‘You almost need a bib’: Paczki stuffed full of tradition

Beatrice Fox’s eyes widened as she got her first glimpse of the plump pastry on her plate.

“Look at that Nutella oozing out,” said Fox, 8, marvelling at her paczki, a traditional filled Polish doughnut dusted with powdered sugar.

A few large bites later came the verdict.

“Delicious,” Fox sighed happily.

Sounds of delight filled Courtland Bakery in Norfolk County on a recent weekday afternoon as a gaggle of kids tucked into the overstuffed pastries.

“Amazing,” declared Stella Jagt, 10. “There’s a lot of filling in it. A lot more than I thought.”

“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted,” enthused 10-year-old Lucy Fox about the lemon paczki — pronounced “poonch-key” or “punch-key” — quickly disappearing from her plate.

Some successful parental cajoling had won the young friends a drive to Courtland before the final school bell.

“It was worth skipping French,” Lucy Fox said with a sugary smile.

A January tradition for 23 years at the bakery on Highway 3, paczki season provides a welcome sales boost during a typically slow time, said owner Mary Peazel.

People make the drive to Norfolk’s western end for paczki “because we overstuff them,” she explained, noting a boxed dozen weighs in at about five pounds.

“We really fill them up, and we use only the best (ingredients),” Peazel said. “We don’t use any jelly fillings. They’re real fruit.”

The bakery makes a dozen paczki varieties — like raspberry, apricot, Venetian cream and cherry — topped by a honey glaze, icing sugar or granulated sugar.

In Poland, families traditionally eat paczki the day before Ash Wednesday to use up their lard and sugar, as these ingredients are forbidden during Lent, a period of abstinence in the Christian calendar. But in Courtland, paczki season started on Jan. 10 — when the bakery sold out its stock by lunchtime — and will continue until Mardi Gras on Feb. 21.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you make them all the time?’ Well, it wouldn’t be special,” Peazel said.

She recommends ordering ahead to avoid disappointment. On a recent weekend, the bakery made 135 dozen fresh paczki and ended up selling more than 170 dozen, drawing on their frozen inventory to meet demand.

Starsky Fine Foods and Staropolskie Delikatesy in Hamilton stock paczki — ordered from outside suppliers rather than baked on-site — and they can also be found at major grocery stores like Fortinos.

But Peazel said supermarket paczki pale in comparison to the fresh-baked variety.

“(Ours) are so full. We get complaints that they’re too full,” she laughed.

“In the grocery stores you get a little dab of fruit and that’s about it. We do at least two or three times more (filling) than normal. You almost need a bib.”

J.P. Antonacci’s reporting on Haldimand and Norfolk is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. jpantonacci@thespec.com

Where to polish off a paczki

Staropolskie Delikatesy

711 Barton St. E., Hamilton


Delivered fresh every day. Raspberry and strawberry on weekdays, more flavours stocked on weekends.

Starsky Fine Foods

685 Queenston Rd., Hamilton


Available all year. Made off-site. Half a dozen flavours, including lemon, custard and apple, with a sugar glaze topping.

Courtland Bakery

217 Main St. of Courtland (Highway 3), Courtland


Made fresh on-site. Twelve flavours with four topping options (plain, honey-glazed, powdered sugar, granulated sugar). Only available until Feb. 21.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator