Monday, March 3, 2014

Paczki Day(s) in Chicago

Sorry, blog. I abandoned you last year while I was off to other projects. But I'm back now, and what do you think has prompted the return? Donuts.

Or paczki (POANCH-kee), to be precise. They're the sugar-coated, jelly-filled Polish pastries that have become a much-gobbled, pre-Lent tradition.

Paczki are denser and eggier than typical donuts, and their deep-fried goodness has spawned an eponymous holiday. Paczki Day is celebrated the Thursday before Lent in Poland. The custom blended with local Mardi Gras traditions when it came to the US, and immigrants began marking it on Fat Tuesday.

In Chicago, which has one of the world's largest Polish populations, we honor both days. This means we munch paczki - in all of their cherry, strawberry, apricot, prune, custard, chocolate and raspberry-plumped incarnations - from Thursday through Tuesday. And then Lent begins, when many folks give up such sweet indulgences.

Top 3 bakeries to get sugarcoat your face?

* Delightful Pastries: When you dream of paczki, it is Delightful's pillowy dough-balls that pop up. Delightful will bake 20,000 paczki for the six-day "season," and they'll bake many of those with booze. The joy of chasing a whiskey-and-chocolate-custard donut with a vanilla bean-vodka donut cannot be overstated.

* Bennison's Bakery: Evanston's popular pastry shop makes a mean enough paczki that contestants want to shove trays of them down their gob for the Annual Paczki Eating Contest. Last year's champions look a little woozy in this video, but hey, they won $300.

* Bridgeport Bakery: The South Side stalwart is not kidding around, with heaps of cheesy, creamy, fruity paczki options for a butt-cheap 95¢ each.

Click here for a map of more places to buy paczki around Chicago.

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