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Once-a-year delight

February 17, 2021

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday on the Roman Catholic calendar. That means today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.

I was raised Catholic, and given my partial Polish ancestry, was indoctrinated by my Polish mother and grandmother in a delightful, delicious way to mark this time in the liturgical year. Paczki.

That’s “pawn-sh-kee” if you want to sound like you might have some Polish blood in you. That’s the singular and plural form of the word in English, by the way.

But what you really want in you is some of these. In your mouth. And soon, your belly.

For you see, paczki are the Polish equivalent of filled doughnuts. After a bath in hot vegetable oil, traditional paczkis are filled with plum jam or custard, then either dusted with sugar or glazed with icing. Here in the U.S., they have been carefully modified for our much more decadent and gluttonous tastes. Lent is usually a time of sacrifice and piousness, so the day before said time period is the time to get “fat,” as it were, by using up all the eggs, sugar and lard.

That means yesterday was Paczki Day! I do hope you imbibed, Catholic or not, Polish or not. After all, fantastic food knows no geographic border, feels no religious prejudice.

For my family’s needs (and my own, of course), I sourced our once-a-year Paczki Day paczki from a local bakery nearby. Renown for a dizzying assortment of paczki, the Central Continental Bakery in downtown Mt. Prospect (IL) has an entire sub-section of their webpage devoted to their paczki production. We ordered online for ease of purchase, as the store is wall-to-wall due to their notoriety in this large Polish-American community. Flavors this year included Chocolate Mocha, Almond Joy, Key Lime Pie, Swedish Flop, S’Mores, Boston Creme Pie and–new this year–Candied Bacon. That was my choice.

No, these “gourmet” flavors are not magically injected into these pastries. Rather, the paczki are sliced in half like a hamburger bun. The fillings are then piped on the lower slice, topped with the upper slice, then crowned with powdered sugar, frosting or, in my case, candied bacon.

Yes, it’s not quite traditional. But man are they yummy. Paczki are still regional, popular in most Polish-American communities. You won’t find them at Dunkin’ or Starbucks (yet). But who knows? My hope is you get to enjoy this once-a-year delight next year.

A sampling of the selection from last year.

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