I had my first Pączki today1 – one stuffed with a berry paste of some sort, and the other with a plum jam. Quite delicious. I was going to eat only one, but then couldn’t help myself from eating a second…
To make it a truly Fat Tuesday and properly usher in the long lenten season, one should follow the path of the Polish to the paczki.
…Pronounced “poonch-key,” the cakes are a longtime Polish tradition considered essential preludes to Ash Wednesday.
At Pticek & Son Bakery at 5523 S. Narragansett Ave., the preparationwas set to carry on through the night, with hundreds of paczkis ordered for pick-up before 5 a.m.
…To understand paczkis or even to enjoy them is to learn a little bit about Polish culture.
…”In the Polish tradition, it’s the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday [that people eat paczkis],” manager Urszula Niemczyk explained between attempts to have a visitor try “just one more.”
The tradition is becoming more and more intermingled with American celebrations of Fat Tuesday, she said.
But for Poles, the little donut is an important reminder of their heritage, said Samantha Kaminski, who works the counter at Oak-Mill.
“It’s a very big deal to us,” she said.
(click here to continue reading Polish pastry puts the fat in Tuesday – Chicago Tribune.)
A pączek is a deep-fried piece of dough shaped into a flattened sphere and filled with confiture or other sweet filling. Pączki are usually covered with powdered sugar, icing or bits of dried orange zest. A small amount of grain alcohol (traditionally, Spiritus) is added to the dough before cooking; as it evaporates, it prevents the absorption of oil deep into the dough.
Although they look like berliners (German name), bismarcks (south-central Canada/north-central US name), and jelly doughnuts (generic name; sometimes “jam donut”), pączki are made from especially rich dough containing eggs, fats, sugar and sometimes milk. They feature a variety of fruit and creme fillings and can be glazed, or covered with granulated or powdered sugar. Powidła (stewed plum jam) and wild rose hip jam are traditional fillings, but many others are used as well, including strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry and apple.
Pączki have been known in Poland at least since the Middle Ages. Jędrzej Kitowicz has described that during the reign of August III, under the influence of French cooks who came to Poland, pączki dough was improved, so that pączki became lighter, spongier, and more resilient.
In Poland, pączki are eaten especially on the first day of Ostatki, Tłusty Czwartek, also known as the Fat Thursday (the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday). The traditional reason for making pączki was to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the house, because their consumption was forbidden by Catholic fasting practices during Lent.
In the large Polish community of Chicago, and in other large cities across the Midwest, Pączki Day is celebrated annually by immigrants and locals alike. In Buffalo, Toledo, Cleveland, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, South Bend, and Windsor, Pączki Day is more commonly celebrated on Fat Tuesday instead of Tłusty Czwartek. Chicago celebrates the festival on both Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday, due to its sizable Polish population. Chicagoans also often eat pączki on Casimir Pulaski Day.
- two, in fact [↩]