For the Next Seven Days, Pączkis the Word

Pączki

By Kristine Sherred

Mardi Gras, for some, is more of a Jeudi Gras. In densely populated Polish neighborhoods from Chicago to Milwaukee, Buffalo to Cleveland, and Grand Rapids to Detroit, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday welcomes the throes of thousands of pączki with open arms year after year. Oak Mill Bakery, one of many bakeries throughout Chicago offering the pre-Lenten indulgence, has been satiating these deep-fried desires under the watchful eye of owner Bogna Iwanowska-Solak since 1986, now through six locations.

More bakeries and donut shops throughout Chicago have latched on to the pączki craze over the years (Bennison’s in Evanston even has a pączki-eating contest!), but another stalwart among them — Dobra Beilinski’s Delightful Pastries in Jefferson Park — starts rolling 1800 of these Polish donuts per day starting on January 30, up to 3000, straight through to 5 p.m. on Fat Tuesday. This year, that marks a solid four weeks of pączki production.

Beilinski says she and her staff work 15-hour days, starting most days at 3 a.m., though not unusual for a fully-stocked bakery. This weekend, however, Delightful will be frying pączki from Sunday at 5 p.m. straight through to close on Tuesday.

“This means I am at the bakery nonstop going home to take breaks and eat food,” says Beilinski, who does not mention sleeping during this 48-hour period.

Following Christian tradition, the yeasted, deep-fried donuts stuffed with fruit fillings like plum or rose hip jam were offered as a means of consuming the lard, eggs, fruits and sugar prohibited during Lent. These days, the penchant for originality at modern shops like Glazed & Infused, Do-Rite, and Stan’s have uprooted flavor norms, but classic treats can be found at bakeries both new and old.

“We always try to improve,” Beilinski says, “to find the best vanilla, the best orange and lemon oils. They give our pączki a lot of flavor. We do not skimp on our pączki.”

Ann’s Bakery in Ukrainian Village, Roeser’s in Humboldt Park, Wiklanski’s in Belmont-Cragin, and Bridgeport Bakery, to name a few, will also bake themselves into a pączki frenzy leading up to Tuesday, February 28.

The bakeries recommend showing up early on Mardi Gras to ensure optimal flavor selection. At Delightful, Beilinski urges customers to also try their croissants and sourdough bread.

Fat Tuesday ou non, the bakery never sleeps.

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