to the yeast mixture, and using the dough hook, mix until mostly combined. Add the melted butter and 3 additional cups of flour.
5. Knead, adding more flour as needed, until the dough comes together, 5 to 7 minutes.
6. Transfer the bowl to a lightly oiled bowl. And cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm spot, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
7. Turn the dough out on a floured surface, and dust the top with flour. Roll the dough to a 1/2-inch thickness.
8. Using a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds and place on a parchment-lined and lightly flour-dusted sheet tray. Gather up the scraps and re-roll the dough to make more donuts.
9. Lightly dust the tops of the donuts with flour, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to proof for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
10. While the dough is proofing, heat your oil. Pour enough oil in a heavy, wide pan to come half way up the sides. Heat the oil until it reaches 350º on a deep-fry thermometer.
11. Carefully place 4 to 5 donuts in the pan, and fry until the bottoms are golden brown. Using a skimmer, turn the donuts over, and continue to fry until the second side is golden brown.
12. Using the same skimmer, transfer the paczki to a rack set over a sheet tray to drain.
13. Allow the temperature come back up to 350º before frying the next batch of paczki.
14. Once the paczki are cool enough to handle, begin filling them:
- For the jam-filled paczki: Place the fruit preserves in a piping bag fitted with a medium round tip. Poke the tip into the side of 12 paczki, and gently squeeze to fill the donuts. Roll these paczki through the granulated sugar.
- For the custard-filled paczki: Place the custard in a piping bag fitted with a medium round tip. Poke the tip into the side of the remaining paczki, and gently squeeze to fill the donuts. Dust these paczki with powdered sugar.
15. Enjoy right away!
Because this is such a well-known tradition in Chicago, our class on February 10th is selling out quickly. Click here to sign up for the class, and we'll make it easy for you to be a part of this delicious tradition.