Earlier this week, we celebrated Shrove Tuesday, a day of feasting and celebration more commonly referred to as Fat Tuesday. Or, as I and millions of others know it, PACZKI DAY!
If you don’t know what paczki are - or, worse, you’ve bought something libelously labeled “paczki” in a local bakery department - I am so sorry.
Let me explain.
Often injected with a fruit or custard filling, paczki (pronounced “paunch-key”) are rich, sweet, fluffy, yeasty balls of fried-to-a-golden-brown heaven that should in NO WAY EVER be confused with a regular jelly-filled doughnut.
You heard me, libelous bakery. You know who you are. I’m watching you.
Don’t get me wrong: pedestrian jelly-filled doughnuts are just fine for your midday staff meeting on a random Tuesday in, say, August; but there’s a reason that each year in March, bakers throughout the Midwest roll up their sleeves and prepare TENS OF THOUSANDS of paczki for the super bowl of U.S. baking that is Fat Tuesday. One Chicago bakery alone prepares 80,000 of them in anticipation of the long lines that form at the door as hundreds of people line up around the block to get their hands on a decadent Polish pastry treat before the bakery sells out, usually before noon.
Yes, I said Polish. You might never guess this by my unassuming last name, but I know from Polish food. Barring Thanksgiving, there’s exactly ONE food-celebration day marked in bold capital letters on my calendar, and that’s Paczki Day. And each year, I hope against hope this will be the year real paczki come to Tullahoma.
I know, I know. And I’d be perfectly okay with it if paczki never came at all. I’d understand that. What I do NOT understand are the throngs of liar-liar-pants-on-fire doughnuts masquerading around town calling themselves paczki. Pedestrian jelly-filled doughnuts in paczki clothing!? Oh, the humanity!
On behalf of my people - tasty-dough-eatin’ people I have never met in a country to which I have never been - I am scandalized! How DARE these flat Tuesday-in-August dough bombs claim to be paczki!? The pale, watery tarts just get to slip into a label that’s “a little more comfortable” in March without even introducing themselves to milk or butter? They’ve barely even blown a kiss to an egg! Again, I say, HOW DARE YOU, SIR! There are people walking around this town thinking that paczki are “just a doughnut”!
Zip it, local bakery. You’ve lost the right to speak. You’re in a time out.
To understand how truly heinous this is, you have to understand how paczki became a once-a-year indulgence to begin with.
In many Christian religions, Fat … erm, Shrove… Tuesday is the final day for the devout to eat with abandon before the fasting period of Lent begins. And Lent isn’t just any old fast. It’s the Big Daddy of fasts. It’s the fast that, traditionally, not only prohibits for 40 days eating the flesh of any animal that is killed, but also prohibits eating the fruit or produce of those animals - namely eggs and dairy products like milk and butter.
In the days before refrigeration, items that could not be kept (or resisted) for 40 days - like butter and milk - had to be used so that they were not wasted. Sugar, an item considered to be too “pleasurable” for a time of fasting was also often used up. Hence, Shrove Tuesday became “Fat” Tuesday and, in Poland, the indulgent paczki were born.
Side note: you’ve got to give it to the Polish folks. While everybody else was flipping pancakes, my people were making a rich, custard-like dough complete with a shot of vodka (yes, vodka), frying that puppy in oil and covering it in a sugary glaze. Na zdrowie!
A single paczek (pohn-check) might have up to twice the calories of its Tuesday-in-August cousin; but you can’t waste that good stuff! Use ALL. THE. EGGS! And Milk! And Butter! Om nom nom!!
It’s much harder to celebrate the birth of the “traditional paczki” I saw on store shelves this week. “Oh! Tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday! Hurry! We’ve got to use all the guar gum and sodium sterol lactylate! Egad! I can’t have all that delicious calcium propionate in the house for 40 days!”
Sigh. On the ingredient list for these things, even mono- and diglycerides are higher up than egg. This is absolute heresy, I tell you. These doughnuts shall be excommunicated post haste!
And they were. To my belly. I mean, they weren’t paczki, but they were doughnuts. I’m not a monster.
Should you doubt the importance of the humble egg, by the way, consider how colorfully we celebrate its return to the table at the end of Lent. That’s right. After 40 days without, it’s eggapalooza time come Easter Sunday. The egg makes the man. Erm. Paczki.
So. This year, I’m creating a new post-Lenten celebration: Fat Tuesday Part Deux. Fat Deuxday. And paczki shall be made! Should you want to find me come April 23, just follow the smell of fried goodness and the sound of my victorious yawp… czki.
Kelly Lapczynski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.