If you deep-fry it in fat, fill it with jelly and cover it with powdered sugar, they will consume.
That is the power of the paczki, a sweet, fatty, doughy and delicious Polish pastry that marks the beginning of Lent and the end of your diet. The unknowing might dismiss this pastry as little more than an ethnic jelly doughnut, but that would be like calling a barnacle a ship. No one drives for miles and then lines up early in the morning for jelly doughnuts, but they happily do so for paczki.
A quick explanation: It looks like it should be pronounced “pak-zee” but it’s really “punch-key” or “poonch-key.” To be even more accurate, paczki is the plural form; a singular pastry is called a paczek. Paczki loyalty is especially strong in cities with large Polish enclaves such as Chicago, Milwaukee and especially Hamtramck, Mich., where residents proudly wear T-shirts declaring, “Body by Paczki.”
Tradition has it that this Polish soul food came about in the old country centuries ago when pious Poles cleared their homes of fats, sweets, butter, eggs and other treats in preparation for Lent. The banned goodies evolved into lard-laden treats traditionally filled with rose petal, plum or apple jam and then covered with a thin glaze or powdered sugar sprinkled with orange peel.
Over the decades those fillings have expanded to include custard, as well as prune, apricot, raspberry, strawberry and blueberry jam. (But why stop there? How about a paczek filled with … bacon jam. Think about it.)
As the natural enemy of Lipitor, each gut bomb weighs about 13 pounds (OK, 5 ounces) while packing between 400 and 600 calories per single paczek—although no one has ever been known to purchase a single paczek, which would be like buying a single kernel of popcorn at the movies. Consequently, paczki usually only travel in herds of a dozen, with each box offering up to 6,000 in sapid calories. As they say in Hamtramck: you don’t have to be Polish to polish off a paczki.
–Tom Greenwood is a columnist for the Detroit News