What’s the difference between a regular donut or paczki?

Donuts and paczkis are both beloved round-shaped pastries, but what exactly sets them apart? At first glance they may look similar, but they have some key differences when it comes to ingredients, preparation methods, origins, and more. Understanding the distinctions can help you better appreciate each treat for its own unique qualities.

What are Donuts?

Donuts are a type of fried dough confection that are made from an enriched dough containing flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, milk or water, leavening agents such as yeast or baking powder, and flavorings. The dough is shaped into rings or balls and then deep fried until golden brown. Once cooked, donuts are often coated or filled with icings, jams, ganache, or custard creams.

Some of the most common donut varieties include:

  • Glazed – coated with a sweet glaze icing
  • Jelly – injected with fruit preserves or jelly
  • Cream – filled with custard or cream
  • Chocolate – covered with chocolate icing or ganache
  • Maple – topped with maple flavored icing and bacon
  • Sprinkles – decorated with rainbow sprinkles

Donuts likely originated in the mid 19th century as a variation of fried cakes and sweet rolls. They were introduced to America by Dutch settlers, which inspired the name. The ring shape was perfect for placing on ship’s steering wheels. The hole in the center also allowed them to cook more evenly when fried. Donuts became popular breakfast and snack items sold by street vendors and lunch counters.

Today, donuts can be found in bakeries, coffee shops, and fast food outlets around the world. The largest chain specializing in donuts is Krispy Kreme, known for their signature fresh glazed donuts. Other top brands include Dunkin’ Donuts and Tim Hortons. Donuts remain beloved for their comforting taste and indulgent nature.

What are Paczkis?

Paczkis (pronounced POONCH-keys) are decadent Polish pastries that are most often associated with Fat Tuesday celebrations before Lent. Traditional paczkis are made from a rich yeast dough containing flour, eggs, butter, sugar, milk, and a touch of alcohol for flavor. The dough is fried to golden perfection and filled with a sweet jam or custard filling. Paczkis are round with a small center depression rather than a hole. Common fillings include prune, rose hip, raspberry, blueberry, lemon curd, and Bavarian creme.

Once fried and filled, paczkis are often topped with powdered sugar, drizzled icings, or granulated sugar. Traditional recipes will also contain a hint of orange zest in the dough. Paczkis originated in Polish cuisine and are enjoyed around the world in areas with high Polish heritage. They are especially ubiquitous on Fat Tuesday in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Milwaukee.

The origins of paczkis trace back several centuries to when the western Christian church forbade rich foods like dairy, eggs, fats, and meats during Lent. To use up those indulgent ingredients before the 40-day fast, Polish families made paczkis. The modern version was perfected in the 1800s. Paczkis were likely brought to America by Polish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Differences in Ingredients

When it comes to ingredients, donuts and paczkis have some similarities but also some key differences:


Donuts All-purpose flour or cake flour
Paczkis Bread flour or high-gluten flour

Donuts are made from slightly lower protein flours which lends to their tender, cakey texture. Paczkis use higher protein bread flours which gives them a chewier, bready texture.


Donuts Oil, shortening, or butter
Paczkis Butter

Donuts were traditionally fried in cheaper fats like oil or shortening. Today they may use butter for richer flavor. Paczkis are always fried in butter for a tender, flaky texture.


Donuts Usually 1-2 eggs
Paczkis Usually 3-6 eggs

Donuts use fewer eggs in the batter which gives them a slightly lighter texture. Paczkis contain extra egg yolks which makes them ultra rich and tender when fried.


Donuts White granulated sugar
Paczkis White granulated sugar AND powdered sugar coating

While both pastries are sweet, paczkis take it up a notch with powdered sugar added after frying. This helps counter any oiliness.


Donuts Milk
Paczkis Milk and sometimes sour cream

Paczkis often include tangy sour cream in the dough which gives them a signature tender and moist quality.


Donuts Baking powder or baking soda
Paczkis Yeast

Donuts use chemical leaveners to help them rise when fried. Paczkis rely on yeast which gives them a slightly bread-like chew.


Donuts Vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg
Paczkis Orange zest, lemon zest, rum

Donuts highlight common baking spices. Paczkis feature bright citrus zests and alcohol for a sophisticated profile.

Shape and Size

There are visual differences between donuts and paczkis:

  • Donuts are shaped into rings with a hole in the center or round balls.
  • Paczkis are always round and plump with a small indentation vs. a hole.
  • Donuts are smaller, usually around 3-4 inches wide.
  • Paczkis are larger, around 5 or more inches wide.

The rounds shape and hole in donuts was originally functional – easy to place on a ship’s wheel spoke. The indents in paczkis are meant to hold generous fillings. Their larger size provides a juicy bite.

