Wait, what? You don't know what pączki are? I'm flabbergasted! Any card-carrying Chicagoan is required to know what pączki and Pączki Day are. After all, didn't Ditka call us a bunch of Grabowskis? I wear the moniker proudly.
All right. First of all, Polish pączki are fried balls of sweet yeast dough that can be filled or unfilled, and iced, sugared or dusted with confectioners' sugar. Americans call them Polish doughnuts but, they're much more than that. The dough is light as air and the flavor is, well, something special. You've got to try one to know what I mean.
Pączki Day is synonymous with Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday when eating fried foods with impunity is not only allowed, it is encouraged before the fasting days of Lent. Funny thing is, in Poland, pączki are actually eaten on Shrove Thursday, six days before Shrove Tuesday, when herring is the tidbit du jour. Here's a little more about Pączki Day.
This year Pączki Day is on Tuesday, March 4. If you're looking for authentic and some rather avant garde pączki, I can't think of a better place to find them than at Delightful Pastries. You have three locations to choose from -- the Chicago French Market on North Clinton Street, the Old Town Cafe on North Wells Street, and the original Jefferson Park bakery on West Lawrence Avenue.
Owners Dobra Bielinski, Stasia Hawryszczuk (Dobra's mother), Robert Hawryszczuk (Dobra's brother) and Nico Hua (Robert's wife) are doing some amazing things with this little ball of dough. They offer 13 varieties, and probably some I don't know about. The most traditional of all is the pączek (singular for pączki) filled with rose hip jam, lightly glazed and garnished with housemade candied orange peel. Dobra, who was born in Poland, does it the way it's done at Blikle Café in Warsaw.
If traditional isn't your thing, the drunken pączki are definitely worth a try -- Jameson Whiskey Chocolate, Lemon and Moonshine, and Vodka Custard. As for me, the Fresh Strawberries and Whipped Cream pączki are my all-time favorite. And when I say whipped cream, it's the real stuff. Just like the pure butter they use in all their pastries.
Pączki run $2.50 to $3.25 each and, boy, are they worth it. Sure, you can get preservative-laden, off-tasting versions at in-store bakeries for 79 cents each, but why waste the calories on, in most cases, inferior products?
Delightful Pastries is taking orders for pickup on Pączki Day through Friday, Feb. 28. Call the location you want to pick up from to place your order. There will be pączki available for walk-ins, but expect long lines and the chance of being sold-out.
Here's a little more about the Jefferson Park Delightful Pastries bakery before they opened the French Market and Old Town locations.
Check out Dobra showing how to make pączki in this video provided by Kurman Communications.
But it's not all about the pastries at Delightful, they make dynamite pierogi and the French Market and Old Town locations serve up some of the best quiche and sandwiches I've had in a long time. But I'm saving that for another story.
So, until then, everybody's Polish on Pączki Day and for a superior experience, head to Delightful Pastries.
Chicago French Market: 131 N. Clinton Street, Chicago, 312-234-9644
Old Town: 1710 N. Wells Street, Chicago, 312-255-0724
Jefferson Park: 5927 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago, 773-545-7215