King Cake and Paczki will soon be popping up all over Champaign-Urbana
Where you can find your favorite Mardi Gras treats
Take a look at the calendar and you will see that Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the Lenten season, is not far away — arriving on Feb. 14. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time before then to indulge in paczki and celebrate Mardi Gras with a king cake.
What are paczki? They are Polish pastries — similar to donuts — that “feature a variety of fruit and creme fillings and can be glazed, or covered with granulated or powdered sugar.” (Thanks, Wikipedia. Also note that English speakers use “paczki” for both singular and plural pastries, because we’re efficient like that.)
Paczki dough is bursting with rich ingredients such as eggs, fats, and sugars; they are an especially delicious way to use up such ingredients before more austere menus take over Lenten tables. Whether they are consumed on “Fat Thursday” (Poland) or “Fat Tuesday” (here in the U.S., which embraces multiple Mardi Gras traditions), paczki are a delicious final hurrah before Ash Wednesday.
In areas with large Polish populations, especially Midwestern cities such as Detroit, Milwaukee, and Chicago, Fat Tuesday may even be called Paczki Day (this year, Tuesday, Feb. 13). As a bonus — because who doesn’t love bonus pastry? — paczki sometime make a reappearance in Illinois for Casimir Pulaski Day on the first Monday in March.
Topped with the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold, the King Cake is easy to recognize. It’s round, to look like a crown. And somewhere inside it contains a bean, coin, or small plastic baby figure! (The person who finds the hidden item in the cake is crowned “king” of the celebration.) King Cake can be served as early as Epiphany, and again on Fridays throughout the carnival season.
We asked our readers where they could find paczki and King Cake in Champaign-Urbana, and here’s what they told us. Please call before heading out; these seasonal treats may be made in limited quantities or may require a special order.
Central Illinois Bakehouse, Champaign: Pekara Bakery and Bistro and Martinelli’s Market Bakery & Deli sell paczki made fresh by Central Illinois Bakehouse. Two flavors are available: Raspberry Powdered Sugar and Pastry Cream Glazed. CIB also makes a King Cake: “soft brioche dough filled with a sweet praline crunch, shaped into a round, topped with royal icing and yellow, purple, and green sprinkles, ” as well as festive fleur-de-lis cookies.
All of CIB’s Mardi Gras treats — including paczki, King Cake, and fleur de lis cookies — are available through special order, on select days at Pekara and Martinelli’s, and on pre-Mardi-Gras Saturdays at the C-U Winter Farmers Market inside Lincoln Square Mall. They can also be delivered right to your doorstep via Market Wagon.
Hunny Bunny Bakes, Champaign: You can special-order a King Cake from Hunny Bunny this year up until Feb. 9 at noon. “Traditional braided Danish dough with cinnamon and brown sugar filling, purple/green/yellow glaze, and, of course, a plastic baby hidden inside!”
RegCakes, Savoy: Don’t forget to seek out RegCakes in its new Savoy storefront! Place your order by Feb. 6 if you want a gluten-free King Cake with cinnamon-sugar-and-cream-cheesy filling (we’re told that availability in-store will be hit or miss).
Rick’s Bakery, Urbana: Rick’s Bakery in downtown Urbana will be selling both raspberry and apricot paczki as well as Bavarian creme. King cakes will also be available, with cream cheese and cinnamon sugar filling.
Ye Olde Donut Shoppe, Champaign: Starting on Feb. 5, paczki and beignets will be available in-store and by pre-order. Note that its paczki use different dough than its normal donuts; extra yeast and high gluten flour make for a denser and richer dough. Expect both glazed and powdered sugar paczki, with fillings of lemon, raspberry and custard. “King cake” doughnuts will be available as well.
Industrial Donut, Savoy: Not paczki, not king cake. BUT Industrial Donut will satisfy your Mardi Gras donut dreams again in 2024 by blinging up a half-dozen donuts, Mardi Gras style, for $13.99. By preorder only.
“Meijer and Schnucks carry paczki – but WAY TOO EARLY and are typically not stocked on Fat Tuesday.” Other grocery sightings of paczki in past years: Harvest Market, County Market, Sam’s Club, and Walmart.
The Zagloba Polish Club at the University of Illinois holds an annual pączki sale in the Illini Union vestibule (right off the Main Quad), with paczki brought in from a Polish bakery in Chicago. This year’s sale will take place Tuesday, February 6 from 11AM to 5PM (or until sell out).
NEW this year – snag a 10-oz King Cake soy candle from Fire Doll Studio, with festive cinnamon cake aroma and mardi gras colors. Half of them have a baby in the bottom!
Where else have you found paczki or king cake? Be sure to email us to let us know.