Monday, February 28, 2022

Don’t buy paczki on Paczki Day

Dobra Bielinski, right, with her mother, Stasia Hawryszczuk.

     First, say it right.
     The word “paczki” is not, as I sometimes do, pronounced “pash-key,” like artist Ed Paschke.
     Nor “push-key,” like the Jewish charity box.
     “Punch-key” is close. But not quite.
     “Poinch-key,” said Warsaw-born Dobra Bielinski, of the Polish pastry so ethereal it has its own holiday in Chicago, Paczki Day, Tuesday March 1. “That’s how you properly pronounce it.”
     Bielinski is pastry chef and owner of Delightful Pastries, 5927 Lawrence Ave., and with my fierce commitment to shoe leather reporting, I sat down with her Friday to talk and eat paczki — the word is plural. “Paczek” is singular, though good luck limiting yourself to one. I couldn’t.
     Second, they’re not doughnuts.
     “What’s the difference between a paczki and a doughnut?” asked Bielinski. “Doughnuts have water and yeast and whatever the hell they put in. They’re very, very sweet. Paczki are not very sweet. There’s butter, eggs and milk inside the dough. That’s very important.”
     “Because they’re part of the cleaning out of ingredients in your house,” added James Beard Award-winning chef Gale Gand, who Bielinski worked under as a young baker. Gand swung by Delightful Pastries on Friday to join us.
     Paczki Day is also known as Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday,” the blowout before the 40-day denial of Lent.
     “Certain old-school Catholics don’t do desserts,” Bielinski said. “I don’t see them in my store except to buy bread.”
     Third: It’s what’s around the fillings that’s important.
     “We eat paczki for the dough, not the filling,” Bielinski said. “Polish people judge paczki by the dough. The filling is the cherry on the top.”
     Though not actual cherry, at least not here. Bielinski sells the trinity of traditional fillings, “The Pantheon” she calls it: raspberry preserves, rose petal jelly and plum butter, augmented by 10 more haute flavors, like salted caramel and apricot, fresh strawberry and custard topped with chocolate fudge, not to forget her “drunken” paczki in flavors like lemon and moonshine or Jameson whiskey with chocolate custard.
     A reminder that, fourth: Don’t underestimate the sophistication of a bakery just because it’s Polish.

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  1. Fascinating. I had never heard of Paczki, until I moved to the Southwest Side, even though there were enough Polish kids on my block (East 78th Street) to provide non-Polish speakers with a few juicy Polish swear words. And until just now, I thought Paczki and Bismarks were the same thing.


  2. Chicago-born, Chicago bred, lived half my life in Chicago. I'm Polish, Russian, and Lithuanian. And yet, I never heard of paczki until I moved to Cleveland, with its own large Polish population, in the early Nineties. It didn't become a really big city-wide deal here until maybe twenty years ago. I grew up snarfing on Bismarcks, which are not the same thing. Coulda fooled me. I didn't know the difference until fairly recently. Unlike paczki, Bismarcks are sweet.

    According to, a Bismarck is a type of filled pastry that resembles a doughnut without a hole. Bismarcks are typically made of yeast dough fried in lard, filled with fruit jam, and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of icing glaze. The nickname originated in Germany, where they were a favorite snack of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who was responsible for uniting Germany following a series of wars in the mid-1800s.

    German immigrants brought the recipe and terminology to America, and filled doughnuts are still commonly referred to as Bismarcks in the Midwest--including Chicago. A Bismarck is also known as a Berliner, hence JFK's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" or "I am a jelly doughnut" speech, in June of 1963.

  3. Half Polish descent myself and never encountered a paczki until I started workin with a recent polish immigrant who's wife worked in a bakery. not a fan .

  4. The Bismarks of my childhood on the south side were oblong, almost rectangular, as opposed to round and I don't think they were filled. We had a pastry looks like paczki, but we called them jelly donuts. They were round, sprinkled with sugar on the outside with a jelly filling. Never heard the word paczki until maybe the last 5 years.

  5. I try to stay away from the delectables of my Polish culture but now I can't stop thinking "poinch-key." I may have to go get some and I am sure, with a good cup of coffee, they will be worth it.

  6. Thanks for "taking one for the team". If I was there I would have eaten them all. But like others here have mentioned, if you asked me what a paczki was 10 years ago, I would have no idea. But first time I had one it was love at first bite.


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