Paczki (Polish Doughnuts)

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki! It’s said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki!  It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

Add Paczki to the list of things I’d never heard of until we moved north. Every year during the weeks leading up to Lent, our grocery stores have stacks and stacks of these treats on tables near the front door. I’m talking about stacks so large that you just have to stop and stare. At first glance, they looked like large filled donuts. Clearly I needed to learn more about these treats that I couldn’t pronounce!

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki!  It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

Babka was another baked item that I’d never seen until we moved north. However, at least I was somewhat familiar with babka thanks to the classic Seinfeld episode. Paczki, though? Nope. Never heard of it. Perhaps Seinfeld missed an opportunity there – a follow-up episode where he goes to buy a cream-filled paczki only to see the lady in front of him buy the last one. I can see Elaine fretting about jelly-filled paczki being “the lesser paczki.”

What are Paczki?

So what are paczki anyways? Paczki (pronounced “pownch-key”)are essentially Polish donuts. They are pieces of yeasted dough that are fried and then stuffed with a variety of fillings. In Poland, rose hip jam or plum jam are common fillings. Here in the United States, a whole variety of fillings can be found – strawberry, raspberry or blueberry jam, custard filling, lemon curd, chocolate and even Nutella. Nutella-filled doughnut? *Mind blown*

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki!  It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

In Poland, paczki are traditionally eaten on Fat Thursday, the last Thursday before the beginning on Lent. However, in the US, these sugary treats are more commonly eaten on Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lent. For me, Fat Tuesday is reserved for king cakes and all things Mardi Gras, so I opt for the Polish tradition of Fat Thursday.

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki!  It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

Speaking of Polish traditions, a Polish proverb states “Those who don’t eat a stack of paczki on Fat Thursday will have an empty barn and their field destroyed by mice.” Note the word stack. Challenge accepted!

Paczki (Polish Doughnuts)

Paczki dough is a rich, yeasted dough. It’s said that these treats are a way to use up any extra lard and oil prior to the start of Lent. I opted for the traditional fried version in this recipe, and I filled half with jam and half with custard. While the jam-filled version was tasty, I have to say that the custard version was far and away my favorite. Then again I don’t like jelly-filled doughnuts. Homer Simpson would not approve.

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki!  It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

I will admit that making these treats at home is a bit of a labor of love. It’s not a difficult recipe at all, however the dough does need to rise a couple of times. And of course there’s the frying aspect. It’s probably a good thing that it’s a pain to clean up after frying food – otherwise I’d do it more often!

I will say that homemade paczki beat the pants off of the store-bought version. Paczki are wildly popular in the Midwest and in Chicago in particular. If you live in that area of the country (like my buddy Jeff the Chef), then you can probably find amazing store-bought paczki.

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki! It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

As I don’t live in the Midwest, I found that the store-bought version were dense, dry and flavorless. If I’m going to indulge in a huge filled doughnut, then I want it to taste good! That means homemade is the way to go.

If you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate Fat Thursday or Fat Tuesday, then make a batch of these homemade Paczki. After all, you don’t want your field to be destroyed by mice, do you?

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki! It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

Paczki (Polish Doughnuts)

Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki! It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.
5 from 5 votes
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Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Rising Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 351kcal

Ingredients

For the Paczki

  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • tsp active dry yeast i.e. 1 packet
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar divided
  • 2 large egg yolks room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour divided
  • vegetable or canola oil for frying

{optional} For Jam Filling

  • 1 cup fruit jam

{Optional} For Custard Filling

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk divided
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

