Happy Fat Tuesday! It’s pączki day (also observed on Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Lent), a Polish, pre-lenten tradition that everyone should celebrate!
I came across an article about where to find these lovely indulgences, the Chicago Tribune’s Pączki Day Specials from 37 Chicago Restaurants and Bakeries. Too many to choose from so I skimmed the list and noticed Scafuri Bakery was in the lineup. I checked out their pączki offerings on their website and decided to go ahead and get my pączki fix there (: I’d been wanting to try this bakery! A perfect excuse, even though it’s an Italian bakery.
Although they are Italian, they did not disappoint! I snagged a traditional mix of their pączki: raspberry, custard (vanilla bean), chocolate, and strawberries and whipped cream. Other places offer more inventive varieties of pączki but Scafuri did have some unique flavors such as praline, Nutella, cherry cheese, and coconut (they were out of the coconut when I went but they looked so good on Instagram) but I still decided to go for more traditional flavors.
Scafuri was baking fresh batches of these all day and dusting them with a nice layer of powdered sugar (for the most part, some flavors had other finishes). I was so excited to get home and try these after lunch. Boy, did they hit the spot!
I’m a sucker for vanilla custard filled doughnuts (I love Boston creams and vanilla custard bomboloni) so that was delicious but the chocolate might have been my favorite! It was like a chocolate mousse filling with a chocolate ganache drizzle. The strawberries and cream was heavenly as well, fresh, sliced strawberries and homemade whipped cream. I really couldn’t choose a favorite from those three to be honest. I keep going back and forth and back again. The raspberry was good but the jelly was a little too tart for my taste.
So, a little background and information on these delightful little guys:
How do you even pronounce pączki? Last year, when I first heard of pączki, I obviously wanted to try them. I had to look up the pronunciation since I wanted to place an order and the place I was ordering from was only taking their pre-orders over the phone. Anyway, I still don’t know if I’m saying it exactly right, but it should be pronounced something like “PAUNCH-key,” which is how the word is pronounced in Poland.
These are similar to doughnuts but they’re not doughnuts! I think the differentiating factor is the Polish vodka used in the dough (see below). This makes for a softer, lighter, and fluffier dough. It’s not chewy and a little drier when comparing it to your average yeast doughnut.
“Pączki are deep-fried pieces of dough, shaped into flattened spheres and filled with confiture or other sweet filling. Pączki are usually covered with powdered sugar, icing, glaze … 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. The common opinion is that the ideal pączki is fluffy … made from especially rich dough containing eggs, fats, sugar, yeast, and sometimes milk … Pączki have been known in Poland at least since the Middle Ages … under the influence of French cooks who came to Poland, pączki dough was improved, so that pączki became lighter, spongier …” – Wikipedia
Traditionally, pączki were made before Lent to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit one had in their household, since consuming these ingredients was prohibited by Christian fasting customs during the Lenten season. Hence, the tradition of Fat Tuesday pączki was born!
Fat Tuesday is the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a solemn religious observance lasting about 6 weeks to prepare for the annual commemoration of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (celebrated on Easter Sunday).
These light, fluffy, deliciously filled, and sweetly coated pastries have become widely popular in the US over the years as a result of Polish immigrants/descendants maintaining their traditions and marketing efforts by bakeries. They’re mainly sold in bakeries the week leading up to the beginning of Lent throughout the Chicagoland area and other areas with particularly large concentrations of Polish people.
Even though I am not Polish, I find this traditional pre-Lenten treat intriguing and utterly delicious. I’ll continue to eat pączki on Fat Tuesday and maybe try to make some someday.
Happy Mardi Gras and laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll)!