Compare for yourself on Fat Tuesday
1751 28th Street SW
4 a.m.- 6 p.m.
2040 Leonard Street NW
5 a.m.- 5 p.m.
117A South Division
8 a.m.-12 p.m.
200 Union Avenue NE
7 a.m. - 12 a.m.
at all local Meijer grocery stores around the area
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With fresh donuts from the east side of the state in hand, six local Grand Rapidians set out to compare local options to those considered "authentic" Polish Fat Tuesday fare: the Paczek (or Paczki, if you're indulging in more than one).
Up for comparison were donuts from Bartz Bakery from Dearborn, Mich., as well as local options from Meijer, Arnie's Bakery and Restaurant, Sandy's Donuts and Marge's Donut Den. For good measure, homemade paczki from Diana Knorr were compared as well (though she's not got them up for sale to our readers). Of course, we weren't able to get every option our readers will be able to select from on Tuesday.
Two local bakeries, neither of them Polish but both known for more artisinal fare, will only be having Paczki on Tuesday so we were unable to make a comparison for our readers ahead of time. Propaganda Doughnuts, new this year, and Nantucket Baking Company will each be serving up what are purported to be "more traditional," and we look forward to trying them as they become available.
Our tasters, lead by EatGR founder and realtor Chris Freeman, included Freeman's wife Melissa Freeman, Tommy Allen, George Wietor, Andrea Veldman, Rick Gibbs and myself. With varying experience with authentic Polish food but all having a love for good local fare, we set out to determine who would not just have the most authentic Paczek (after all, how would we determine what was really authentic? None of us had been in Poland on Fat Tuesday), but what we'd get cravings for again. After trying the high-fat, high-sugar treats from six different purveyors, though, that may take a few days.
We scored all of the doughnuts according to flavor, presentation, ingredients and mouthfeel, on a scale of one to 10. Here's how the doughnuts fared:
- Diana Knorr's Krapfen: 8.67/10
- Bartz Bakery in Dearborn, Mich: 8.5/10
- Marge's Donut Den: 7.17/10
- Meijer: 7.07/10
- Sandy's: 6.71/10
- Arnie's: 4.64/10
Surprised by those numbers? So were we.
What surprised us
Meijer, a grocery store not normally held at the level of local Polish bakeries, held its own. Marge's, Sandy's and Meijer all were pretty close to one another in the final tally. We all agreed that if we were going to the grocery store anyway, we wouldn't bother going across town to get to a Polish hotspot to wait in line.
The group agreed that there does seem to be a market for an improved Paczki here in Grand Rapids.
"Nobody has really capitalized on the Paczki yet-no one has gotten it close to homemade," said Allen.
What didn't disappoint were the traditionally-made (read: fried in lard) paczki from the Detroit area, especially the raspberry variety, and -for five out of six of us- the homemade Krapfen from Diana Knorr, who makes her own custard. It was noticeably different than all the other custards, and Knorr says it's quite simple and quick to make.
"I don't think you can compare a homemade custard to a Jello-commercial filled custard," said Veldman. "Custard is supposed to be eggy, and I can't taste anything eggy in that [storebought custard filling]."
In fact, so many things were so different in Knorr's creation from anything local that a debate began about whether or not we could compare a homemade donut to one from a bakery.
"There are so many categories that make it different than the others," said Wietor. "Of all of them, I liked it the best. But I'm not sure it's a fair comparison."
The local store-bought options, in the end, didn't seem to be any different than a regular filled doughnut. The Knorr and Bartz doughnuts were noticeably different: denser, more rich and special enough for us to be willing to make a special trip for them.
What we liked
Unanimously, Sandy's had created the best prune filling.
"It's tart, which is what I want from a prune filling," said Wietor. "To me the appeal in a Paczki is the tartness of the filling, and [Sandy's] definitely nailed it."
A handmade custard filling, like that found in Knorr's, would have greatly improved our experience in others.
The only store-bought paczek that tasted noticeably different than a standard filled doughnut was the one from the other side of the state.
"The ones from Detroit are smaller, they're a little more homemade than the other ones," said Gibbs. "The other ones look they've been done on an assembly line."
What we took away from eating too many pazcki
"Here's the ultimate question: does it really matter enough to drive all around town on Tuesday to get any of these doughnuts?" said Allen.
By the end, we all agreed that we wouldn't bother going across town rather than stopping at our local grocery store.
The unanimous recommendation was to support your neighborhood bakery. We hope that our painful research is helpful for the reader- but sometimes you really do have to judge for yourself.
Unless you have a friend that bakes or want to spend some time in the kitchen yourself.
Diana Knorr's homemade Krapfen
(German equivalent to the Polish paczki)
- 2 cups milk/heavy cream
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- ¼ cup corn starch
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 2 Tbs. butter cubed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (sometimes more)
In a medium bowl whisk together egg yolks and whole egg. Mix corn starch and sugar separately. Beat until smooth. In a saucepan: bring milk and sugar to a boil. Once boiling add egg mixture in a small stream while vigorously beating with a whisk. Take off heat adding vanilla and butter. Bring back to heat until slightly bubbling, while constantly stirring until smooth. Take off heat and place in a heat proof dish to cool. Cover with plastic wrap or cheesecloth so that it’s on the surface for the custard to not form a skin. Chill in a refrigerator for about 4 hours.
- 3 Teaspoons yeast
- 2 cups warm whole milk (115-120F)
- 5 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
- ½ sugar
- ¼ melted butter
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1tsp salt
- 6-7.5 cups flour
- Canola oil for frying
In a bowl mix yeast and milk, adding 2 cups of the flour. Set aside for about ½ hour or until bubbly. Beat egg yolks and whole egg about 6-7 minutes until lemon colored and fluffy Add melted butter, sugar, salt and vanilla to the proofed yeast, and add beaten eggs slowly. Mix the rest of the flour in slowly until a soft dough forms. Dough should be smooth and not sticky. Cover and let stand or 2 hours. Punch down dough and knead, rolling out to about ¼ inch thick, and cutting with a glass or knife to have a circular shape. Place onto parchment paper, cover for ½ hour. Fry, and fill with custard or filling of choice. Plum or apricot compotes are most traditional.
the red penner, ink slinger, storyteller, page changer. when not working as the managing editor at The Rapidian, holly is typically found scribbling in her journal, playing in her studio, getting muddy in the garden, or experimenting in the kitchen. she has a not-so-tiny boy for a son and a very patient man for a husband.