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24-Hour Paczki People

By Kim Bellware in Food on Mar 7, 2011 9:20PM

Lemon Paczkis from Bridgeport Bakery (Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)
As the city spends today celebrating Polish hero and honorary American Casimir Pulaski, ovens across Chicago are firing up in preparation for tomorrow's Fat Tuesday revelry, all to be punctuated by paczki galore.

Paczki Day (like Sandwich Day, only better) is traditionally celebrated on Fat Thursday in Poland. Chicagoans and Polish Americans have long incorporated the pastry into their Fat Tuesday rituals before giving up indulgences--like the lard, eggs and sugar used in paczki--for Lent. The most traditional paczki are made with lard and filled with plum or rose-flavored filling, though most bakeries in the city also create paczki with fillings like Bavarian cream, lemon, raspberry, blueberry and chocolate. Some of the old school establishments like Weber's Bakery add a touch of brandy or grain alcohol to the paczki before frying, preventing the oil from from absorbing too much into the dough.

Bakeries around town endured the first wave of the seasonal paczek rush last week, some opening just before 12 a.m. Thursday to long lines of customers. Spots like Weber's and a few others are closed today in preparation for the crush of customers expected tomorrow morning. If you haven't placed an order already, expect to spend some time waiting in line, particularly if you plan on grabbing your paczki from popular spots like Oak Mill Bakery, Dinkel's, Bridgeport Bakery, Oven Fresh, Delightful Pastries or Bennisons.

You can also try your luck phoning in or faxing requests if the bakeries are answering; if not, your best hope of landing a box of paczki will be to arrive early and get comfy in line. While you wait in line with your fellow paczek pilgrims you can argue the proper pronunciation of the word ("POONCH-key" versus "POANCH-key," or in the singular form of "paczek," "POON-check" versus "POAN-check." We'll let you hash in out in the comments).

One more thing: God help you if you're the person who gets his or her hands on the last paczek in the store. We saw this happen last year at Dinkel's just as the bakery ran dry of paczki a short while after noon, and we quickly learned that a crowd of Chicagoans denied their paczki can turn pretty rough.

As with voting, the key to success for paczki on Fat Tuesday is to go early and go often.