It’s paczki (pronounced poonch-key) season here in Cleveland. What used to be a one-day tradition has grown to weeks of sweet treats and polka parties in Cleveland, culminating on Fat Tuesday, the day of feasting before the Christian fast known as Lent (February 25 this year). Paczki are Polish doughnuts filled with jelly or some other kind of sweet filling, traditionally served prior to Lent and are a mainstay in most Catholic cultures. The Germans call them Berliner. The jelly doughnuts happened because people would clear their kitchens of milk and butter in preparation for Lent and would make doughnuts. The paczki dough recipe is similar to German, Jewish, and Italian filled doughnuts, but traditional paczki contain a splash of Polish vodka called Spiritus in addition to the flour, eggs, milk, sugar, yeast, and sometimes butter that make up the dough. We hit two Polish and two Italian bakeries on our crawl.
I am not a huge fan of crowds. I do not do well standing in long lines and being crushed by people, so I avoid Fat Tuesday, which is the day most bakeries are having their celebrations and selling out of their paczki. I have been buying paczkis here and there in the run-up, so I had a solid plan for the paczki crawl. We did a spontaneous one last year after a particularly bad pancake breakfast, hitting a bunch of bakeries. This year my friend wanted to do it again and met me at the Donauschwaben German-American Club, where I teach on Saturdays until noon. I had wanted to drive to Kiedrowski’s in Amherst, but she requested we start at Becker’s in Fairview Park. The goal of the afternoon was to just see where it took us and enjoy being out and about.
Becker’s only sell paczki on Fat Tuesday. We ended up buying a couple of their doughnuts anyway, a glazed and a Boston cream for me. My friend bought a couple Russian tea cakes and a glazed doughnut. We didn’t eat them there. We ended up just stopping and buying doughnuts along the way. I really enjoyed the glazed doughnut when I did eat it. It was very light and melted in my mouth. I spent $6 and change here.
The next stop was Samosky’s, which some people on All Things Food in Cleveland recommended. Not to be confused with Samosky’s Pizza in Valley City, it’s located in Parma on Pearl Road. I had stopped there last week, but they only had one or two paczki left in the afternoon when I got there. This time we had a bit of a selection. The paczki from Samosky’s are a much lighter dough that was more like cake than doughnut. They are split halfway through, filled with filling and lightly dusted with powdered sugar. I chose two toasted coconut Bavarian cream, a choco cream and a raspberry. I also bought two giant kolachke (one apricot and one cheese) – seriously these guys are almost as big as a spoon) and a loaf of bread. I spent $19.25 here.
Chuppa’s was next on our list. I had been thinking about the banana paczki from last year, and they didn’t have them out when I stopped last week. You could order them, but they weren’t being sold in the store at that point. I figured they would be available on a Saturday, and I was right. I learned the banana paczki was last year’s special paczki. This year’s is a mix of blueberry and raspberry and Cool Whip – and had already sold out for the day. They get the dough from a bakery in Middleburg Heights and fill them at the market. Or should I say overfill. They also split them halfway through, and the filling bulges out of them. I bought a cream cheese (because it looked amazing), blueberry, strawberry and something called Poppy Butter. I better not have to take a drug test in the next week or so (poppy can be a false positive), but it was an interesting filling. We tried the filling itself in the car. I can’t report on how much I spent here because I also went grocery shopping and bought some soups, produce and other finds. The paczki were $2.49 a piece here.
Next stop was Rudy’s. My friend wasn’t too thrilled because she’s not a fan (she finds them too greasy) but went along with it. I’m glad we went just to see the organized chaos of it all. It was pretty busy, but they hadn’t run out of anything. They have order sheets scattered everywhere in the foyer. You place your order on the sheets. One thing that irritated me was the advertised “2019 Paczkis” on their website – until I realized they were also doing it in the store. And had the same special flavor – Sweet Moses’ Hot Chocolate – as last year. I left with five sweet and four savory – hot chocolate, two custards, a chocolate butter cream, and a “Hough Bakery” (kind of like a lemon icebox cake) and the chicken paprikash, Little Italy (Italian sausage with peppers and onions), potato and cheese, and kielbasa and sauerkraut. The savory ones are slightly more than the sweet one. I spent $20.90 here. The paprikash one upset my stomach that night, but I enjoyed the custard paczki. I can see why my friend feels they are too greasy. I would agree with her on that point. I took an antacid that night and had a good night’s sleep.
The “last” stop (because at this point my back seat was filled with our purchases) was my favorite, Michael Angelo’s. My friend was not familiar with the bakery, and I was anxious to show her. The line was almost out the door and got even longer once we got closer to the register. My friend had lamented that she needed coffee, and Michael Angelo’s has a great selection. She bought a breakfast blend, and they were able to grind it for her, which made her happy. I purchased three paczki – a custard, a peanut butter and an apricot. I’ve not seen the peanut butter there before, so I am curious how it is. I love Michael Angelo’s paczki – the dough is soft and I love sinking my teeth into the dough that is stuffed with delicious filling. My friend had ordered a paczki and had to wait while they made her a fresh one, as the woman in front of me in line bought the last ones in the case. It wasn’t a problem for them.
We took the opportunity to pop into Molisano’s Italian Foods next door to Michael Angelo’s. We planned to have lunch at Nam Wah, but the sandwiches were certainly tempting. I’m going to have to come back and check it out. They sell Boar’s Head lunch meats and have some nice prepared salads in the case. I bought a couple noodle varieties I had never seen before, which I will be using in upcoming Bread and Soup Experiments.
As we meandered our way home we drove past a sign for a church selling pierogi. We both wondered aloud if we should stop and then laughed at ourselves because we had plenty to keep us for the week. It was fun to just be spontaneous. We finished our day with lunch at Nam Wah, where I introduced her to what I say is the best pho and bahn mi in town. She agrees wholeheartedly with me. We popped down to Mama Mary’s at the gas station on Columbia and Sprague so that she could try the gas station hummus. Her observation is that they leave the skins on the chickpeas so it isn’t as creamy as Ferris, which she prefers. But the seasoning was on point. Fair enough.
All in all a fun day. On the list for next year – Stan’s and Kiedrowsky’s. One that won’t be on my list again is Seven Roses. I’ve tried it two years in a row, and I am not a fan. This time I bought some at the Polish-American Cultural Center’s Fat Thursday celebration. They had run out of the custard by the time I got there, so I got one of each remaining flavor-prune, blueberry, raspberry and lemon. All but the lemon dried my mouth out. And they barely contained any filling. At $2.50 a piece. I’ll stick to the buffet in the restaurant.
Becker’s Donuts, Bakery and Cakes
22088 Lorain Road
Fairview Park, Ohio 44126
(and a location in North Royalton)
Samosky’s Home Bakery
6379 Pearl Road
Cleveland, OH 44130
5640 Pearl Road
Parma, OH 44129
Rudy’s Strudel and Bakery
5580 Ridge Road
Parma, OH 44129
Michael Angelo’s Bakery
8035 Broadview Road
Broadview Heights, OH 44147
Nam Wah Chinese & Vietnamese Cuisine
392 W Bagley Road
Berea, OH 44017
Seven Roses Polish Delicatessan
6301 Fleet Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105