The Polish eat paczki for the dough, not for the filling.
Americans eat doughnuts for the filling, not for the dough.
That was one of the lessons learned Saturday during Chef Dobra Bielinski’s annual Paczki Class at her bakery, Delightful Pastries, located at 5927 W. Lawrence Ave.
While paczki are often compared to doughnuts, Bielinski said the Polish pastry has a more “enriched” dough, made with butter, milk, eggs, lemon oil, orange oil and rum.
Unlike paczki, the average Krispy Kreme has a high filling-to-dough ratio “because the dough doesn’t taste very good,” said Bielinski, who grew up in Poland before coming to the United States in 1986.
Though supremely busy filling what will amount to approximately 40,000 paczki orders during the Mardi Gras season, Bielinski demonstrated how to make the treat — traditionally filled with plum butter, rose petal jelly or raspberry preserves, and topped with sugar glaze or powdered sugar — for about a dozen participants. She also guided them as they made their own chrusciki, or “angel wings” — another fried treat.
Preparing the paczki dough
Bielinski mixed fresh yeast with milk and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, she added sugar, yolks, eggs, salt, oils, rum, flour and butter.
After shaping the dough into a large mound, she covered it in plastic and let it rest for one hour.
Bielinski said she didn’t learn how to prepare paczki until she came to the U.S.; her mother was not a baker back in Poland. But the two women opened Delightful Pastries in 1998 because Bielinski grew weary of working for other people.
“I didn’t like when people didn’t use quality ingredients or they took shortcuts,” she said. “I wanted to find a place where you put a little bit of soul into the food, where you love what you do. … It was very hard to find such a place, and that’s why I had to start my own.”
Though Bielinski’s mother is now retired, she still pops into the bakery from time to time.
“She comes in and just steals stuff,” Bielinski said. “She eats stuff. She’s my constant critic. She’s like, ‘Oh, too much jam’ or ‘too sweet’ or ‘not sweet enough.’ She’s always coming and taste-testing and being a pirate in my bakery.”
Frying the paczki dough
After the resting process, paczki dough must be weighed into 60-gram pieces, rolled into little round balls and fermented for one to one and a half hours.
Bielinski demonstrated how to fry the paczki at a temperature of 356 degrees. After they were submerged in oil in the fryer, they popped up like buoys on the surface. Using two sticks, Bielinski skillfully flipped the paczki until they achieved a hazelnut color on both sides.
When some paczki struggled to turn, Bielinski explained that the dough had “over-proofed,” or rested too long.
As Bielinski fried multiple trays of paczki, Julie Emerick took meticulous notes. She said it was her third time taking the class.
“Every time I learn something [new],” said Emerick, 57, of Uptown, who bakes at home, but hasn’t attempted paczki. “I think you should leave it to the professionals. It’s fun to observe and participate [in the class]. … Where else but in Chicago could you take a paczki class?”
Multiple people said they heard about the class on the radio, including one man who said Bielinski’s enthusiasm inspired him to sign up.
Another participant, Carolyn Folak, 64, of Crystal Lake, said she wants to improve her paczki-making skills. Her first attempt at home didn’t go so well.
She used a recipe from her Polish husband’s family, but the pastries came out too heavy. She ended up feeding them to cows on a friend’s farm, prompting her kids to call them “cow doughnuts.”
Filling the pastries
Bielinski demonstrated how to fill the paczki with plum butter and raspberry preserves using a machine. Then, she sliced them in half and passed them out for the class to enjoy.
Participants also sampled other fillings, including lemon, espresso, Jameson, rose petal jelly and passion fruit — a favorite among the class.
Delightful Pastries offers a varied assortment of paczki, including Fresh Strawberry & Whipped Cream, Espresso Chocolate Custard and “Drunken Paczki” with Moonshine & Lemon or Jameson Whiskey with Chocolate Custard.
“I can’t bring the boozy ones to the office,” said Emerick, who will be among the crowd picking up paczki orders on Tuesday.
The demand is so high that the bakery is not accepting anymore orders for pickup on the holiday, but walk-ins are welcome.
Bielinksi attributes the popularity of paczki to the large Polish population in Chicago.
“Polish people were coming here in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and it’s reached critical mass,” she said.
“They’ve popularized it and everybody’s latched on. I saw a sushi place making paczki. I’ve seen all kinds of weird stuff, but I think that takes the cake.”
While the class didn’t get to roll their own paczki, they did make their own chrusciki, or “angel wings.”
Bielinksi produced a hard block of dough made from flour, unsalted butter, eggs, yolks, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, rum, sour cream, and lemon and orange zest, among other ingredients.
After she rolled it very thin, the class members took turns cutting it into 4-inch-long strips with a device well over 100 years old. (Bielinksi found it in the building, a former bakery, when she opened the business.)
The participants slit each piece in the center and pulled one end through the slit. Then, Bielinksi fried the chrusciki at 375 degrees until lightly browned, and added confectioners’ sugar.
Bielinksi said the classes not only allow her to educate others, but serve as a form of research and development.
“It keeps me sharp,” she said. “I get to test out new recipes.”
She said it also keeps her connected to her love for baking.
“Sometimes between the paperwork and all the other crazy stuff you have to deal with as a business owner, you forget why you started the business,” she said. “It’s for the delicious baked goods, paczki, croissant, the sourdough breads. I love pastries.”