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What Is Paczki Day? | Travel

Paczki from Delightful Pastries

Paczki made by Chicago bakery Delightful Pastries
Courtesy of Dobra Bielinski

Leading up to Fat Tuesday, many Chicago bakeries are hard at work taking orders, organizing ingredients and prepping dough for the impending rush. All this festive fuss isn’t for Mardi Gras classics like king cake—though they’ll make that, too—but for paczki.

Paczki are a traditional Polish dessert for Fat Tuesday, which has caught on in the Windy City and other cities with Polish heritage like Detroit and Buffalo to the point that some simply call the holiday “Paczki Day.”

Though they’re similar to other fried pastries, paczki aren’t just a doughnut by another name, says Dobra Bielinski, the owner of Chicago bakery Delightful Pastries. Paczki dough is richer and denser than the dough usually used for doughnuts, lending the pastry a certain plushness. A fresh-fried paczek is like a doughnut crossed with a brioche, traditionally complemented by a sweet fruit preserve filling, a very thin glaze on top and often a hint of orange peel.

Proper paczki, Bielinski says, require eggs, milk, butter, sugar and vanilla—all ingredients that stem from the religious origins of the paczki tradition. Before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, Catholic Poles celebrated Fat Thursday, a time to use up “luxurious” foods like lard and sugar before Lenten fasting began and they could no longer eat them. Since at least the Middle Ages, the paczek has provided a delicious way to do just that.

In Poland, paczki are traditionally made on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, but many Polish Americans have also combined the festivities with the celebration of Mardi Gras on Tuesday.

“As a Polish American, it’s great, because we get to double-dip,” Bielinski says. “We celebrate on Thursday and then we go with the rest of America and celebrate it on Tuesday. Imagine having Christmas twice!”

Nowadays, you can also find paczki in many Chicago bakeries in the week leading up to and after Fat Tuesday—if not year-round.

Paczki dough

Paczki dough, which is richer and sweeter than the yeast-risen dough used for doughnuts, sits ready for frying in the kitchen at Delightful Pastries.

Courtesy Dobra Bielinski

Still, a special fervor sets in for the traditional days. “It takes us a whole month…

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