Originally published on February 8th, 2016.
Fat Tuesday is finally here which means its Pączki Day! This day is celebrated by indulging in the traditional Polish jelly-filled pastry known as a pączek (PON-check). The more commonly used name for these is pączki (POON-shkee), which is actually the plural pronunciation for this sweet treat. Today, Polish bakeries all over the United States will be busy filling orders for all the pączki lovers, but the best place to celebrate is in Hamtramck. This small Detroit neighborhood is known to be “home to the original Pączki”, which is the star pastry during their annual Pączki Day Festival. Fat Tuesday is the peak of this celebration, but the festivities have been extended throughout the week. This leaves plenty of time for you to join in and enjoy live music, experience traditional Polish culture, and feast on as many delectable pączki as possible throughout Hamtramck!
Pączki are pastries made from deep-fried flat dough with fruit or cream filling and are topped with a light dusting of sugar. The traditional fruit filling is prune, but nowadays you can get them with almost any fruit filling imaginable. The most popular fillings besides prune include apricot, lemon, blueberry, raspberry, and custard.
Even though “pączek” can be translated to “little package” or “doughnut”, don’t be fooled! A pączek is simply not the same as an ordinary doughnut. Pączki are made from richer yeast dough that won’t collapse when you bite into it. It was Polish King August III who revolutionized these pastries from savory to sweet thanks to his indulgent spirit and the French cooks who worked in his castle. These simply sweet treats have even united classes. In ancient times, the wealthy savored over rich game while peasants dined on cabbage and jellied pigs’ knuckles. However, pączki were commonly loved by both upper and lower classes.
There is quite a difference between Polish and American pączki. As similar to many other things made in America, bigger is better, and that’s no different with American made pączki. In Poland, these pastries are actually much smaller than ours, with only a little bit of filling inside them.
Pączki are a delectable treat reserved for once a year in honor of Fat Tuesday. Since the Middle Ages, Europeans have been baking pączki to empty their pantries of excess ingredients such as lard, sugar, and eggs before the fasting of Lent began. This day became known as “Fat Tuesday”.
Fat Tuesday is a Catholic day of celebration as it is the precursor to the Lenten season, the traditional 40-day period of fasting before Easter. Fat Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday” in French, as well as Shrove (from “to shrive” or “to hear confessions”) or Pancake Tuesday in the UK, where they typically celebrate by consuming pancakes instead of pączki. Fat Tuesday was named thusly because it is considered to be the last day for Catholics to indulge in all foods before Ash Wednesday, the day Lent begins. This day became known as “Fat Tuesday”. In contrast, the Poles celebrate Fat Thursday or “Tłusty Czwartek” on the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday.
The best place to celebrate Fat Tuesday in the Mitten is by joining hundreds of Detroit-area residents in Hamtramck for their Pączki Day Festival. Every year, they party like its Mardi Gras in Detroit with music, drinks, and all the pączki you can handle. For those of you who can’t make the trek all the way to Hamtramck, below is a list of some of the best bakeries around Michigan to get your fill of pączki!
The New Martha Washington Bakery (10335 Joseph Campau Ave., Hamtramck)
New Palace (9833 Joseph Campau Ave., Hamtramck)
Sister Pie (8066 Kercheval St. Detroit)
Gluten Free Specialties(1928 Star Batt Dr., Rochester Hills)
Paris Bakery (28418 Joy Rd., Livonia)
Benny’s Bakery (111 W Michigan Ave, Saline)
Dimo’s Deli & Donuts (2030 W Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor)
Zingerman’s Bakehouse (3711 Plaza Dr. Ann Arbor)
Dom’s Bakery (1305 Washtenaw Ave, Ypsilanti)
Potter’s Bakery (8th Street, Traverse City or Hall Street, Traverse City)
Butter Crust Bakery (6181 Dixie Hwy., Bridgeport)
Where’s your favorite place for Pączki in Michigan? Let me know in the comments!