If you've never heard of "paczki" before, no worries - not a lot of people have. But these fried, jelly-filled pastries are becoming a local Fat Tuesday tradition, thanks in part to Chicago's large Polish population.
At first glance paczki may look just like large, jelly-filled doughnuts, but in actuality, they're much richer and denser than anything you'd find at your corner Dunkin' Donuts. Typically eaten during the last day before Lent (in Poland, they're actually eaten on Fat Thursday the week before), paczki are traditionally made up of sugar, lard, eggs and fruit. It was the best way for the Polish to get rid of these forbidden kitchen standards before Lent. They call it "Fat Tuesday" for a reason.
So if you want to add these pastries to your Mardi Gras celebrations, here's a list of bakeries in the Chicago area serving these Polish treats.
This Northwest Side bakery is proud of its paczki; you won't find imitation donuts here. The staff makes traditional and original Polish paczki all year round (though you can only get the "boozy custard" ones this time of year). Flavors for 95 cents include apricot, blueberry, raspberry and plum. Those filled with rose petal jelly go for $1.15, while a fresh strawberry paczki with whipped cream is only $1.50.
This South Side bakery has always been known for its daily-fresh pastries. It's no different for paczki here. Bridgeport Bakery offers a wide range of flavors at really low prices. Flavors include apricot, apple, butter with chocolate, lemon, peach and prune (85 cents each). Whipped cream-filled are $1.10 and strawberry whipped-cream are $1.25.
Alliance Bakery and Cafe
Though this bakery and cafe prides itself on its upscale and decadent desserts, you'll still find a good selection of the fried Polish pastry here, sold individually for $1.35. Filling flavors include apple, blueberry, cheese, poppy seed, raspberry and rose.
Weber's is celebrating Paczki Day by offering 14 varieties of the pastry. Flavors include custard with chocolate top and powdered top, strawberry, apple-cinnamon and lemon. New additions include blueberry, fresh strawberry with chocolate top and fresh strawberry with white top. Each pastry is only 85 cents, but buy a dozen and you'll get a 13th treat free. Who says gluttony is a bad thing?
Oak Mill Bakery
Along with towering wedding cakes and gorgeous tortes and tarts, this West Side bakery has also got you covered for paczki. Flavors for $1.25 include apricot, lemon and poppy seed. For another 10 cents, flavors include rose and Advocaat (egg liqueur). Oak Mill's specialty, the blueberry with whipped cream, goes for $1.69.
Since opening its doors in 1922, this neighborhood staple has been cranking out some bakery goodies, from cakes to bread to holiday treats. On Paczki Day, flavors for $1.29 each include Parisian lemon, plum, cherry, custard, apricot and chocolate. But if you're looking for something truly special, try the fresh strawberry paczki for $2.59.
This Polish shop and deli specializes in pierogis, but its paczki won't disappoint, either. And you can expect freshness here, as the earliest they'll have the treats available is on the morning of Fat Tuesday itself. The Polish pastries will cost anywhere from $1.25-$1.50 depending on what flavor you get; choices include vanilla and chocolate custard, apricot, prune, strawberry and cherry.
Oak Park Bakery
From cookies to coffee cakes, this Oak Park bakery has it all. This includes an extensive selection of paczki. Their selection includes apple, apricot, blueberry, custard, butter cream, pineapple, lemon, raspberry, cherry, cheese, poppy seed and fudge for $1.09. For just a few cents more ($1.35), you can enjoy one with fresh strawberries.
Bennison's plans on celebrating Paczki Day by making the pastries with extra large dough, rich with egg yolks and, of course, fried. The Evanston bakery's available fillings include prune, apricot, cheese, raspberry and apple flavors for $1.28 each. For $1.96, you can get one with fresh strawberry and whipped cream.