In February, Chicago goes crazy for 'paczki' as donuts go gourmet

Sat Feb 6, 2016 6:18am EST
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By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicagoans this month are less obsessed with badmouthing Mayor Rahm Emanuel or worries about their sports teams, and more focused on finding the perfect “paczki,” a rich, Polish, donut-type dessert that's taking the high-end dessert market by storm.

Long a staple treat preceding the Catholic fasting period of Lent, the pastries, a no-hole, denser and richer version of the donut, have exploded in popularity in recent years far beyond Chicago's large Polish community to a growing number of high-end, specialty donut shops, bakers and food experts say.

These gourmet bakeries, with names like "Glazed and Infused," are experimenting with new paczki varieties - using key lime pie, jelly made with blood oranges, or white chocolate in place of more traditional plum and rose jelly fillings.

"It's really big this year," said Rebecca Skoch, a food and beverage consultant who organizes the annual "Donut Fest." "Chicago has a great mix of bakers that do classic donuts and newer, avant garde places that aren't afraid to experiment."

Skoch said Chicago is a leader in the gourmet donut trend nationwide, ahead of New York and Portland, so it makes sense that new shops want to take on a local favorite.

Paczki (pronounced "ponchkey" for several and "ponchek" for one), also popular in other Midwest cities like Detroit and Cleveland, differ from North American bismarcks in having an especially rich dough, with eggs, butter, alcohol and sometimes milk.

The dense deep-fried pastries, which do not flatten as they are eaten, date back to the Middle Ages, when people tried to use up ingredients that are avoided during Lent.


"Paczki" donuts are prepared at Delightful Pastries in Chicago, Illinois in this March 11, 2013 handout photo provided by Barbara Gasior Photography on February 3, 2016.  REUTERS/Barbara Gasior Photography/Handout via Reuters