Tuesday, February 24, 2009

If it's Fat Tuesday, it must be Paczki Day!

Ugh! My belly is full. I have been literally overdosing on my favorite Polish pastry... paczki.

Paczki (correctly pronounced as 'ponch - key') are only around for a short time each year. The tasty treats are special-made as a pre-Lenten tradition, making their appearance for only a week or two before Ash Wednesday.

The pastry is often mistaken for a simple, jelly-filled doughnut. However, it is much more than that. The dough is extremely rich, containing plenty of eggs, fat, sugar, milk and yeast. They are filled with one of several different types of tasty fillings, such as custard, prune or raspberry. After frying, the paczki is coated with powdered or granulated sugar, or light icing. The flavor and smell of the dough is noticeably strong. It's difficult to eat more than one, unless you are a gluttonous binge-eater like me.

I grew-up in Michigan City, Indiana, a small town near Chicago that has a Polish-American community that still celebrates many ethnic traditions. My family would make paczki, as well as buying some from the local bakeries. I fondly recall the yeasty smell and wonderful flavor of these treats. My grandmother used to tell me that making paczki was a way to clean out the cupboards and icebox of all those ingredients that would not be needed during Lent; the 40 days before Easter when Catholics sacrifice some of the luxuries of our normal lifestyle.

Now that I live in the wasteland of suburbia in Northern Virginia, my Polish-American heritage is somewhat lost. The area is a great melting-pot of cultures from around the world, but that has also resulted in many of our cultural traditions being lost or watered-down. However, I was not about to give up on having my annual fix of paczki!

After soliciting the help of some friends that live near Chicago, and making a few phone calls, I found a 'qualified' bakery (i.e. a bakery that actually knew how to make a real paczki; confirmed by the fact that the women I spoke to could hardly speak English through her thick Polish accent!). They agreed to ship a couple dozen of the pastries to me via overnight delivery. Thanks to the good folks at Delightful Pastries in Chicago, I have been eating more than my share of apricot, boozy custard, plum, raspberry and rose petal jam paczki for the last four days.

Now that I am dizzy from the rush of carbohydrates, I am properly prepared for the beginning of Lent. And honestly, I've had enough paczki until this time next year.