clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

More Than A Jelly Donut: A Brief History Of Paczki In Metro Detroit

New, 1 comment

As an introduction to Paczki Mania, Eater Detroit has asked Emilia Juocys to give a short introduction to paczki and their local history. Emilia grew up Polish, the first U.S. born citizen after her family immigrated after WWII. She's a Polish School dropout who always had to wear her winter Polish costume in the summer because it looked better for parades. She has a deep love for Polish culinary culture and makes a mean Polish feast. She's a Schoolcraft alumni, seasoned in Chicago. She currently works as a Michael Ruhlman assistant, and she's always up for an interesting meal.

Pacski-100.JPG
[Bakery Photography by Chris and Michelle Gerard]

It's that time of year again for Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, so order your King Cake from New Orleans and get ready to eat. Wait. No. Stop. Here in Detroit, Paczki Day is Fat Tuesday, a Lenten tradition shared with the Metro Detroit area by the Polish community (actually any city that has a large Polish community celebrates this day, but it's most popular in Detroit).

What are paczki, and why do people stand in line all night to get these pastries?
A) They are the most heavenly fried pastry one could dream of.
B) It is just what you do if you are from Detroit. No questions asked!
Paczki is a Polish word (already in its plural form, paczek is the singular form) meaning package. Traditionally paczki are made before the Catholic Lent holiday in preparation for Easter. Families were to use all of their sweets and butters before the religious holiday; so paczki were created. But any person who is really from Detroit typically knows about this sacred day and will normally dive head first into devouring multiple paczki in one day.

Saying a paczek is a glorified jelly doughnut could be true, but it really is much more then that. Traditionally speaking paczki are make from a brioche-esque dough and filled with preserves. In my household my Babcia (grandmother in Polish) would fry these suckers up by the dozens, but they were about the size of a baseball and ONLY filled with prune preserves and dusted with powdered sugar. Now when you go down to Hamtramck or any traditional Polish bakery you can find both the traditional and doughnut inspired paczki. The fillings? They very from bakery to bakery. Strawberry, raspberry, lemon, custard, buttercream, etc; the possibilities are endless.

Paczki connects Detroit to the millions of Polish immigrants that came to Detroit after WWII to work in the automotive and agricultural industries. It has actually connected Hamtramck, Detroit and Metro areas together, all to celebrate this fried sugary confection. Back in the day paczki could only be procured in Hamtramck, and then in the late 1980's they wiggled their way into Kroger. Now you can find them all over town and even on the menus at some local restaurants. Make the effort drive to a real Polish bakery and buy them there. Support the local artisans and traditional bakeries.

Get ready for paczki madness in the Detroit area! Long lines, eating contests, and day-long festivities. What more could a city ask for to celebrate?

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater Detroit newsletter

The freshest news from the local food world