One of my first memories as a child is having ponchkes Krapfens (sometimes called sufganiyah, but they are not quite the same thing) with my grandmother. Not yet old enough able to talk, I remember the smells permeating from the kitchen and wafting through the rest of the house. They would barely have time to cool before I would devour them, in all of their gooey sweet delight.
A paczki is a pillow of deep fried dough that is bursting with a sweet filling. They are then covered with sugar, icing, or more traditionally, dried orange zest. The main difference between a more typical jelly doughnut and a paczki is the dough, which is typically richer in flavor. Common throughout Central Europe with slight variations and names, the name paczki comes from Poland. In Central Europe, plum and rose hip jam are the traditional fillings, but sometimes others are used, including strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry, apple, and my Oma’s favorite, apricot. Cream cheese is also common within the United States and is gaining popularity around the world.
In Poland like many other Catholic countries, lard, sugar, and eggs are not to be consumed while fasting during Lent, therefore in many countries, these food items are consumed in a delicious pre-fast celebration. This is the concept behind Fat Tuesday, to eliminate these food products from the household and what better way to do that than by turning them into to a delectable treat like a paczki? Other religious faiths have similar traditions, for example in the Jewish community, ponchkes and sufganiyah, as well as other food fried in oil, like latkes (potato pancakes), are served around Hanukah to celebrate the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.
Due to Polish immigration in the area, there are several local bakeries in South Bend were you can get a paczki during this time of the year. Stone’s Old Fashion Donuts, Macri’s Deli, Baker’s Dozen Bake-Shop, and Dainty Maid all bake fresh paczkis. Even Meijer makes a very good, albeit slightly more Americanized, version of this Central European delicacy. If you have never had the pleasure of biting into a fresh, fluffy, sweet paczki make sure to get out there and try one before they disappear for another year!