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Rebekah Switala is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She is working on her Master’s degree in Central and East European Studies with specialization in women and gender. She received her BA from Western Michigan University in 2011, graduating magna cum laude, after which time she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a women’s rights organization in North Moldova. She is studying Polish in Warsaw and is undertaking an internship at Political Critique there. She intends on pursuing a Ph.D. after completing her Master’s.

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Pączki domowe:
Polish Fat Thursday Donuts
By Rebekah Switala

  Polish donut top
  P?czki with powdered sugar are one variety traditionally eaten before Lent in Poland. Click here for original image.

Pączki domowe (pronounced pOHNch-kee, the singular form being pączek) are pastries similar to donuts. They are considered traditionally Polish, although they are enjoyed across Europe, in many places in North America, and beyond. They are deep-fried and filled with confiture or other sweet and/or creamy fillings, and are usually topped with a sweet icing, glaze, or powdered sugar dusting.

Dlaczego są tak nazwane? (Why is it called that?)

The singular form, paczek, is a diminutive of pąk, meaning plant bud in English. These Polish donuts were named such because as they fry in the oil, they grow as does a plant bud in fertile soil. Obviously, as food that became popular in spring time, the name also partly refrences when they are eaten.

The origin of paczki is linked to Poland’s relationship with Catholicism, as they are a Tlusty Czwartek (or "Fat Thursday" in English) tradition. In Catholicism, Lent is extremely important and forbids sweets and treats for 40 days. Thus, paczki became celebrated as a way to use up all available sugar, eggs, butter, lard, and other decadents before Lent. In fact, they used to even be filled with savory fillings, such as cabbage and pork meat, but as time has passed they are now usually only found filled with something predominantly sweet.

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The most traditional confitures used are rose jam, plum ham, and sweet cream cheese, but blueberry, strawberry, and any other confiture can be used as well. In modern Warsaw, they are even sometimes filled with toffee. Usually, they are covered in a glaze or icing, but not always.

A medieval Polish king, August III, is often credited for paczki ditching the savory for the sweet. The French cooks he hired as his royal chefs began to play with and improve upon an already existent Polish pastry recipe, which resulted in the paczek (naturally, King August III was a rather heavy-set man).

Jak jeść pączki? (When are they eaten?) 

On Fat Thursday, Poles always celebrate by eating paczki. It is common for workplaces to provide them for their employees, and it is common to take them when visiting family and friends on this day, (instead of parading and partying, as with the French Mardi Gras tradition). In fact, eating paczki on Fat Thursday is such a strong tradition in Poland that Poles queue up in lines that will sometimes stretch around the corner in order to purchase these amazing pastries from the local cukiernia, or bakery.

These delectible treats are also popular in many places in North America, usually in areas that were (or still are) inhabited by Poles after the mass arrival of Central and East European peoples in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For example, Hamtramck — an area of Detroit which still has a wonderful Polish market — has a Paczki Day parade and paczki-eating contest every year. Incidently, Poles in North America switched the day of celebration from the last Thursday before Lent to Tuesday due to integration with other immigrant Christian pre-Lenten observations (hence, many celebrate Fat Tuesday in North America). And recently, in 2010, a paczki-eating contest in Evanston, Illinois was established to take place the weekend before Paczki Day.

Although paczki are traditional before Lent in Polish culture, paczki are baked and sold daily in all bakeries in Poland. If in North America, however, these donuts are often only made on Paczki Day in areas with a large ethnically Polish population.

Always eat these with your hands. Don’t be afraid to get sticky; you will notice everyone around you is a sticky mess as well. You can wrap it in a tissue paper to protect your hands, but Poles (or a Polish-Americans) almost never eat paczki with a knife and fork. Paczki kind of give you a reason to eat like a kid again and not feel ashamed of your mess.

Animation of photos taken by the author while preparing p?czki  

Jak gotować pączki? (How are they prepared?) 

The most important aspect of preparing paczki is the dough. It needs to be slowly prepared, starting with the yeast base which must sit until it rises to about three or four times the unrisen amount. After that, it is best to add small amounts of flour to the yeast as it is mixed, and after it reaches its desired consistency — no longer sticky and easy malleable, like play-dough — it must be kneaded for an additional 15-20 minutes.

It is quite difficult to accurately measure anything, and so the recipe provided below often mentions "as needed."

