Definition: What Are Paczkis?

History of the Fat Tuesday Snack Revealed

What are paczkis?

The question has been very relevant this Fat Tuesday, as Polish-Americans celebrate the last day before the traditional Catholic Lent, which forbids the sweet, fattening snack.

Paczkis, largely consumed on Paczki Day, are best described as a type of Polish doughnut made with especially sweet dough. The dough is mixed with grain alcohol, so when the hunks are formed and dipped into vegetable oil, the oil is not absorbed.

After the dough cools off, some type of filling is added. Usually it is jelly, but it also extends to jam, fruit fillings, custards, and creams.

Finally, the paczkis -- sometimes translated as "doughnuts" from the native Polish tongue -- are covered in glaze, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, orange zest, or any variety of sweet toppings.

Paczkis were originally first made in Poland in the Middle Ages. As the Catholic tradition demanded, all churchgoers had to get rid of all the lard and meats they were giving up for Lent, which meant eating it all on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

To accomplish this, Poles in the 1600s invented the paczek, using all the meat and lard they had.

In the 1800s and 1900s, the tradition resurfaced among Polish immigrants who had come to America to make a new beginning. Now, though, more than just meat and lard were available; eggs, flour, milk, and fillings were added, and soon, the snack spread to more than just the Polish community.

Today large communities of Polish-Americans in metropolitan areas celebrate Paczki Day with many, many paczkis -- larger bakeries have been known to make them by the thousand.

In addition, large Polish communities in places like Hamtramck, Michigan have Paczki Day Parades, which have become big hits and gained considerable support.

Most paczkis are high in fat intake, which has recent become a cause of concern. A typical paczki can be upwards of 400 calories and more than 25 grams of fat, which spurred some bakeries to start producing a low-fat version of the paczki.