If you observe Lent, then you most likely have started the countdown to Feb. 22—Ash Wednesday and the beginning of 40 days of fasting, or the very least, giving up sweets until Easter.
The little time left—called Mardi Gras, Carnival, Carnevale or Fasnacht in parts of the world—will be celebrated with partying and indulgence until the last second of Fat Tuesday, which ends at midnight Feb. 21.
A Polish tradition is to celebrate the last six days of Carnival, known as zapusty, beginning on Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek) when pączki (fried doughnuts) are eaten. In America, pączki can be found in Polish bakeries this week, with the big day, not this Thursday, but next Tuesday: Pączki Day, Feb. 21.
The pronunciation varies. Some say POHNCH-kee; Americans generally say POONCH-kee. Singular is pączek, pronounced POHNCH-ek. Whichever way you say it, the bakery sales clerk will understand what you want.
The baking and consumption of paczki began as a practical matter. Pączki were made as a way to use up the lard and eggs which were prohibited during the ancient observance of Lent. Now, they’re more of a last-minute binge on sweets before the sacrifice begins.
Pączki is Polish for “little package.” And what sweet packages they are.
According to tastingpoland.com, paczki are round spongy yeast cakes, rich in egg yolks and stuffed with one of many fillings like: rose or strawberry preserves, prune, apricot, liqueur, budyn (Polish pudding/blancmange), sweet curd cheese or chocolate. The dough is deep fried like a doughnut in deep oil until dark golden color and served covered with powdered sugar, icing sugar or chocolate. Also, oftentimes it is sprinkled with orange peel. Paczki, among the most traditional Polish desserts, they appeared in Poland during the time of King Augustus III of Poland (first half of 18th century). For a recipe, click here.