by Tom Brooks, Elmhurst Funion Food and Dining Editor
ELMHURST – Although there are about 37 different acceptable pronunciations for the word “Paczki”, none of them sounds anything like how it’s spelled. Regardless of how you pronounce it, a Paczki is a true Polish doughnut that should have a rich, eggy, brioche style dough with a sweet filling.
I know the traditional Paczki has powdered sugar, and that most of the legit Polish joints will dust them. But the glazing is totally an Americanized thing, and is simply my preference. The one thing I have real problems with is when a place decides to go traditional – yet wants to make the suburbanites happy – so they dump a quarter inch of powdered sugar on them. It’s a mess, and the first bite sucks all of the moisture out of your mouth and you can’t swallow for 17 minutes.
Using the classic raspberry filling as a controlled variable, I’ve assigned a rating of 1-10 for the quality of the filling along with the body and the coating of Paczki’s available throughout various bakeries in the western suburbs of Chicago. A “10” is being “manna from heaven”, and a “1” means that a Haggis (a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag) is a better doughnut.
My Paczki ratings do not include the following places, for the following reasons:
Mariano’s (678 N. York St, Elmhurst) did not have any available at press time. However, this was due to staffing issues and should be resolved by Paczki Day.
Courageous Bakery (108 W. Park Ave., Elmhurst) will only have them available on Fat Tuesday, so I will not be able to add them to this project. Their Pączki are highly regarded, and pre-ordering is recommended.
Whole Foods (215 S, IL-83, Elmhurst) did not have any in store due to inventory requirements. They are expected in, however one employee thought they would likely be on the same delivery as the Irish soda bread on the 6th. The 6th is Wednesday, which could prove problematic for a Tuesday pastry.
Without further ado, here are my rankings for the Paczki’s I sampled.
#1 – Helen’s Deli (272 W. Irving Park Rd., Wood Dale)
After experiencing the mildly orgasmic pastries available from Helen, I had to evoke the Spinal Tap Clause and take the rating system to 11. This is what heaven tastes like. The dough is perfect: rich yet light, chewy yet melting-in-your-mouth butteriness. The raspberry filling; while seeded, surpasses all others as well, with a perfect balance of tartness over sweetness. And while not glazed (to my momentary disappointment), the powdered sugar was not overdone. If you need a Polish doughnut for Paczki Day, and can only have one, THIS is the doughnut to get. Rating: 10.2
#2 – The Lilac Bakery (348 S. Main St., Lombard)
As the first “true” Paczki I had during this endeavor, Lilac holds a special place in my sugar-coated heart. The body of their contribution is the rich dough that I have now come to realize is what a Paczki should be. Their filling, a respectable seedless raspberry jelly offering, provided a good balance of sweet, and a traditional powdered sugar coating was not over done. In all, a good representation of what Granny Babcia might have made in the old country. (Editor’s note: veracity of the “Granny Babcia” character has not been verified), Rating: 8.5
#2 – Leeza Spumoni & Desserts, Inc. (544 S. Spring Rd., Elmhurst)
Very rich egg-based dough, Lezza’s submission was good but held a mild “mass production” sense within the body of the doughnut. It was not so overwhelming as to take away from the overall enjoyment. Raspberry was not available on my visit, substituting strawberry. A little high on the sweet scale, but good tartness, filling also had bits of strawberries. Filling was light, but likely just a misfire on that one sample (other flavors purchased were well-filled). Powdered sugar coating on all available samples except Bavarian, which had the classic chocolate. Slight loss of points for no glazed option. Rating: 8.0
#4 – Central Continental Bakery (101 S. Main St., Mt Prospect)
First off, if I were to grade on appearances and availability, this place would be a runaway victor. The choices available were staggering, and inventive, and all looked good enough to eat. Well, you know what I mean. I have not tried any others besides the raspberry at this writing, so it is very possible other flavors would could be rated higher. In a word, I was disappointed. The raspberry jelly was all sweet and no berry, and it tasted faintly of the 5-gallon plastic bucket I imagine it came from. The dough was more akin to an above average doughnut, lacking the richness and brioche-like essence I’ve come to expect. And, while not as destructive to the pallet as the aftertaste from Kuppies, there was a lingering sensation of a fryer in need of cleaning. A slight edge given for their hours. CCB will be open ALL NIGHT Monday in case you run out several times throughout the early morning hours of Fat Tuesday. Rating: 7.1
#5 – Clyde’s Donuts (available at Jewel)
A good doughnut body, but nothing special. They have the best filling of my earlier research efforts, seedless and tart but not overly sweet. Glazed for a more American appeal. An early submission to my project, I have learned much since my initial sampling of Clyde’s. Clyde’s are not a Paczki. They are labeled as such, and the boxes are stacked to the ceiling at every Jewel in the weeks preceding Lent to cash in on the Polish phenomenon. But they are not a Paczki. A really good doughnut though, and financially one of the better pound-per-dollar options available this week. Rating: 7.0
#6 – Kuppie’s Bakery (42 S. Villa Ave., Villa Park)
Tested their Bismark as their Pączki will not be available till later in the week. I was told they are about the same. Seeded jelly, more sweet than tart, but not overly so. Body was average doughnut. Glaze was good, also available in sugared which was less than good. Both samples had an overpowering bad fryer oil flavor that killed the experience. Rating: 4.5
“People are just doughnuts. We might like a certain filling or frosting, but we are all beautiful fried dough.” – Tom Brooks