For Greg Samurawa February 21 is known as Pączki Day. What is Packzi you ask? Well, it is a kind of jam-filled donut that originates from Poland. Originally, these donuts were filled with pig fat and cooked in lard. After the 16th Century, however, with sugar becoming more accessible and French chefs gaining popularity, they became the sweet treats that Poles love today.
These donuts are part of Polish tradition because Poles have been eating these as a last hurrah for food before Lent: a period of fasting observed by Catholics for 40 days before Easter.
In Wisconsin, Greg Smurawa continues to make these sweet treats in his bakery, Smurawa’s Country Bakery. “It’s not just another jelly donut. It’s a pączki,” he told Up North News, a Courier Newsroom publication. He is the son of Polish immigrants and attended baking school, before opening up his bakery with his wife, back in 1998.
Pączki is pronounced POONCH-KEE, and it is the plural of pączek. But it is pronounced in a variety of ways because of the diversity of Polish. “In Poland, there are so many dialects. Maybe forty different ways to say ‘potato,’” he shared.
Smurawa’s family has been living in Wisconsin for four generations now, his great-grandparents have migrated to Wisconsin from Poland. He learned to make Pączki from his parents. “The recipe has been in the family for four generations, about a hundred years,” he told the Courier Newsroom’s publication.
Compared to Bismarcks, which are flatter and made with a sweet dough, the Packzi are made fluffier and rounder. They are so light that a puff of wind could blow them away. “Pączki are made with more enriched ingredients — more sugar, butter, eggs, and filled with an abundance of jelly,” said Smurawa.
Wisconsin did not have a huge Polish population so the first few years of his business were spent marketing the famous Polish treat. He dropped off samples and contacted local TV stations. “Before that, they were popular in Milwaukee and Chicago, in heavily Polish areas, but around here, there wasn’t any pączki,” he said.
Traditionally, the Pączki can be filled with just about anything. Customers can get up to 16 varieties at his bakery, with some special seasonal flavors. There is a great selection of fruity fillings including apricot, pineapple, blueberry, and cherry. Other flavors include red velvet, chocolate, peanut butter, and an assortment of French creams.
“There’s always that interest in coming up with something new, but we stay away from the gimmicky ideas like savory pączki or maple bacon and try to stay true to form,” he told Keystone Newsroom, the Courier Newsroom publication.
Samurawa can cook up a batch of Pączki in 6 hours, which is a long time. For this year’s Pączki day, his bakery cooked up 1600, which were then shipped nationwide and picked up by locals. His famed donuts are popular in most Polish cities, including Hamtramck, Cleveland, Buffalo, and even as far as California and Florida.