After kneading the dough, it must sit to rise again for at least 1.5 hours, or until it the dough doubles the amount it was before letting it rise. This is a very crucial aspect to the process. It must be kept in an area free of any wind or current, and covered with a kitchen towel. After it has risen to the desired level, it is rolled out and circular sections are cut out, with two circles functioning as the top and bottom of the paczek, between which the filling is placed.

The seam on paczki is important as well, as after preparing them they are deep fried in oil, and the seam stands as a testament of the quality of the oil. If they are fried in bad oil, the seam will disappear. Essentially, bad oil morphs the intended formed look of the paczki. They also can be deep-fried in lard.

Gotujmy! ( Let’s cook!)

See below for a free recipe for paczki. See also the free videos online. If you are interested in cooking from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Poland, and other places in Eurasia, make sure to see our full, free Eurasian Cookbook online! You might also be interested in the following specialized cookbooks we've enjoyed:

Polish Cookery 51EOQWvYmfL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_ 51gf+bAbAzL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ 41Y8R0wcVBL

Pączki domowe


ok. 20 sztuk

  • 1 szklanka (250 ml) mleka
  • 50 g świeżych drożdży (lub 14g suszonych)
  • 3 łyżki cukru
  • 500 g mąki pszennej
  • szczypta soli
  • 1 łyżka cukru wanilinowego
  • 1 jajko
  • 4 żółtka
  • 4 łyżki stołowe masła (40 - 50 g), roztopionego
  • 2 łyżki spirytusu


  1. Podgrzać mleko (ma być dość ciepłe, ale nie gorące), wlać do pojemnika lub miski, dodać pokruszone drożdże, 1 łyżkę mąki i 1 łyżkę cukru. Wymieszać i wstawić do garnka z bardzo ciepłą wodą. Odstawić na około 15 minut do czasu aż drożdże porządnie się spienią. W międzyczasie przesiać mąkę do dużej miski, dodać sól i cukier wanilinowy.
  2. Jajko i żółtka utrzeć z pozostałymi 2 łyżkami cukru na białą i puszystą pianę (około 10 - 15 minut ucierania). Do miski z mąką wlać wyrośnięte drożdże i wymieszać drewnianą łyżką. Dodać ubite jajka i wymieszać. Następnie dokładnie wyrobić ciasto (ręką przez około   15 - 20 minut lub odpowiednią końcówką miksera przez 10 - 15 minut). Gdyby ciasto bardzo trudno się wyrabiało, było za gęste, można dodać 2 - 3 łyżki ciepłego mleka. Na koniec wyrabiania ciasto ma odstawać od ręki.
  3. Do ciasta dodać roztopione i ostudzone masło oraz spirytus. Zagnieść lub zmiksować ciasto do całkowitego połączenia się składników. Przykryć ściereczką i odstawić w ciepłe miejsce do wyrośnięcia (np. blisko źródła ciepła, bez przeciągów) na około 1 lub 1 i 1/2 godziny, do czasu aż ciasto znacznie zwiększy objętość (najlepiej rośnie w dużych i szerokich miskach).
  4. Stolnicę lub blat kuchenny lekko podsypać mąką, wyłożyć ciasto i powygniatać przez około 2 - 3 minuty pozbywając się pęcherzy powietrza. Ciasto rozpłaszczyć na niezbyt duży placek (o wymiarach około 25 x 30 cm i na wysokość około 2 cm), ostrą szklanką o średnicy około 6,5 cm wycinać kółka. Z pozostałego ciasta ulepić kulkę, zagnieść, rozpłaszczyć i powycinać resztę krążków.
  5. Krążki rozłożyć równomiernie na stolnicy, przykryć czystą ściereczką i odstawić w ciepłe miejsce na około 30 - 45 minut do wyrośnięcia. Jeśli chcemy smażyć pączki od razu z nadzieniem, każdy krążek delikatnie rozpłaszczamy na dłoni, w środek kładziemy łyżeczkę  nadzienia, zlepiamy brzegi jak w pierożkach i lepimy kulkę.
  6. Na 15 minut przed końcem wyrastania pączków zaczynamy rozgrzewać olej (najlepiej długo i powoli, w dużym i szerokim garnku) do temperatury 180 stopni. Przygotować 3 talerze wyłożone ręcznikami papierowymi oraz łyżkę cedzakową.
  7. Zrobić też lukier: do miski wsypać cukier puder i dodać 1 łyżkę wody, wymieszać, dodać jeszcze więcej wody (stopniowo) aż lukier będzie odpowiednio gęsty.
  8. Wyrośnięte pączki wkładać na odpowiednio nagrzany olej (smażymy partiami, po około 5 pączków jednocześnie) i smażyć przez około 2 minuty z każdej strony. Pączki nie mogą za szybko się rumienić, bo w środku będą jeszcze surowe. Podczas smażenia regulować temperaturę oleju, aby drastycznie nie zwiększała się i nie obniżała.
  9. Paczki wyławiać łyżką cedzakową i odkładać na papierowe ręczniki. Smażyć następne pączki jak poprzednio. Po usmażeniu wylać ostudzony olej, nie będzie już potrzebny.
  10. Pączki ostudzić i nadziewać marmoladą wciskając głęboko końcówkę szprycy i wyciskając pożądaną ilość nadzienia. Pączki maczać w lukrze (gdy będą jeszcze ciepłe - wówczas lukier ładnie się rozprowadzi) i posypać skórką pomarańczową lub posypać cukrem pudrem (gdy pączki będą ostudzone).

