“When it comes to paczki, the question you have to ask yourself is, ‘Is it worth the calories?’ ” cookbook author Annabel Cohen says moments before she bites — with obvious pleasure — into one of the rich, doughnut-like treats.
Every year, Detroiters answer Cohen’s question with a resounding “yes” by lining up at bakeries the morning before Ash Wednesday — Fat Tuesday is Feb. 16 this year — to get their hands on a box of jelly- or cream-filled paczki (pronounced punch-key). The deep-fried, traditionally Polish confections deliver up to 450 calories apiece, making them a fitting indulgence for a day dubbed “Fat.”
So who makes the best paczki? We invited three tasters to compromise their waistlines by sampling paczki (in Polish, paczki is the plural of paczek) from five bakeries.
Doug Kolly, a defense attorney who got his start eating homemade paczki in his grandmother’s basement, joined Cohen and yours truly in the quest for the best.
The assignment called for hard work and sacrifice — at least three belt holes were victimized in the process — but we persevered and crowned a paczki king. The winner, by unanimous decision, was New Polka Bakery in Hamtramck, whose paczki were impeccable spheres of glazed dough — dense and fluffy at once.
“It’s just perfect resistance to the bite,” Kolly pronounced as he dabbed a bit of wayward raspberry filling from his beard.
And while New Polka won the overall title, it was agreed that the raspberry filling of New Palace Bakery, another Hamtown favorite, scored slightly higher than its competitors. The panel concluded that a combination of New Palace filling, which contained seeds in its raspberry jam, as well as balanced tartness, and New Polka dough would have resulted in the perfect paczek.
// Dutch Girl Donuts, 19000 Woodward, Detroit; 313-368-3020
// New Deluxe Bakery, 11920 Conant, Hamtramck; 313-892-8165
// New Palace Bakery, 9833 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-875-1334
// New Polka Bakery, 9834 Conant, Hamtramck; 313-873-7959
// West Warren Bakery, 15708 Warren, Detroit; 313-584-2610