Paczkis: The National Pastry of Fat Tuesday!

12 Mar

Here at Breakfast Adventures, we live in a sort of constant state of Pastry Celebration.  Our daydreams and plans for the weekend often revolve around baked goods, and we’re not ashamed to admit it.

Once a year, though, the rest of the country shares our obsession.  We are speaking, naturally, of Fat Tuesday, a day when many Americans rise early to get their hands on paczkis.

Paczkis for Fat Tuesday

In case you didn’t know, paczkis (pronounced PUNCH-key or PONE-CH-key, depending on who you talk to) are a traditional Polish pastry, conceptually similar  to jelly donuts and Boston kremes (see the Wikipedia article here for further explanations).  In Chicago and the surrounding area (where we’re from), we benefit from a large population of Polish inhabitants; there are many great places to pick up some paczkis year-round.

Box full of paczkis: A pretty sight.

This past Tuesday, we got up at the crack of dawn to set out on an adventure.  After gathering a myriad of paczkis from a few nearby bakeries, we returned to the Donut Lair for Pastry Tasting & Analysis.  What follows is the breakdown of our Paczki Tests:

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Bakery #1: Oak Park Bakery

It was only 6:30 AM, but the line was out the door when we arrived at Oak Park Bakery.  We’ve been to this fine establishment before, but like many bakeries, Oak Park Bakery only offers paczkis around this time of year.

Custard Paczki from Oak Park Bakery

Donut Boy: For me, it didn’t get much better than Oak Park Bakery’s fluffy dough.  It managed to contain the various fillings very well, yet was still awesomely yielding upon consumption.  The custard- (see above) and cheese-flavored paczkis were like super-rich Boston kremes.  I also very much liked the poppy, which was a more complex brand of sweet, with a bit of tartness.  Interesting texture, too, with granules of poppy seeds (see below).

Poppy-flavored Paczki from Oak Park Bakery

Coffee Girl: In the interest of full disclosure, I must begin by confessing to the following attitudes: a) life is too short for pastry with fruit, and b) there is nothing that is not improved by the addition of frosting.

As you can easily see, I am not the best candidate for true Paczki Appreciation, inasmuch as most varieties of the pastry include fruit, while few include frosting.  That being said, I agree whole-heartedly with my esteemed colleague in re the pleasant fluffy quality of the pastry dough at Oak Park Bakery.

Bakery #2: Vesecky’s

Second on our To Visit list was Vesecky’s Bakery in Berwyn, IL.  We’ve actually been to Vesecky’s before looking for donuts but were unsuccessful.  We concluded that they must not have any, since they seemed to specialize in Polish pastries.  What we discovered this morning was that we were simply not early enough on our previous visit.  As we stood among the frenzied customers, familiar flavors of donuts caught our eye.  Nevertheless, we stepped up resolutely and grabbed our paczkis before scrambling for the exit.  We will have to return for the donuts another time.

Vesecky's Lemon Custard with Chocolate Frosting

Donut Boy: What I liked most about Vesecky’s was their interesting flavor combinations.  Whereas Oak Park Bakery simply covered each paczki with powdered sugar, Vesecky’s clearly put some thought into combining interesting fillings with frosting and glazes (like their Lemon Custard with Chocolate Frosting — see above).  The dough was a bit heartier.  These paczkis were delicious, but I still preferred Oak Park Bakery’s lighter, airier dough.  That being said, Vesecky’s Vanilla Custard with Frosting (see below) was phenomenal.

Vanilla Custard with Frosting Paczki from Vesecky's

Coffee Girl: While Donut Boy picked Oak Park Bakery as his favorite, this was definitely my favorite emporium of the morning.  With a heavier dough, each paczki had a scrumptious outer layer of buttery crunch.  My two favorite paczkis on Fat Tuesday 2011 were both from Vesecky’s, and one even involved fruit.

Favorite Paczki #1: Vesecky’s poppyseed with maple frosting (see below).  What a weird and wonderful combination, with nice gloppy frosting on the roof and delicately delicious poppyseed paste inside, all in a tasty, crunchy Pastry House.

Vesecky's Poppyseed Paczki with Maple Frosting

Favorite Paczki #2:  Vesecky’s lemon custard with chocolate frosting, which Donut Boy already mentioned earlier.  I don’t even like custard fillings, as a rule.  But here again it was the combination that proved killer.  That and, of course, the presence of frosting.

Bakery #3: Pierre’s

Only a few blocks east of Vesecky’s sits Pierre’s, a very interesting pastry shop that also sells flowers.  Like Vesecky’s, we’ve actually also been to Pierre’s looking for donuts and struck out.  Luckily, we knew for a fact that they carry paczkis for Fat Tuesday, so we made a final stop here before returning to Donut HQ.

Donut Boy: If “blown away” is one end of the Flavor Spectrum, the paczkis from Pierre’s left me firmly at the other.  My objections begin and end with the dough: way, way too chewy.  Upon the first bite, one’s teeth struggle to break through the tough skin and the filling oozes quickly out.  It doesn’t really get any easier from there.  While there are some interesting flavors (strawberry-and-cheese?  Okay!), they are severely compromised by their heinous Dough Packaging.  Some flavors, too, especially the pineapple (see below) were just gross.  Don’t come here on Fat Tuesday.

Pineapple Paczki from Pierre's: Ewww.

Coffee Girl: Don’t come here on Fat Tuesday.

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In closing, we were delighted to have pastries mid-week, especially with the added blessing of a religious connotation (Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian faith).  Paczkis are delicious, but they are undeniably heavier than their secular counterparts in the Donut World.  Good thing they only come once a year.

Until next week!

-CG&DB

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