Homemade Polish Donuts


makes about 20 paczki

  • 1 cup (250 ml) milk
  • 50 g of fresh yeast (or 14g of dried)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 500 g of wheat flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons butter (40 - 50 g), melted
  • 2 tablespoons grain spirits


  1. Heat milk to a bit above room temperature, but not hot. Pour into a container or bowl and add crumbled yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Mix and place the container in a pan with very hot water. Let stand for about 15 minutes until the yeast is properly foaming. Meanwhile, sift the flour into a large bowl, add salt, and vanilla sugar. 
  2. Take the egg yolks and one egg and whisk them with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar until it forms a white and fluffy foam (about 10 - 15 minutes whisking). In a bowl with the flour, add the risen yeast and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the beaten eggs and mix. Then, thoroughly knead the dough (by hand for about 15 - 20 minutes or for 10-15 minutes if using an electric mixer). If the dough is too thick and dry, add 2 - 3 tablespoons of warm milk.
  3. Add softened butter and vodka to the dough. Knead the dough and mix until all ingredients are blended completely. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place to rise (i.e. near a heat source, no drafts) for about 1 to 1.5 hours, until the dough rises to about 3-4 times its original volume. It will grow best in a covered, large, wide bowl with a lot of room.
  4. Lightly flour a pastry board or countertop, place the dough on it and knead for about 2 - 3   minutes, making sure all air bubbles disappear. Flatten the dough (easiest with a rolling pin) and cut out circles about 6.5 cm in diameter. Form a ball with the remaining dough, knead, flatten, and cut out the rest of the discs.
  5. Place the discs on a pastry board with even spaces between, cover with a clean cloth and leave in a warm place for about 30 - 45 minutes to rise again. If you want to fry the donuts filled, flatten each disc gently by hand, add a spoonful of filling in the center, merge the edges and form a ball so it isn’t too flat.
  6. 15 minutes before the flattened circles rise, begin to heat the oil (preferably slowly, in a large, wide pot) to a temperature of 180 degrees. Prepare three plates lined with paper towels.
  7. You can use this time to prepare a frosting and/or glaze: Pour powdered sugar into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of water, whisk, add more water (gradually, while whisking) until frosting is relatively thick.
  8. Drop donuts into the heated oil (in batches, about 5 donuts simultaneously) and fry for about 2 minutes on each side. Do not cut or eat right away; they will still be raw in the middle after removing them from the oil, and will continue cooking after removing them from the oil.
  9. Fry more donuts just as before.
  10. Drizzle donuts with icing (do it when they are still warm so the icing distributes nicely). You can also sprinkle with orange zest, if desired, and/or sprinkle with powdered sugar (but only after the paczki have completely cooled down).

Our Favorite Pączki Videos

This video, in slow, clear Polish, shows how to make paczki step-by-step. 


This video, featuring an English-speaking Polish woman, also shows the process step-by-step.

For the holiday, Poles line up to by large amounts of paczki. This video shows how they are commercially made - even in America.

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