During a period of sacrifice, Pączki sprung up as proof of a people’s resilience, creativity, and sense of community.
A beloved pastry that has been a staple in Polish culture for centuries, Pączki (pronounced "pohnch-kee") continues to captivate the hearts and taste buds of many, especially during the annual Pączki Day celebrations on Fat Tuesday—the last day of indulgence before the Christian season of Lent.
In the Midwest U.S.A., the Pączki tradition has continued to thrive, spreading cheer across the entire region and inspiring widespread cross-cultural influence as it holds a special place in the hearts of the Polish-American community.
As we trace the roots of Pączki and how far the humble dessert has come, we'll explore:
- The significance of Pączki in Polish and Midwestern cultures
- Creative and meaningful ways to join in on the Pączki fun
- Fun, mouthwatering recipes to try at home
- Fantastic ways to keep the Pączki tradition alive in the Midwest, including unique gift ideas like Jupmode's Pączki t-shirts
The Pączki Tradition
What Is Pączki?
Imagine a donut crossed with a brioche, but with a richer, denser, chewier texture, and fewer crumbs. That's Pączki!
Pączki (singular Pączek, pronounced “pohnch-chek”) are traditional Polish pastries that are somewhat like donuts. They are traditionally made with butter rather than shortening and they’re less sweet than traditional American donuts.
Their deep-fried, sweet yeast dough is filled with various sweet fillings, such as fruit preserves, custard, curd, sweet cheese, or cream.
The most popular filling in Poland is plum jam or rosehip jam, but other fillings such as raspberry, apricot, Bavarian cream, and blueberry are also common.
The table below highlights the differences between the Pączki and donuts.
|Dough Ingredients||Often enriched with eggs and lard for a richer texture||Typically simpler dough, usually without eggs or lard|
|Filling||Traditionally filled with rose hip jam or plum preserve||Can be filled or unfilled; common fillings include jelly, cream, or custard|
|Topping||Typically covered with powdered sugar or a light glaze||Can have a variety of toppings, like sugar glaze, chocolate, or sprinkles|
The Significance of Pączki in Polish Culture
In Poland, Pączki are eaten on Fat Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Historically, they were a way of clearing the pantry of rich, forbidden foods (lard, eggs, sugar) before the lenten period of fasting and abstinence.
In the Midwest, where the Polish-American community is strong and vibrant, the love for Pączki is celebrated on Fat Tuesday to coincide with the festivities for Mardi Gras in the U.S.
This time-honored Polish tradition is an opportunity for families and friends to gather and enjoy these mouthwatering treats before the period of fasting and reflection begins.
Beyond bringing together the Polish-American community, Pączki Day has become a part of the region's cultural identity. Midwesterners and local businesses all find their own unique ways to celebrate the special day.
"Love the shirt!
As usual, it’s soft and comfy and I love that it’s unique."
— Nicole M., Verified Buyer, United States
The Adaptation and Celebration of Pączki in the Midwest USA
As Polish immigrants made their way to the Midwest USA in the 1800s, they brought with them their cherished traditions, including the beloved Pączki.
Today, the Midwest U.S.A. boasts a thriving Polish-American community in the millions, that enthusiastically celebrates Pączki Day and embraces this delicious treat as a symbol of their cultural heritage.
This enthusiasm has spread throughout the Midwest, turning Pączki Day into a beloved Midwestern tradition; a tradition we proudly celebrate here at Jupmode with our Pączki-themed shirts.
Many cities with significant Polish populations, such as Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland, hold annual Pączki-centered festivals that draw crowds from near and far.
Attendees queue for hours to sample the delicious Pączki, while bakeries and bars in town create a festive atmosphere with free live music and even Pączki mascots.
One example of a fun Pączki-centered event is the Pączki Day 5K Run organized on the Saturday before Pączki Day in Hamtramck, Michigan.
Such events serve as a platform for the Polish-American community to share their rich culture and history with their fellow Midwesterners.
Pączki have thus become a symbol of Polish-American pride and unity, fostering a sense of belonging and cultural continuity in the Midwest U.S.A.
That’s why there’s hardly anything as Midwestern as our I Love Pączki Shirt. For us at Jupmode, as with every Midwesterner, loving Pączki is nothing but pure, unadulterated joy.
I must say that this is a most comfortable t-shirt. Very soft blend of fabrics. A must for anyone who celebrates Paczki Day!"
— Darlene D., Verified Buyer, United States
Pączki's Impact on the Midwest USA
Pączki Day goes beyond simply having a good time. The Polish dessert has dug its roots deep in the warm Midwestern heart, and:
- Defines the Polish-American identity: It has played a significant role in increasing the visibility and recognition of the Polish-American community. It has become a symbol of pride and unity for their culture and a means to share their heritage with others.
