Don’t buy paczki on paczki day

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First of all, say it well.

The word “paczki” is not, as I sometimes do, pronounced “pash-key”, like artist Ed Paschke.

Neither “pusher”, like the Jewish charity box.

“Punch-key” is near. But not quite.

Punch-key,” Warsaw-born Dobra Bielinski said of Polish baking so ethereal that she has her own Chicago holiday, Paczki Day, on Tuesday, March 1. “That’s how you pronounce it correctly.

Bielinski is pastry chef and owner of Delightful Pastries, 5927 Lawrence Ave., and with my fierce commitment to shoe leather reporting, I sat down with her on Friday to talk and eat paczki — the word is plural. “Paczek” is singular, but good luck limiting yourself to one. I could not.

Second, they are not donuts.

“What’s the difference between a paczki and a donut?” Bielinsky asked. “Doughnuts contain water and yeast and whatever they put in there. They are very, very sweet. Paczki are not very sweet. There is butter, eggs and milk inside the dough. Its very important.

“Because they are part of cleaning up the ingredients in your home,” added James Beard Award-winning chef Gale Gand, who Bielinski worked with as a young baker. Gent stopped by Delightful Pastries on Friday to join us.

Paczki Day is also known as Mardis Gras, “Fat Tuesday”, the eruption before the 40-day denial of Lent.

“Some old-school Catholics don’t make desserts,” Bielinski said. “I don’t see them in my store, except to buy bread.”

Platters of paczki are on sale ahead of Shrove Tuesday at Delightful Pastries in the Jefferson Park neighborhood on Friday morning,
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times, Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Third: It’s what’s around the fillings that’s important.

“We eat paczki for the dough, not for the filling,” Bielinski said. “Poles judge paczki by the dough. The filling is the icing on the cake.

Although it’s not a real cherry, at least not here. Bielinski sells the trinity of traditional toppings, “The Pantheon” she calls: raspberry jams, rose petal jelly and plum butter, complemented by 10 other high flavors, like salted caramel and apricot, fresh strawberry and custard topped with chocolate fudge, not to forget his “drunken” paczki in flavors like lemon and moonshine or Jameson whiskey with chocolate cream.

A reminder that, fourth: Don’t underestimate the sophistication of a bakery just because it’s Polish.

Bielinski spends $457 a gallon on real vanilla instead of artificial at 1/10th the price. Unlike some bakeries, she spent “millions” on real butter, real honey, real whipped cream.

And yet, some expect Polish bakeries to be amateurish operations run by a rustic with a headscarf, while patronizing French bakeries no matter what.

“Even though they make garbage and call themselves a French bakery, they’re still popular,” Bielinski said, a seething cauldron of strong opinions. “Even if the food is inedible.”

This is just a glimpse of the deliciously candid conversation Bielinski, Ghent and I had, with lots of laughs and scorn directed at the corner-cutting, small, fixed-cost bakeries run by rude blunderers like.. .well, I shouldn’t name names.

Speaking of stress.

Fifth: Running a family business is complicated. Bielinski opened Delightful Pastries in 1998 with his mother, Stasia Hawryszczuk, a fact that articles – and Bielinski generates a lot of press – invariably mention without further elaboration, an astonishing example of journalistic malpractice, only to drop that fact without then asking : what does it look like ?

“He has his ups and downs,” Bielinski said, unusually briefly.

Mainly ups?

“For the most part,” she said. “We worked, really, very well between us. But sometimes…we have very different ways of looking at things. Then we clash. Then we talk about it until we reach some kind of middle ground.

What kind of things?

“She wanted the cash register banger ‘instead of a modern system,'” Bielinski said. Her mother’s attitude toward a new oven was, “If it ain’t broke, why change it?”

Change is difficult, especially when it’s your brilliant daughter who studied French philology at the Sorbonne in Paris who changes her plans.

“I was so disappointed when she said she wanted to be a baker,” Hawryszczuk said. Her daughter had been such a promising student.

“She was the best,” Hawryszczuk said. “She got a trophy for the best student in high school. Such a great trophy. They put his name on the trophy.

Bielinski’s move into baking required a drastic worldview adjustment for those close to him.

“In a Polish family, if you’re not a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, you’re nobody,” said his 74-year-old mother. “My husband was an engineer. When she graduated from culinary school, my husband didn’t even want to go to graduation because he was so upset. He said, ‘Oh my God. what are we going to tell the family in Poland and our friends? »

But that view has softened, right?

“Now is a different time,” she said.

Talking about that.

Sixth and last: Time is of the essence when making or buying paczki. Just as Valentine’s Day is the day when people who like to eat out usually don’t, giving way to lovers, so the Paczki connoisseur will avoid buying any on Paczki’s Day itself.

“Tuesday is crazy,” Bielinski said. Getting the pastries made and sold is a 72-hour, on-deck effort.

“We have additional staff,” Bielinski said. “My ex-husband is coming. My kids are coming. I even asked my brother’s ex-girlfriend in. We literally have everyone coming to work at crazy hours. We start on Sunday and we don’t let’s just finish Tuesday night.Literally working three days in a row.

Better not inject yourself into this madness. There are another 364 days.

“I would say avoid Tuesday,” Bielinski said. “Pie isn’t just eaten on Thanksgiving. Paczki are not only eaten on Paczki Day. We eat it all year round. »

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