For some it’s called Mardi Gras; for others, it’s known as “Fat Tuesday”. But for Wisconsinites, it’s Paczki Day! Paczki (pronounced “poonch-key”) are traditional Polish filled doughnuts, made from deep-fried flat dough with fruit or cream filling, covered in sugar or icing. Paczek, the singular form of paczki, is translated as “doughnut” or “little package” in Polish. And these little packages pack quite the flavorful punch, not to mention a hefty calorie tag; paczki rack up almost 500 calories each! It’s not called Fat Tuesday for nothing! This traditional Polish treat is adored by people all around the world and Wisconsin is no exception!
In Poland, paczki are eaten especially on Fat Thursday, the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The traditional reason for making paczki was to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the house, because their consumption was forbidden by Catholic fasting practices during Lent.
Paczki have been around in Poland at least since the Middle Ages, but they were believed to have been revolutionized during the reign of the Polish king, August III. He brought French cooks and bakers to Poland, who improved the dough so that the paczki became lighter, spongier, and more resilient. During this time, however, paczki were filled with pork fat, not fruit fillings, and they were fried in lard. Interestingly, this delicious pastry also served as a link between the rich and poor in Poland; during times of celebrations, paczkis were consumed in huge quantities, regardless of class or family stature.
In the United States, particularly the large Polish communities in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and other large cities across the Midwest, Paczki Day is celebrated annually on Fat Tuesday by immigrants and locals alike. The reason why the day for eating Paczki changed to Fat Tuesday is unclear, but the tradition continued and grew. Also, unsurprisingly, American paczki differ from its Polish ancestors in size, because in America, bigger is often seen as better.
Traditional Paczki flavors include prune, raspberry, apple, and apricot, but other more experimental flavors can also be found and range from peach to triple chocolate, red velvet, orange dream, key lime, and even maple bacon.
Fun fact: the world record for paczki eating is held by Matt Holowichi, who ate 23 pastries in 15 minutes! That’s approximately 11,000 calories and 550g of fat! Holowichi competed in the annual Paczki eating contest held in Hamtramck, Michigan, a mostly Polish town within Detroit.
So whatever you call February 28th this year, make sure to celebrate with paczki! And get to your local WBA Member bakery early for these scrumptious delights; odds are the lines will be out the door!
To make your very own Paczki, check out this recipe!