Fancy Pączki Are In Fashion This Fat Tuesday

Bakeries are using these Polish doughnuts as a canvas for artful creations.

For people who love Polish doughnuts, pączki (pronounced poonch-key) season starts earlier and earlier each year. Though traditionally a treat for Fat Tuesday, bakeries across the Detroit area and places with Eastern European populations begin selling pączki weeks in advance, while others are taking orders to be picked up on the day before Ash Wednesday. And this year's pączki are fancier than ever.

No longer just a filled jelly doughnut, pączki have become a canvas for decorating. (Grammar note: a single doughnut is a pączek; "pączki" means more than one.) These trendy pączki sport icing, piping, whipped cream, fruit, nuts, crunchy snacks—pretty much any treat that will fit on top. Many are now being split open and filled with flavors and colors that stray far from the traditional flavors of prune, custard, and strawberry.

The insanely popular New Palace Bakery in Hamtramck, Michigan, an enclave of Detroit, was among the first places to shift pączki into a higher gear. On Pączki Day, aka Fat Tuesday, its doors open at 3 a.m., and customers make it a tradition to stand in line for their doughnuts, manager Suzy Ognanovich tells The Takeout.

New Palace began departing from the traditional flavor lineup as far back as 1996, when it rolled out double-filled pączki, containing strawberry and custard, to mark Hamtramck's 75th anniversary. In 2000, it offered custard and chocolate pączki to mark the millennium.

Just about every year since, New Palace has introduced a new flavor, and sometimes two. "We have a lot of customers that enjoy the traditional flavors, while others like to venture into trying something different. We try to comprise an assortment that pleases all taste buds," Ognanovich said via email.

Flavor development goes on throughout the year, as the bakery takes customers' suggestions and mulls which varieties might work. "From time to time, our staff, friends, and family ask, 'So what is going to be the new flavor?' and it sparks the conversation," Ognanovich said. The bakery goes over the potential options with the staff and starts trying things out before coming to a final decision in January and announcing it to customers.

This year, holidays and sports played a role. New Palace rolled out Honey Cream Dream pączki, a salute to Valentine's Day, which coincides this year with Ash Wednesday. It is split open and filled with honey infused buttercream, then topped with a swirl of buttercream, powdered sugar, and a drizzle of honey. "Why not get honey pączki for your honey?" Ognanovich says.

The second new flavor, Roaring Blueberry Blitz, honors the Detroit Lions' Super Bowl push. That double-layer doughnut has blueberry filling, powdered sugar, and blueberry topping.

Other fancy pączki in the lineup include Orange Creamski and Strawberry Cheesecake. The fancy doughnuts cost more: a dozen assorted specialty pączki are $41.95, versus $31.95 for a traditional box with tamer flavors like raspberry, lemon, and apple. New Palace also sells half dozen boxes of single traditional flavors for $17.25.

The specialty flavors are so popular that the bakery sells special one-day-only "throwback" boxes with hits from the past. These included Rose Hip, Fruity Pebbles, Coco Puffs, and even Beer and Pretzels. The latter pączki featured beer-flavored buttercream, a beer-flavored glaze, and crushed pretzels on top.

Ognanovich said that seeing the enthusiasm over its pączki keeps the bakery going during long hours of producing pączki. On Pączki Day, it will bake doughnuts all day long, until it closes at 5 p.m. "The energy and excitement the customers bring with them cannot be put into words," Ognanovich said.