If you were with me in Houston, you may remember kolaches, those fruit and cream filled Czech pastries so popular in East Texas—here in Chicago, it’s paczki. Last Tuesday was Paczki Day—picture, if you will, a plump donut made with an eggy, yeasty dough, deep fried until golden brown, poked and filled to the bursting with preserves or pastry cream, then sugar-glazed, and finally iced with frosting, sprinkled with powdered sugar, or both. Available only on Fat Tuesday, a paczki may be the best possible pre-Lenten indulgence.
I listened to a local radio piece about them Tuesday morning and thus began my paczki adventure. Before we set out, a word about the word itself. How would you pronounce paczki—packs ski, pak zi, pakz kee? Oh no, it’s pōhnsch key—with an long o, an n, and a sch. I guess that pronunciation shouldn’t come as a surprise. Mike Shih shef ski, Duke University’s Polish basketball coach, spells his name, Krzyzewski—now where does the K, the R, the Z, and the EW fit in?
Anyways, both the Chicago Tribune and WBEZ, my radio companion, warned that today was the only day in the year that paczki would be available, that I’d better have my pre-order in, and that lines were already forming, so I skipped my swim for the better good. I Googled “Chicago’s best paczki,” but Dinkle’s and Bridgeport Bakery both required a 45-minute Red Line ride, so I kept scrolling and found Do-Rite Do-nuts, a ten minute walk from the hotel. The media was right—lines were formed, I hadn’t placed an order, and they were already out of strawberry buttercream, Fat Elvis, and lemon curd. I gratefully settled on four Glazed Chocolate Nutella paczki, four Frosted Raspberry Cream paczki, and threw in a couple Buttermilk Old Fashioneds.
Paczkis are traditionally shared, so I stopped at our hotel’s valet kiosk where Dimitri and Hector rock/paper/scissored to choose a Nutella. Next stop, the front desk where one raspberry and one Nutella vanished. A guest from Pittsburg checking in didn’t hesitate to pick his favorite, a raspberry. Lupe the housekeeper also wanted a raspberry, leaving me a Nutella to immediately consume with a glass of milk (the recommended beverage), plus two for later.
Sorry Houston, so much for kolaches. And you Portland, meet the paczki—even better than a Voodoo Doughnut.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (2 standard sized envelopes)
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 5 cups (22.5 ounces) all purpose flour
- 4 eggs yolks plus one whole egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 quarts canola oil for frying
- 1 1/2 cups of your favorite preserves
- 1 cup powdered sugar for dusting
In a small saucepan heat milk to between 110 an 115°F. Pour warmed milk into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Dissolve yeast in milk. Add one Tablespoon sugar and two cups of flour. Mix until consistency of pancake batter then cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to allow yeast to activate. Let rest for 30 minutes or until starter is very bubbly.
In a medium bowl combine egg and yolks. Whisk until light and frothy, about 4 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup sugar, salt and vanilla.
Slowly stir cooled melted butter into yeast starter until combined. Then slowly incorporate egg mixture until just combined. Fit mixer with dough hook. Stir in flour, working 1/2 a cup in at a time until a soft dough comes together. Note: this dough is very sticky.
Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and transfer dough to bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until double in size. About an hour.
Turn out dough on a very generously floured surface. Dust surface of dough with flour then punch down dough to about half an inch high. Using a floured two- or three-inch biscuit cutter, cut out doughnuts. Carefully transfer doughnut rounds to parchment lined baking sheets. Cover sheets with a clean dish towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Pour canola oil into a large dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat oil to 360°F. Once oil reaches the proper temperature use a heat resistant spatula or shallow strainer to carefully drop doughnuts in, one at a time, cooking a maximum of 3 at once. Cook doughnuts until a warm, deep brown on one side, then using heat resistance tongs turn the doughnut and cook the other side until it reaches the same degree of doneness. Remove from oil letting any excess oil drain off then transfer to a wire rack for cooling. Test your first doughnut to make sure that the insides are completely cooked, if not adjust your cooking time accordingly. Let doughnut cool.
Prepare a wide and shallow bowl with powdered sugar. Fill your pastry bag with your favorite preserves and fit the bag with a filling tip. Pipe filling into pączki then dip each side in powdered sugar until covered