Agnieszka “Agnes” Hurtado loves her kitchen.
Equipped with three ovens, a six-burner gas stove and a wide island countertop, it’s where the Polish native and home baker can whip up dozens of pastries — even 2,000 paczki some years.
“If I make paczki, I don’t sleep,” Hurtado said.
Paczki (or paczek for one) are fried Polish donuts filled with jam. Residents across Chicago and the Midwest celebrate the donut every year on Fat Tuesday, better known to some as “Paczki Day.” But for the Polish community, Hurtado said, paczki are mostly eaten the week before Lent on Fat Thursday.
That’s also when Hurtado doesn’t sleep for roughly 36 hours because she’s fulfilling paczki orders with her business, La Blondina Pastry.
“I’m just going to make them on Thursday, Tuesday, and then I’m done for the whole year,” the suburban Villa Park resident said.
Though she might be done making paczki for the rest of the year, that doesn’t mean she’s done baking. Hurtado said she also takes orders for bread, tarts and cakes.
“You name it, I make it,” she said.
Hurtado moved to the U.S. from eastern Poland when she was a teenager. After training with the French Pastry School in Chicago, she opened a bakery and storefront, called La Blondina Bakery, in 2010. Three years later, she closed the bakery. Hurtado said she didn’t think she’d bake after that.
“Then people kept asking me to bake stuff, and slowly I just started baking for people and the business just started picking up,” she said.
Now, more than 10 years since closing her storefront, Hurtado said she’s considering taking her baking and business to brick and mortar. But in the meantime, Hurtado said she enjoys baking inside her home.
“I make what I love. … If you would come to my house, it’s exactly the same thing you would buy,” she said.
Hurtado said customers can place orders on La Blondina Bakery’s Facebook page.
Hurtado is still taking paczki orders for Fat Tuesday, but she said she only makes two traditional Polish flavors: rose and plum jam.
“I know people make different kinds, they ask me for different kinds, but I don’t make it,” she said. “That’s the way I make it. You like it or don’t.”
Hurtado shared her paczki recipe with WTTW News:
Step 1: Make the Dough
Hurtado said she measures out the ingredients before starting. All ingredients should be at room temperature.
She starts by whipping together egg yolks (140 grams, or about 7 egg yolks) and sugar (150 grams) until the mixture is light and airy.
She then adds the egg mixture to a separate bowl with flour (1,000 grams) and instant yeast (25 grams). While mixing the two, she adds milk (500 ml). Hurtado then slowly adds in Spirytus vodka (30 grams), which she said helps keep the donuts fresh, and then mixes in butter (140 grams).
Hurtado said once the dough doesn’t stick to the bowl, she covers it with a towel and lets it rest for 1-1.5 hours.
Step 2: Cut and Fill the Paczki With Jam
After the dough is done resting, Hurtado cuts and measures out individual 80-gram pieces. Afterwards, she flattens each piece into a small disc by pressing her fingers into the dough and then pipes a dollop of jam in the center.
Hurtado said she adds jam before frying the donut, as opposed to piping afterwards, because “that’s the traditional Polish way to make them.”
Hurtado said she buys the jam from Poland, but other home bakers can find it at their local Polish grocer.
Step 3: Seal the Paczki
Hurtado seals the jam inside each paczek by pinching the edges together and rolling the donuts into a ball.
Once she’s done, she lets the donuts rest for another 1-1.5 hours.
Step 4: Fry the Paczki
As the paczki are resting, Hurtado heats up a large pot with lard (“How my grandma used to make it”) to 175-180 degrees Celsius.
Once the dough has rested and the fat has reached frying temperature, she adds the paczki to the pot. Hurtado said she adds each paczek upside down so that the donut’s pinched seal is facing up.
She lets the donuts fry for about a minute before flipping them over for another minute, repeating this step 5-6 times for a total of 8-9 minutes until the paczki are dark brown.
Hurtado then removes the paczki from the pot and lets them cool for 5 minutes.
Step 5: Add the Icing and Toppings, Then Enjoy!
Once the paczki are cooled, Hurtado brushes on a homemade icing and sprinkles dried orange peel on top. She lets the icing dry for a few minutes before taking a bite.
“They say you should always eat paczki for Fat Thursday because they bring you luck for the whole year,” she said.
“So the more you eat, the more luck you have.”
Hurtado’s recipe makes 12 paczki.