Polish Sweet Treat Gains Popularity As Fat Tuesday Tradition

JANESVILLE

Growing up as the great-grandchild of Polish immigrants led me to develop a few quirks I can’t shake.

I know too many words to the “Beer Barrel Polka,” enjoy kielbasa more than the next person and understand that being called a “dupa” isn’t a compliment.

Being Polish also has perks. Once a year on Fat Tuesday, I enjoy those decadent, crisp and creamy treats known as paczkis.

Paczkis are Polish doughnuts, but they’re made with richer dough and creamier fillings than average doughnuts.

Don Meyer, bakery manager at Festival Foods in Janesville, said paczkis have become increasingly popular in the last few years. They are now less of a Polish tradition and more a mainstream way to celebrate Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday kicks off the 40 days of Lent.

Few Janesville-area bakeries make paczkis. The ones that do bake batches so large that they might compensate for the deficit.

The SweetSpot Bakehouse in Whitewater planned to sell 600 paczkis this year, said Lacey Reichwald, general manager. The bakery and cafe sells them only on Fat Tuesday.

Festival Foods in Janesville sells paczkis beginning the Friday before Fat Tuesday until the holiday. Meyer estimates the bakery will make about 3,000 of them per day—and a total of 15,000 by today.

Why the hype?

People start calling the bakery to order paczkis in December, Meyer said. For many, the treat is nostalgic—a fond memory from their childhoods.

Festival sees customers come from as far as the Chicago area to buy paczkis, he said. Each year, the store sees more demand as people share the treats with friends and co-workers.

A little history

Meyer believes he can serve his customers best if he knows the history behind his products.

Paczkis were first made in Poland and other Eastern European countries in preparation for Lent, he said. Families cleaned out their cabinets before the Ash Wednesday fast, gathering their remaining flour, yeast, lard and preserves to make the rich doughnuts.

They used several fillings, including strawberry, raspberry, lemon, apricot, fig, blueberry, cherry, prune and Bavarian creme.

Families often traded paczkis with friends and other families to get a variety of flavors, Meyer said.

The doughnuts came to America with Polish immigrants, who settled in northern Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit and opened Polish bakeries.

The process

One batch of paczkis at Festival makes about 1,080 doughnuts, Meyer said.

The process takes about 15 hours per batch from beginning to end. The Festival store schedules more bakery staffers during paczki-making season to keep up with demand, Meyer said.

As expected, the store’s bakery bustled Friday as employees tossed dough from one station to the next, stretching, rounding, docking and frying the soon-to-be paczkis.

Meyer said many people wish Festival would sell paczkis all year, but the celebration associated with the holiday is what makes them special.

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