Although they are technically a type of donut, paczki are not the common sweet treat you’ll find in a typical grocery store year-round.
There is, however, a brief period each year when Polish pastries are in the spotlight. And that time has come.
Like clockwork on Shrove Tuesday, bakeries serve dozens and dozens of fried pastries, often filled with jam, cream or custard. Although the tradition dates back centuries, it is still going strong in Chicago today.
So the question arises: what exactly sets paczki apart from your typical donut?
Dobra Bielinski, owner of Chicago bakery Delightful Pastries, previously told Smithsonian magazine that, while similar to other fried pastries, paczki are not just a donut by another name. Paczki dough is richer and heavier than what you’ll find in a typical American donut.
The richness can be attributed to the ingredients: yeast, eggs, milk and lots of butter.
Paczki, pronounced “puhnch-kee,” dates back to the 1700s, when people traditionally used their food to ensure it wouldn’t go to waste during Lent, a 40-day fasting period in Christianity.
“Families used up their eggs, butter, sugar and fruit by treating themselves to these rich donuts one last time before the start of Lent,” according to a Michigan State University Extension article.
The tradition spread to Chicago and other communities where large numbers of Poles settled during the 20th century. Since then, many people have enjoyed paczki, regardless of their origins or religion.
They have become so popular that most major grocery stores offer paczki weeks before Shrove Tuesday.
Looking to get your hands on some paczki or maybe want to try it for the first time?
Here are more than 30 businesses serving these treats in the Chicago area.