- Shapes local cuisine: Many bakeries have responded to the growing demand for Pączki by including it in their offerings and creating their own unique spin on the traditional recipe—for example, grilled Pączki sliders with grilled kielbasa (polish sausage), brown mustard, and onion, or the Clevelander with sauerkraut and kielbasa.
- Connects diverse cultures: Pączki Day events and festivals draw participants from various backgrounds to the Midwest U.S.A. and allow opportunities for conversation, understanding, and the cross-cultural sharing of customs.
How to Keep the Pączki Tradition Alive in the Midwest USA
Buy From Authentic Local Polish-American Bakeries
If you see a long queue outside a bakery on Fat Tuesday, chances are they’re waiting to buy a box of Pączki to celebrate Pączki Day. And you should join them!
After all, what better way to keep the delicious Pączki Day tradition alive than by supporting local Polish-American bakeries and businesses?
In fact, some bakeries, such as the famous 100-year-old New Palace Bakery in Hamtramck, Wayne County, Michigan, have customers lining up with fold-up chairs for their authentic Pączki at midnight!
While you don’t have to hunt for legendary bakeries, buying Pączki from authentic local Polish-American establishments contributes to the continuation of traditional recipes and techniques that keep the authentic Pączki experience alive.
And do you know what else keeps the Pączki tradition alive? Wearing your Pączki Time Shirt and gifting your babcia (granny) with one, too, as you all munch on your bucket of fresh, delicious Pączki.
Go All Out in Pączki Day Events and Festivals
Pączki Day events and festivals allow us to indulge in mouthwatering Pączki in the best way possible: Together as a community.
They also provide a unique opportunity to experience the vibrant Polish-American community's history and traditions firsthand—such as their upbeat Polish-style polka music, vibrant church life, and family customs.
For example, organizations such as PolishYoungstown put on all-day or evening festivities where you can immerse yourself in Polish-American culture and sample Pączki, polkas (Polish dances), and piwo (Polish draft beer).
And we’ve already talked about Hamtramck's Annual 5K Pączki Run, after which you chill out with Pączki and a cold one.
By attending these events, we show our appreciation and respect for the Polish-American community and help ensure the continuation of these cherished festivities.
You can even organize your own mini Pączki event in your local town with Midwestern and Pączki-themed merch to help younger people to appreciate the Polish-American community's contributions to the region's cultural landscape.
Share and Gift Pączki-Inspired Gifts and Apparel
Pączki-inspired gifts and apparel can serve as a fun and creative way to remember and celebrate Pączki whether you’re from the Midwest or other parts of the U.S.
Custom printed t-shirts featuring Pączki designs, clever sayings, or images representing Polish-American and Midwestern culture are an exciting way to express pride in one's heritage and share the love for this delicious treat.
This is definitely the Jupmode way of celebrating our Pączki pride and love.
Some custom apparel ideas include:
- Pączki illustrations: Pączki-themed t-shirts with colorful illustrations of Pączki in various flavors, such as plum, raspberry, blueberry, or American-inspired flavors like apple pie or s'mores
- Clever sayings: T-shirts with clever sayings that play on the word "Pączki" or the treat's Polish origins, such as "I'm all Pączked up!" or "Pączki Time"
- Polish-American culture: T-shirts featuring images that represent Polish-American culture, such as the Polish eagle or traditional Polish folk art patterns
- Midwest pride: T-shirts with designs that show your Midwest pride, such as the Chicago skyline, our Script Great Lakes Great Times Sweatshirt, or our cheeky Just Add Ranch Shirt
- Foodie culture: T-shirts with playful designs that celebrate foodie culture, such as a cartoon Pączki with a chef's hat or a food truck serving Pączki
- Humorous designs: T-shirts with humorous designs that poke fun at the love for Pączki, such as a cartoon character with Pączki as their head or a "Pączki overload" graphic with a pile of pastries
Other gift ideas include Pączki-themed aprons, tote bags, and even cookbooks featuring traditional Polish recipes.
These items not only make for great conversation starters but also help keep the Pączki cultural heritage alive and visible within the broader Midwest community.
Learn How to Make Your Own Pączki From Scratch
Making your own Pączki from scratch isn’t for the fainthearted. It’s a true labor of love that can be a way to help you and your family deeply appreciate the Pączki Day tradition.
As you rock your Jupmode Pączki tee to get in the mood, here are a few enjoyable recipes to get you started.
Traditional Pączki Recipe
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup whole milk scalded then cooled to 100–110 °F
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- Zest of 1 lemon or orange (optional)
- 4 cups vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 cup fruit preserves or custard (e.g., raspberry, strawberry, plum, or rosehip preserves, or vanilla custard)
- In a small bowl, combine the warm milk, sugar, and yeast. Stir gently and let sit for 5–10 minutes until the yeast becomes foamy.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, melted butter, vanilla extract, and lemon or orange zest (if using). Add the yeast mixture and stir to combine.
