Tuesday, February 21 is Paczki Day! Go ahead...eat up...the fasting season of Lent starts tomorrow with Ash Wednesday.

So what is this inFATuation with Paczki and where did it all come from? Paczki is Polish and defined as a deep fried piece of dough (like a dough-nut) and usually stuffed with filling, then glazed with granulated or powdered sugar. Germans may know these or refer to them as "berliners", while parts of the United States and Canada may call them "bismarcks". They technically are quite different from the traditional dough-nut in the way they are made. That said, they look like dough-nuts and usually have the stuffing of strawberry (my personal favorite), prune, raspberry, cherry, custard, Bavarian creme, blueberry, lemon, and apple.

Paczki are delicacy and a treat specifically on the day before the Lenten season starts known Fat Tuesday. Since Christians all over the world traditionally fast during Lent, the idea is to "fatten" up a bit before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and put on a few extra pounds and take in some additional calories to get you through the 40 days of Lent. It is thought that Paczki has been around in Poland since the Middle Ages and came to perfection when French cooks and pastry makers brought their recipes and experience to the country.

These pastries are made with only the finest fattening ingredients of lard, milk or cream, sugar, eggs, and fruit. While dough-nuts use similar ingredients, the idea is to use more in order to add extra calories and fat...hence the term Fat Tuesday! Being from the east side of the state, I can tell you that one of the biggest and perhaps most well known Polish population resides in a suburb of Detroit known as Hamtramck. Fat Tuesday is huge and many bakeries must take orders days or even weeks in advance in order to fill requests. Paczki buyers have been known to create lines out the door and around the building just to pick up these one day favorites. While other bakeries and big store grocers carry Paczki, the true, uniquely authentic Paczki only comes from the traditional Polish bakeries (such as those in Hamtramck). Consumers will pay upwards of 15 dollars or more for a dozen! As a gage of how popular these are, one Chicago area establishment with a handful of locations around the city sold more than 80,000 in just one day.

If you've ever wondered about the proper pronunciation of these it's punch-key, or some say poonch-key. In Old Poland, the zapusty or "carnival season" reached its height during Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. Elegant balls were held in prominent houses, attended by young men, women and their parents. The rich would feast on fancy hors d’oeuvres, roast game, and fine wines. Peasants enjoyed their zimne noge (jellied pig’s knuckles), kiszka (blood and groat sausage), and kielbasa z kapusta (sausage and cabbage), which they washed down with beer and gorzalka, the least expensive vodka available. You can see why these treats are tied to the carnival season of Mardi Gras.

So go ahead and indulge, but Caveat Emptor...let the buyer (and in this case the consumer) beware...each Paczki is said to have 400 to 500 calories and as many as 25 grams of fat. It's OK, we've all got the 40 days of Lent to work it off!