Paczkis (pronounced ponch-kees) are the Casimir Pulaskis of the culinary world: They have their own holiday, are difficult to pronounce, and I had no clue what they were before moving to Chicago. Though customarily eaten all day on Fat Tuesday, you may have to hurry to snap up one of Dobra Bielinski's paczkis ($3.25) from Delightful Pastries. That's because orders for these little dough balls are placed weeks in advance, and what few aren't pre-ordered are snatched up at staggeringly early hours of the morning.
So what's all the fuss about? A dessert with its own holiday must be pretty special, right? (Oh, and about that holiday: In Poland, Paczki Day is generally celebrated the Thursday before Lent begins, while in America, paczkis are commonly eaten on Fat Tuesday.) To truly understand why people go so nuts for these pastries, you need to line up outside Delightful Pastries' Jefferson Park storefront, where just inside, young women chirp at each other in Polish as they fill cardboard boxes with dozens of the fresh creations, faces streaked with powdered sugar and eyes tired from the early wake-up call. It's part spectacle, part ritual, but that doesn't diminish how tasty these little spheres are.
If a paczki ran into a jelly doughnut at some sort of fried food family reunion, they'd probably recognize each other as cousins, sharing a few common genetic traits that manifest themselves as powdered sugar and syrupy filling. But at Delightful Pastries, Bielinski also adds a layer of whipped cream that ups the indulgence factor and marries the best parts of a Napoleon with the traditional jelly filling. It's easy to see why this works: sugary strawberries, rich whipped cream, wrapped in a fist-sized sphere of dough and deep fried. What's not so easy is waiting a whole 364 days for the next Paczki Day to roll around.