- Gradually add the flour and salt to the wet ingredients, mixing until a soft dough forms. You may need to use your hands to fully incorporate the flour.
- Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5 minutes, or until it becomes smooth and elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour as needed.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a clean cloth, and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1–2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
- Once the dough has risen, roll it out onto a floured surface to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Use a round cookie cutter or glass (about 3 inches in diameter) to cut out circles from the dough. Re-roll the scraps and cut out additional circles until all the dough is used.
- Place the circles of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with a clean cloth, and let them rise again for about 30 minutes.
- While the dough is rising, heat the vegetable oil in a deep frying pan or Dutch oven to 350°F. Use a candy or deep-fry thermometer to ensure accurate temperature.
- Carefully fry the dough circles in batches, about 1–2 minutes per side, until they are golden-brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and place them on a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.
- Let the Pączki cool slightly before filling.
- To fill the Pączki, use a pastry bag fitted with a long, thin tip or a syringe. Fill the bag or syringe with your chosen fruit preserve or custard. Insert the tip into the side of each Pączki and gently squeeze in the filling until the Pączki feels plump.
- Dust the filled Pączki with powdered sugar before serving.
- Enjoy your old-fashioned Pączki!
Midwest American Pączki With Peanut Butter & Jelly Filling
For the dough:
- 2 cups whole milk, lukewarm
- 4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (2 packets)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1 cup jelly or jam (grape, strawberry, or raspberry)
For frying and coating:
- Vegetable oil (for deep frying)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the lukewarm milk, active dry yeast, and one tablespoon of granulated sugar. Allow the mixture to sit for 5–10 minutes, or until frothy.
- Add the remaining sugar, flour, egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract, and melted butter to the yeast mixture. Stir until a soft dough forms.
- Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 5–7 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let it rise in a warm place for one-two hours, or until doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough and roll it out to about 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using a round cookie cutter or a glass, cut out circles from the dough.
- Place the cut-out dough circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let them rise for an additional 30–45 minutes, or until they have slightly puffed up.
- While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. In two separate piping bags, fill one with peanut butter and the other with jelly or jam. Set aside.
- In a deep fryer or a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil to 350°F (175°C). Carefully lower a few dough circles into the hot oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pot.
- Fry the Pączki for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the Pączki from the oil and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil.
- While the Pączki are still warm, roll them in granulated sugar to coat evenly.
- Once the Pączki have cooled slightly, use a small knife to create a small opening on the side of each Pączek. Insert the piping bags into the opening and fill each Pączek with peanut butter and jelly, alternating between the two fillings.
- Enjoy your Midwest American Pączki with Peanut Butter & Jelly filling immediately for the best taste and texture.
Here are some more typically American filling ideas for Pączki:
- S'mores Filling:
- Marshmallow fluff
- Chocolate chips or chocolate ganache
- Crushed graham crackers
- Apple Pie Filling:
- Cooked and spiced apple filling (cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg)
- Optional drizzle of caramel sauce
- Cookies and Cream Filling:
- Crushed Oreo cookies mixed with whipped cream or cream cheese
- Pumpkin Spice Filling:
- Pumpkin puree mixed with cream cheese, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Filling:
- Edible cookie dough (eggless) with chocolate chips
- Lemon Curd Filling:
- Tangy lemon curd (homemade or store-bought)
- Maple Bacon Filling:
- Maple-flavored cream filling (maple syrup, cream cheese, and powdered sugar)
- Crumbled cooked bacon
- Key Lime Pie Filling:
- Key lime curd (lime juice, sugar, butter, and egg yolks)
- Optional: a dollop of whipped cream
- Boston Cream Filling:
- Creamy vanilla custard or pastry cream
- Optional drizzle of chocolate ganache on top
- Strawberry Cheesecake Filling:
- Cream cheese mixed with powdered sugar and chopped strawberries
Feel free to mix and match any of these fillings or create your own unique combinations inspired by classic American desserts and flavors.
Show Your Midwestern Pride With the Pączki
Today, Pączki is more than a dessert, it’s a joyful celebration of all things Midwestern and the contribution of Polish-American culture to the cultural landscape of the region.
From its humble beginnings as a pantry-clearing dish as preparation for the sacrifices of the Christian Lent period, Pączki signifies joyful celebration on Fat Tuesday all across the Midwest.
Pączki has also inspired generations of culinary artists and other creators, such as ourselves at Jupmode. Join us in celebrating our love for all things Pączki and Midwestern with our Pączki-themed t-shirts.
Hop on a virtual tour of our workshop in Toledo, Ohio, where all our fun designs come to life: