Paczki Day a Lenten Tradition

Chicago and other areas of the Midwest celebrate a delicious Polish tradition every year known as “Paczki Day.” This day-before-Lent celebration occurs on what is commonly known as “Fat Tuesday” during Mardi Gras.

In Poland, paczki are traditionally made on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. However, many Polish Americans now combine the celebrations with Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday. If you are wondering what a paczki is, one Chicago baker sums it up succinctly – “essentially a cream-filled donut, but on steroids.” 

Paczki (pronounced “poonch-key” or “punch-key”) are available at many of the best bakeries in the Chicagoland area. Some of the most popular varieties are filled with strawberry jelly, pastry cream, and fresh fruit. Paczki are described as “pillowy, sugar-coated Polish doughnuts” and are very popular in the days leading up to Lent and Ash Wednesday. 

Chicago is known for its paczki eating contests that are held on Fat Tuesday. These are hosted by various bakeries and organizations such as the Polish Legion of American Veterans. Competitors are asked to consume as many of the jelly-filled pastries as possible during a certain period of time. In Evanston, Bennison’s Bakery is one such location that hosts an annual contest. Cups of hot water are provided to aid in the consumption of paczki, with large crowds gathered to watch the contestants. 

Where can the best paczki be found in Chicago? According to one website, the 10 best places to find delicious varieties of the fried polish pastry are: Weber’s Bakery, J.P. Graziano Grocery, Delightful Pastries, Bridgeport Bakery, Racine Bakery, Marz Community Brewing, Alliance Bakery, Kolatek’s Bakery and Deli, Roeser’s Bakery, and Bittersweet Pastry Shop. 

To make proper paczki, ingredients include eggs, milk, butter, sugar, and vanilla. In previous generations and dating back to the Middle Ages, Polish Catholics celebrated the days before Lent by eating foods rich in lard and sugar. Once Lent began, it was time for fasting, and foods like paczki could no longer be eaten. 

Paczki can be found in areas of the Midwest, along with certain parts of the Northeast and South. Paczki Day celebrations are common in Chicago, Detroit, and Buffalo. On Fat Tuesday in these cities, it is common to see lines stretching down a city block at Polish bakeries and donut shops.