Friday, February 27, 2015
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is celebrated the day before the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. This year, Lent began last week on Wednesday, February 18th. And, just as the Mardi Gras parade is the main attraction in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, here in Detroit it’s known as Paczki Day.
Why is it called Fat Tuesday? The origin of Mardi Gras dates back to when Roman pagans ushered in the beginning of spring with festivals and merrymaking. As Christianity took root, the old celebrations evolved into a prelude to Lent. To be ready for the 40 days of penance and fasting that began on Ash Wednesday, people wanted to eat up all the fat, meat, eggs, and cheese in their homes. Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, became the day to do just that.
So, what’s a Paczki? Paczki (pronounced poon-shkee) is actually the plural form of paczek (pon-check), a wonderful, donut-like pastry of Polish origin. Paczki, however, contain more eggs than donuts and are much richer. Filled with jam, custard, or other gooey goodness, paczki are deep-fried, dusted with powdered sugar, and best enjoyed the day they’re baked.
In Hamtramck, a small city within the city of Detroit and the home of a large Polish community, crowds line up before dawn on Fat Tuesday to buy pre-ordered paczki at the many bakeries, then indulge in paczki and beer at the annual Paczki Festival.
Calories: Approximately 700, more if cooked in lard. And 20-30 grams of fat, depending on the size.
Flavors: Traditional flavors include apple, blueberry, custard, lemon, and raspberry. One of the many new flavors advertised this year is chocolate hazelnut combined with butter cream and chocolate hazelnut topping.
How many paczki are sold on Fat Tuesday: The estimate is around a million in Hamtramck alone. But one Hamtramck baker said, “I don’t count them. I just keep making them.”
So, if you don't make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras next year, meet me in Hamtramck for Paczki. I'll take one raspberry, please!