For the Paczki

  • Using a microwave or small sauce pan, warm the milk. (Note: Do not overheat the milk as that will kill the yeast. The ideal temperature is 105-110°F, or milk that feels just warm to the touch.)
  • Stir yeast into warm milk; let sit for 5 minutes.
  • Using a countertop mixer, cream together butter and ¼ cup of granulated sugar until light and fluffy (~2-3 minutes on medium speed). (Note: The remaining ½ cup of sugar will be used for coating the paczki after they are fried.)
  • Add egg yolks, vanilla and salt; mix on low speed until well combined.
  • Add 1½ cups of flour; mix on low speed until well combined.
  • Add milk and yeast mixture; mix on low speed until well combined.
  • Add remaining 1½ cups of flour; mix on low speed until well combined. (Note: The dough should be soft, but not sticky. If it is sticky, add up to ¼ cup of additional flour.)
  • Transfer dough into an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm location until doubled in size. (Note: This will take at least 1 hour, but could take up to 2 hours.)
  • Transfer dough to a lightly-floured work surface and fold several times. Return dough to oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 45 more minutes.
  • Transfer dough to a lightly-floured surface and roll into a ~9”x9” square (½” thick).
  • Using a 3” round biscuit cutter, cut rounds of dough and transfer to a parchment lined sheet pan. Reroll remaining dough and continue cutting 3” rounds until all of the dough has been used.
  • Cover dough lightly and let rest in a warm location until doubled in size (~30-45 minutes).
  • Using a Dutch oven or a deep fryer, heat oil to 350°F.
  • Working in batches of 3-4 at a time, carefully lower dough into hot oil. For 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip paczki over and continue frying for 1-2 more minutes, or until golden brown.
  • Transfer cooked paczki to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool for 30 seconds. While still hot, roll fried paczki in remaining ½ cup of granulated sugar (from above). Let paczki cool completely.
  • Repeat process until all paczki are fried. (Note: Wait several minutes in between rounds of flying so that the oil can return to 350°F.)
  • {Optional} Once cooled, poke a hole in the side of the paczki. Using a pastry bag, fill with desired jam or custard. (Note: Paczki are best eaten the day they are made.)

For the Custard Filling

  • Using a medium heatproof bowl, add egg yolks, flour and sugar; whisk until well combined.
  • Add ¼ cup of milk; whisk until well combined. Set mixture aside.
  • Pour remaining milk (¾ cup) into a small saucepan. Add vanilla extract; stir until well combined.
  • Place saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring often.
  • Once simmering, slowly pour the hot milk into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly while you pour.
  • Return mixture to saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until mixture thickens and begins to boil. Continue cooking for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.
  • Pour/press mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl; press plastic wrap to the surface of the custard. Let custard cool to room temperature.
Celebrate Fat Thursday in style with a batch of homemade Paczki!  It's said that eating a stack of paczki brings good luck for the coming year.

Looking for more tasty doughnut recipes? Check out these other favorites, too:

Did you make a batch of these Paczki at home? Leave a comment or snap a photo and tag me on Instagram (@Spicedblog) – I’d love to see your version!

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20 Comments

  1. Cant wait to make this soon for the paczki can i use almond milk and vegan butter i never had polish doughnuts before as polish doughnuts is not popular in Singapore also can i airfired this and i will be making your potato chips tomorrow after work love your recipes as always brightens up my day everyday after work

    1. So I don’t know how almond milk and vegan butter would work in a yeasted dough recipe like this, Ramya…but I say give it a try! Same with the air fryer. I just don’t know if it would work. If you do try it out, let me know!!

  2. 5 stars
    I’ve never really heard of Paczki, either. But when you noted this word is pronounced “pownch-key”…which is a very close to ponch-key (Direct meaning: “donuts”). I keep forgetting that some European languages are so much connected 🙂
    Anyway, these donuts sound luscious and look fantastic. Great job!

    1. Interesting point about the languages here, Ben – it doesn’t surprise me too much. Either way, these donuts are really tasty. Way better than the stuff we find in the grocery stores here! Haha!

  3. 5 stars
    I’ve never tried Polish doughnuts before, so I am clearly missing out. And, you know what? I’ve had such a craving for donuts lately. No joke. So, I think this is a sign that I need to give these a go. Best enjoyed the day they are made you say? Absolutely no problem there. 😉

    1. Well that sounds like perfect timing to me, Dawn! I mean donuts are always a welcome treat…and why not make donuts that are appropriate for this time of the year. I mean you don’t want your field to be destroyed by mice, do you? 🙂

  4. 5 stars
    So neat, I’ve never actually heard of Fat Thursday or these doughnuts… but it looks like I’ll have to add them to my list to make! Now, the question is, is there Fat Friday… or Saturday, Sunday, and Monday too? 😉

    1. So Mardi Gras is literally translated as “Fat Tuesday.” And, yes, there is a Fat Monday, too – the day before Mardi Gras is known as Lundi Gras or Shrove Monday. Fun facts to know and share! 🙂

    1. I’d echo that comment…and I’ll even throw in the thought that I enjoy baked donuts, too! But these are the real-deal. They’re delicious!

