February 22, 2004

Hurrah for Paczki!

As you probably know, Mardi Gras is approaching. While some people celebrate Mardi Gras with nudity, public drunkenness, and shiny beads, the more sedate among us celebrate it by eating fattening things. Historically, this practice derives from the need to get rid of butter, milk, eggs, cheese, and other delectable foods before Lent.

Pre-Lenten treats vary; in England, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated by the eating of vast quantities of pancakes. (The term "Shrove Tuesday", by the way, refers to the practice of making one's confession--being shriven--in the days preceding Lent). A traditional Mardi Gras treat is king cake, a brioche-like bread baked with a little plastic baby inside. Whoever is served the piece with the baby must host the next party (and serve the next cake). As you might expect from the name, king cakes were originally served at Epiphany. However, I cannot think of a treat that can hold a candle to paczki.

Paczki (pronounced PUNCH-key or POONCH-key, depending, in some circumstances, on how excited you are about eating them) are, essentially, jelly doughnuts. But they're so much more than that. I mean, I can't envision a big market for jelly doughnut-shaped tchotchkes, but apparently one can purchase bobbleheads and stuffed toys in the shape of paczki. Traditional flavors for paczki include rose marmalade, raspberry, and prune, but you can find pretty much any flavor imaginable at many Polish bakeries.

I'm told that, in Chicago, one can find people lined up waiting at four in the morning outside the most popular bakeries. This will be the first year I try to get paczki in the city, and I've been looking for recommendations. The following are bakeries recommended in the Trib or on Chowhound; if you have any others (especially ones closer to the south side!) I'd love to hear them.

Bennison's Bakery
1000 Davis Street (Evanston)

Delightful Pastries
5927 W. Lawrence Ave.

Dinkel's Bakery
3329 N. Lincoln Ave.

Oven Fresh
7210 W. Foster Ave.

Swedish Bakery
5348 N. Clark St.

Update: I have placed an order for paczki. If you normally see me after about 5 on Tuesdays, please be ready to eat some.

Posted by Susan at February 22, 2004 08:49 PM

Or, Susan, you could have had an authentic paczki or two yesterday for free. Father Mike ordered several boxes for Calvert House and anyone who stopped by on Shrove Tuesday...

Posted by: Patrick at February 25, 2004 10:31 AM

Nothing beats homemade king cake with a sour cream yeast dough and praline filling, unless it's Gambino's Bakery's version of the same (and yes, they are involved in shady money practices).

As for using up your fat -- Coffee Call's beignets for breakfast (yeah, I know Cafe du Monde's are traditional, but Coffee Call's are just better, and the people who work at C.C.'s are wonderful).

Signed, She who caught a lot of beads at Krewe of Isis and Krewe of Endymion down in New Orleans on Saturday.

Posted by: Amanda Butler at February 25, 2004 11:25 PM
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