Baltimoreans may be familiar with “fasnachts,” those donuts that our neighbors to the north devour on Fat Tuesday. In Western Maryland, they’re called “kinklings,” and you can easily find them at bakeries in Frederick, like Farmer’s Daughter, where they’re sold year round.
But fasnachts and kinklings are harder to find in the Baltimore area. Neither Hoehn’s in Highlandtown nor Cockeysville’s Pennsyvlania Dutch Market carry them.
Fortunately, a reader informed me that Baltimoreans have a cherished Lenten treat of our own. Donuts called “paczki” are the unofficial Polish-Baltimorean treat to eat before Lent, which for many Christians starts this Wednesday. Paczki, —pronounced “paunch-key,” though some Baltimoreans say it “punch-key” — are also big in other cities with sizable Polish populations like Chicago and Detroit. Sometimes filled with jelly or raisins, or showered in powdered sugar, they’re just the thing to cure your Fear Of Missing Out on fasnachts.
Earlier this month, I headed to Baltimore’s own Polish National Alliance to learn more about this tradition. In the kitchen of the Fells Point building, staffer Malgorzata Bondyra lifted open the lid to a hefty box of golden brown paczki brought in from a bakery in New York. Others are made at Polish Treasures in East Baltimore.
In Poland, Bondyra says, the pre-Lenten free-for-all actually begins on “Fat Thursday,” several days before Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday. The point, as with celebrations like Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday, is to “eat everything in the fridge to get ready for Lent,” those 40 days when many Catholics and Orthodox Christians are supposed to abstain from sweets and other indulgences.
This year, the Polish National Alliance hosted its own Fat Thursday celebration, inviting members and friends in for sausage, pierogi, and of course, paczki.
To many Poles, Bondyra says, the donuts brings back fond childhood memories. “You are getting up in the morning and your mom was making the dough. So when you came back from school you had like freshly made [paczki] by your mom, the best.” To Bondyra, the perfect paczki is one that’s not too greasy — it should be fried in oil that’s hot enough to cook the dough, but not saturate it.
The version she offered me to sample was just as she described it — fluffy and sweet, but not overwhelmed by oil.
Here’s where to find paczki in the Baltimore area this week:
At the Polish Table
The East Baltimore store is selling paczki for $1.75 apiece.