  5. I remember these from my childhood. They were delicious, I loved them even though I didn’t have much of a sweet tooth. (I was a weird kid…) Haven’t had them for years, though..

    Btw, I had no idea Fat Thursday was even a thing. I thought it was a typo until I read further. You learn something new every day…

    1. Oh Fat Tuesday is totally a thing! In fact, Fat Tuesday (which is the literal translation of ‘Mardi Gras’) is a state holiday in Louisiana. Now if only the rest of the country would get on that train! Paczki aren’t a Mardi Gras treat as they are Polish in origin…but they totally still hit the indulgence vibe that goes with this time of the year. (Mardi Gras is the last day before Ash Wednesday when Lent starts…so it’s a time to eat and celebrate before starting toning things back for the Lenten season.)

  6. David – hahah – thank you for that awesome shout out! (And yes, I can direct any of you to the best paczki in Chicago, but you’d better pre-order!) I read this post with great enthousiasm, as someone of Polish heritage whose childhood was fully immersed in these customs. And everything you say here is right on, perfect, to a T. Rich! They’re especially, unusually, and spectacularly rich. Otherwise you’re just eating another jelly doughnut. Work! All good Polish food it hard-ass work! It’s an essential part of being Polish! I love cream-filled, too … but jelly is the quintessential paczek. I guess Poles didn’t immigrate to the south in great numbers, so I’m not surprised that you didn’t grow up with this tradition, whereas I, who grew up in the north, find things like King Cakes to be so unusual and exotic. And yes – no one eats just one. Eating paczki is all about indulgence, since you are – if you’re traditional, anyway – about to launch into a 40-day span of austerity. Thanks again, David! Wish I could share a few of these with you!

    1. Ah – so paczki require pre-ordering in your neck of the woods? I guess that doesn’t surprise me. The best king cake bakeries in Louisiana required pre-ordering, too. Of course, you could always find the grocery store king cakes…but those tasted like leftover loaves of white bread with some sugar sprinkled on top. I was intrigued to read about some of the traditional Polish fillings for paczki – rose hip jam? plum jam? I know I’ve never seen paczki around here with those fillings…in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen those fillings at all. Either way, cheers, Jeff! And I’d love to share a few of these with you, too, my friend! Have you ever had a desire to visit Asheville, NC? We’re moving there sometime in the next few months!

      1. Wow! I’ve heard fantastic things about Asheville. I get the impression that for a lot of people, it’s a dream to live there. So congrats! Maybe I’ll show up knocking on your door one of these days. (I know a lot of people bring wine in those instances, but don’t be surprised if I show up with a beef tenderloin for your grill.)

  7. I grew up in Michigan near Detroit and it is a Fat Tuesday staple. I even found some here in at the grocery store in North Carolina; we must have a lot of Midwest transplants. Thanks for the recipe, I will give it a shot this year.

    1. Yes! I’ve heard that paczki are wildly popular there in the Midwest. I’m surprised to learn they’ve made their way down to NC! Granted, it’s been a long time since I grew up there…but still. Kinda fun! However, I suspect that the grocery store version might not be exactly what you’re hoping for. This homemade version does require a bit of work, but oh are these delicious!! 🙂 Cheers, Mickey!

  8. 5 stars
    These paczki are gorgeous, David! They look like they came straight from a bakery. I’m inspired to try them! And that Polish proverb…lol! Save a stack for me!

    1. Thanks so much, Marissa! And, yes, that Polish proverb is the best…I mean anytime someone tells me I should eat a stack of doughnuts, I’m thinking I shouldn’t argue! 🙂

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