Paczki, pronounced PUNCH-key, are Polish jelly-filled doughnuts, traditionally served just prior to Lent. In Northeast Ohio, these delicious confections can be found in the bakeries of Slavic Village and other Eastern European food stores in late March and early April.
What are Paczki?:
Paczki are flattened sphere-shaped deep-fried dough pieces that are filled with lemon, plum, cherry, and other flavored jam. The paczki are finished with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. They may be iced or un-iced.
Note: the word "paczki" is the plural of "paczek" in Polish (literally "parcel" or "package"). In America, however, the singular form is very rarely used. You'll even hear non-Polish speakers say "paczkis." That's not correct.
History of Paczki:
Paczki originated in Poland in the Middle Ages, during the reign of August III, who invited French cooks to work at his castle.
Paczki Day in Cleveland:
Paczki Day precedes the beginning of Lent, and the baking of paczki is traditionally a way to use up all of the fat, sugar, and fruit in the house--things forbidden during the strict Polish Lenten season.
In Poland, Paczki Day, the day when all of the last paczki are consumed is the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. In Cleveland and the rest of the Midwest, Paczki Day is celebrated on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.
Paczki are notoriously difficult to make and inexpensive to buy. Even the most traditional Polish grandmothers of my acquaintance buy their paczki. However, if you'd to try your hand at making these pastries, this recipe is one of the best.
Buying Paczki in Cleveland:
In Cleveland, the bakeries and markets of Slavic Village all make paczki, beginning about three to four weeks prior to Lent. If you're interested in a quantity of paczki, especially on Paczki Day, it's wise to order in advance. Seven Roses Deli and and Europa Market are both good sources of paczki in Cleveland.