Frying Method

While both pastries are fried, there are some variations:

  • Donuts are fried quickly at a higher heat, around 365-375°F.
  • Paczkis are fried slower at a lower temp, around 325-350°F.
  • Donuts take 30-90 seconds per side to fry.
  • Paczkis take about 1-2 minutes per side to fry.
  • Donuts are flipped halfway through frying.
  • Paczkis fry until golden brown on one side before flipping.

The slower frying helps paczkis cook through without over-browning. It ensures a tender, cake-like interior. Donuts’ quicker fry creates an airy cakey texture.

Fillings and Toppings

There are some overlapping fillings between donuts and paczkis, but also some key differences:

Donut Fillings Paczki Fillings
Jelly or jam Prune jam
Custard Raspberry jam
Cream Strawberry jam
Whipped cream Blueberry jam
Fudge Lemon curd
Caramel Rose hip jam
Fruit preserves Bavarian creme
Peanut butter Vanilla custard
Cookies & cream Chocolate custard
Coconut Poppyseed

As you can see, paczkis feature rich, European-style jams, custards, and cremes. Donuts offer fun modern flavors like cookies & cream and caramel. For toppings:

  • Donuts feature glazes, chocolate, sprinkles, crushed nuts, coconut, etc.
  • Paczkis are topped with powdered sugar, granulated sugar, icing drizzles, or crushed nuts.

Donut toppings are focused on color and texture. Paczki toppings let the filling shine.

Traditional Pairings

Donuts and paczkis are enjoyed as snacks or breakfast fare, often paired with coffee. But there are some key traditional pairings for each:


  • Coffee
  • Milk
  • Fruit juice

As morning treats, donuts pair nicely with beverages like coffee, milk, or fresh orange juice. Their sweetness provides a quick energy boost.


  • Black coffee or espresso
  • Warm milk with honey
  • Hot chocolate
  • Tea

Paczkis are best enjoyed alongside bitter black coffee or espresso which balances their richness. Warm milk, hot chocolate, or tea also complement their cozy, old world flavors.


Donuts and paczkis arose from different cultural traditions:

  • Donuts trace back to Dutch olykoeks brought to America by settlers in the 19th century.
  • Paczkis originated as a indulgent Polish food for celebrating before Lent.

Donuts became popular as American snack food. Paczkis remain important in Polish American communities.


You can find donuts and paczkis in different locales:

  • Donuts are widely available across North America and globally.
  • Paczkis are mostly limited to areas with high Polish heritage like Chicago, Detroit, and Buffalo.
  • Donuts can be found year-round at bakeries, shops, fast food chains.
  • Paczkis are traditionally made for Fat Tuesday before Lent.

While donuts are everywhere, paczkis are special seasonal treats that pay homage to ancestry. Seeking them out makes for a unique food adventure.


Both pastries are indulgent treats high in calories, carbs, fat, and sugar:

Donut Nutrition (glazed) Paczki Nutrition (prunie)
Calories: 220 Calories: 360-400
Fat: 12g Fat: 15-20g
Carbs: 24g Carbs: 45-55g
Sugar: 11g Sugar: 25-30g
Protein: 2g Protein: 3-4g

Paczkis deliver nearly twice as many calories and carbs! Their indulgent fillings and egg yolk-enriched dough pack a richer calorie punch. Both are best enjoyed sparingly as a special treat.


Due to their artisan qualities, paczkis tend to cost more than standard donuts:

  • Donuts average $.50 to $1.50 each retail.
  • Paczkis range from $1.50 to $3.50 or more each.

The price reflects the extra time, labor, and high quality ingredients in paczkis. Donuts offer a more budget friendly sweet treat.

Flavor Profiles

When it comes to overall eating experience, donuts and paczkis differ:

  • Donuts taste light, airy, and neutral. They showcase creative flavors and toppings.
  • Paczkis offer rich, intense, old world flavors of fruit and cream.

Donuts let whimsical modern flavors shine. Paczkis focus on traditional pairings perfected over generations.


While donuts and paczkis may seem interchangeable at first glance, they have distinct characteristics. Donuts trace to America and Dutch settlers. Paczkis come from Polish immigrant traditions. Donuts can be found everywhere as part of the local morning routine. Paczkis remain specialty ethnic eats that connect you with heritage. Both offer comforting satisfaction when you crave something sweet. Donuts emphasize novelty and customization. For paczkis, it’s all about paying homage to Old World recipes. Their unique shapes, textures, flavors set them apart while still delivering familiar fried dough joy. Donuts encourage playfulness. Paczkis provide a window into culture. So taste and appreciate both pastries for their special qualities.

Leave a Comment