Fat Tuesday represents the last day of indulgence before the Catholic season of Lent begins. From Wednesday, February 14 to Saturday, March 31, millions of Americans will look to fast or give up certain luxuries in their daily lives. Therefore, the Tuesday before Lent has become a special holiday for many, including those in the baking industry.
For more devout followers, certain cooking fats are forbidden during Lent. In Poland, that practice led to the rise of certain delicacies on Fat Tuesday, such as paczki. Pronounced POONCH-key, these donut-like pastries typically filled with custard or jelly came to America with Polish immigrants who passed on the tradition to their kin.
This became a common fried treat to find in urban Midwestern centers with large Polish communities, like Chicago or Detroit. Retail bakeries in those areas would specialize in paczkis, making it one of their more popular products. As its success caught on elsewhere, more and more retailers across the country focused on making their special brand of this baked good.
Creative Cakes in Tinley Park, Illinois (one of the flourishing suburbs south of Chicago) has become a top distributor of paczki. Their “Extreme Paczki” includes creative twists like Maple Bacon Mayhem which is filled with maple custard, iced with maple glaze, and topped with crumbled bacon.
“They’re a little more work than a regular paczki, but you get a lot out of it,” says Beth Fahey, co-owner of Creative Cakes.
Staying in Chicago, another fantastic paczki location is Delightful Pastries in Lincoln Park. One way they’ve managed to make their mark on this seasonal specialty is to booze up the fillings. These “drunken” paczkis include a Jameson Irish Whiskey-spiked chocolate custard and a vodka and vanilla bean custard, and arrive during a celebration marked by alcohol consumption.
Hamtramck, Michigan is known as a vibrant center of Polish American life and culture. One of its most popular European-style bakeries is New Palace Bakery. They specialize in many paczki flavors, and have become well known for fusing multiple flavors together. Some of their latest menu additions include peaches and cream, chocolate/marshmallow crunch (a chocolate and marshmallow combination covered with milk chocolate and graham cracker crumbs), and chocolate hazelnut/buttercream.
While more traditional fillings like prune, raspberry, lemon, and custard will continue to be consumed in mass quantities on Fat Tuesday, look for these trendy offerings from paczki professionals to make their way to menus soon.