PÄ…czki: A pre-lenten sweet from Poland

January 26, 2007 in baking, cooking, deep fry, dessert, fruit, holiday, Local Food


The full five senses gluttony that is Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is celebrated in Poland and other eastern european countries on Fat Thursday (TÅ‚usty czwartek in Polish) (The last thursday before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent). This is a Christian tradition (that has pagan roots, as so much of Christianity does) where all the perishable and decadent ingredients generally given up for Lent (such as sugar, butter, eggs, chocolate, etc) are used up in feasting that would tax even the most conditioned competitive eater.

A relatively large population of Polish immigrants settled here in Central and slightly more Western Massachusetts back in the early part of the last century. Some towns such as Springfield, Greenfield, Chicopee, Deerfield, Ludlow, Ware, Warren, and Palmer (especially the Three Rivers part of Palmer) attracted and fostered identifiably ethnic Polish American populations. As with any situation where an ethnic group coaleses, food is one of the first manifestations and nexi of culture. For example, Three Rivers has a festival every year where you can get your pierogi fix (as well as other dishes of which I am less knowledgable with, I am a relative newbie to Polish food beyond the iconic dishes).

Another obvious Polish identifier is that you can find freshly made PÄ…czki (Poonch-ki) up until either Fat Thursday or Fat Tuesday (depends on the store I guess) in our big chain grocery stores. I have usually steered clear of these because of their decadence (we are not a dessert eating family) but this year I grabbed a few and shot a couple to share here.

What is a PÄ…czki?

A PÄ…czki is a deep-fried piece of dough shaped into a flattened sphere and filled with jam or other sweet filling. A traditional filling is marmalade made from fried rose buds. Fresh paczki are usually covered with powdered sugar, icing or bits of fried orange zest.

Many countries and cultures share this treat (it tastes like the usual doughnut to me). Polish Jews called them pontshkes (Yiddish: פּאָנטשקעס) and ate them at Hanukkah. They are now known by the Modern Hebrew name, סופגניות, sufganiyot (singular: סופגניה, sufganiyah). In St. Petersburg Russia they are called pyshki and ponchiki (пончики) in the rest of Russia. In Ukranian, they are called pampushky (пампушки) and in Lithuanian they are known as spurgos.

However you may celebrate this time of the year, I say:

Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler Yall!

Break out of your usual box and experience something new. Eat a PÄ…czki