Tuesday, February 14, 2012

[HOT LIST] Paczki

At Elias Donuts. Covert cell phone photography by Nicole Rupersburg.

Fat Tuesday is coming February 21, and that means one thing to metro Detroiters: PACZKI. Paczki are dense doughnuts filled with any number of fruit fillings (including the less-common but more traditional rose hip and hibiscus) then glazed or covered with powdered sugar, but for me, I don't even acknowledge paczki unless we're talking custard. (If I wanted a mouthful of jam I would buy a jar of jam and eat it, the end.)

Plenty of places serve their own version of this traditional Polish pastry - an extra-rich doughnut originally made in order to use up all the remaining eggs, lard and sugar in the house before Lenten fasting began - but we all know Hamtramck is the place to go for the absolute BEST. Which is why Paczki Day in Poletown is a high holy day; check out the all-day parties at Small's (home of the Paczki Bomb!), Whiskey in the Jar (easy on the Jeyzy), a limo shuttle bar crawl leaving from Polonia (can you beat 45 bars in one day?), and whatever else. Na zdrowie!

New Palace Bakery.
#1 New Palace Bakery (Hamtramck)
I usually eschew making any end-all/be-all claims here, but when it comes to paczki New Palace IS. THE. BEST. Their paczki are big and doughy and a little lumpy and heavy and dense. Plus when you order a half dozen or dozen, they put them in a standard bakery box and use twine from a dispenser mounted in the ceiling to tie it ... which I just find Old-Worldy and cool. They have an amazing selection of breads in addition to their pastries and cookies, as well as a full deli counter and homemade pierogi. And here's the tip-top secret: they have paczki all year round, every day of the week. So you could wait in line on Paczki Day just for the thrill of it, or you could just get your paczki fix, like, tomorrow.

Flavors include standards (see New Martha Washington below) as well as raisin and rose hip, and also some custom creations: the Millennium Swirl is a chocolate + custard combo created in the year 2000 to commemorate the new millennium, the United Paczki is a strawberry/custard/blueberry combination introduced in 2002, the strawberry/custard combo was first made in 1997 to commemorate Hamtramck's 75th anniversary, and the Hamtramck Boat is kind of the banana split of paczki with strawberry and pineapple filling and banana custard covered in chocolate. Looks like New Palace got my custard memo!

#2 New Martha Washington Bakery (Hamtramck)
Smaller than New Palace (and they don't serve paczki year-round), Martha Washington has its own devoted following. Their paczki are rounder and more evenly-shaped, like fat little hockey pucks covered in powdered sugar. They started carrying paczki officially today, and on Paczki Day they'll have 14 flavors available - raspberry, strawberry, blueberry cherry, apple, apricot, lemon, prune, custard, Boston cream, chocolate Bavarian, butter cream, plain sugar and pineapple.

#3 American Polish Cultural Center
Upholding Polish culture, customs and traditions over in suburban Troy (where there is a sizable population of people of Polish descent, the effect of Polish-American migration out of Hamtramck), the American Polish Cultural Center will sell thousands of dozens of paczki next Monday and Tuesday. They are taking pre-orders now; paczki are $9.50 per dozen if paid by Sunday and $10 per dozen after. They'll have prune, custard, apricot ,cherry, stawberry, raspberry, blueberry and hibiscus, all made from scratch in their own kitchen (which also does all their banquet catering and serves the on-site Wawel Restaurant, which serves hearty homemade Polish-American cuisine made properly by a group of little old Polish ladies and don't think I'm kidding). The building used to be an architecture and antique museum displaying woodwork from the homes of prominent families including the Rockefeller Estate. When the APCC acquired the building, many of the antiques and elaborate woodwork remained (including a stunning archway from the Rockefeller mansion) - the story goes that the rich guy who owned the building sold what he could and just left the rest, so the Center is not just a place that celebrates Polish culture but also a home of American history, a lived-in museum.

#4 Bartz Bakery (Dearborn)
Bartz is known specifically for their bread, but as a bakery with a Central European background, Bartz also makes their own paczki every year around Lent. As of last week they are now available every day, and they have a variety of different flavors ... including custard.

#5 Elias Donuts (Detroit)
Located in Detroit's Rosedale neighborhood, Elias Donuts has been around for 30 years. It has that old-school doughnut shop charm - a long formica counter and tiled floors with 1950's-style soda shop stools all the color of Good and Plenty's. In addition to doughnuts, they serve a variety of grilled sandwiches, fried fish dinners (catfish, perch and cod), burgers, breakfast sandwiches on their housemade bagel "thins" and flatbread, and ice cream from Hershey's Ice Cream, and it's all 24 hours. They also serve paczki all year round, but on Fat Tuesday they up the ante with additional flavors - blueberry, strawberry, regular and chocolate custard, and pineapple. FYI, they stick to the glazed varietals.

Bubbling under Supreme Baking Co. (Detroit), G M Paris Bakery (Livonia), Bozek's Meat and Groceries (Hamtramck), Srodek Deli and Bakery (Hamtramck)

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