Today, the day before Ash Wednesday, is known by many names: Mardi Gras, Carnival, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, and Paczki Day.
As we turn to the penitential season of Lent, we enjoy one last day of feasting. On this day, medieval Christians used up their eggs, butter, and milk - all of which were forbidden during their Lenten abstinence - by making pancakes and pastries.
Being of Polish descent, it is a family tradition that we celebrate this day by stuffing our faces with paczki. For those of you who are not familiar with this pastry, it is a rich donut usually (though not always) filled with jam (raspberry, apricot, prune, etc.). It is similar to the German bismark or berliner, these round rolls (pronounced "poonch-key") are made with a yeast-raised egg batter.
Until the 16th century, paczki were made with bread dough, filled with pork fat and fried in lard. Later, they evolved into a sweet pastry (thank goodness!). Self-respecting bakeries in Poland never make their paczki in advance, nor do they use preservatives. The dough is made in the early morning hours and are sold hot from the frying grease as soon as the doors open. Some home bakers fill a few paczki with almond paste instead of jam, and encountering this filling is said to bring good luck. An old Polish proverb states, "If you don't eat at least one doughnut on Shrove Tuesday, you will no longer be successful in life."
Polish proverb or not, why take the chance. Eat a few paczki today!!!