The word “paczki” is not, as I sometimes do, pronounced “pash-key,” like artist Ed Paschke.
Nor “push-key,” like the Jewish charity box.
“Punch-key” is close. But not quite.
“Poinch-key,” said Warsaw-born Dobra Bielinski, of the Polish pastry so ethereal it has its own holiday in Chicago, Paczki Day, Tuesday March 1. “That’s how you properly pronounce it.”
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 Friday to talk and eat paczki — the word is plural. “Paczek” is singular, though good luck limiting yourself to one. I couldn’t.
Second, they’re not doughnuts.
“What’s the difference between a paczki and a doughnut?” asked Bielinski. “Doughnuts have water and yeast and whatever the hell they put in. They’re very, very sweet. Paczki are not very sweet. There’s butter, eggs and milk inside the dough. That’s very important.”
“Because they’re part of the cleaning out of ingredients in your house,” added James Beard Award-winning chef Gale Gand, who Bielinski worked under as a young baker. Gand swung by Delightful Pastries on Friday to join us.
Paczki Day is also known as Mardi Gras, “Fat Tuesday,” the blowout before the 40-day denial of Lent.
“Certain old-school Catholics don’t do desserts,” Bielinski said. “I don’t see them in my store except to buy bread.”
Third: It’s what’s around the fillings that’s important.
“We eat paczki for the dough, not the filling,” Bielinski said. “Polish people judge paczki by the dough. The filling is the cherry on the top.”
Though not actual cherry, at least not here. Bielinski sells the trinity of traditional fillings, “The Pantheon” she calls it: raspberry preserves, rose petal jelly and plum butter, augmented by 10 more haute flavors, like salted caramel and apricot, fresh strawberry and custard topped with chocolate fudge, not to forget her “drunken” paczki in flavors like lemon and moonshine or Jameson whiskey with chocolate custard.
A reminder that, fourth: Don’t underestimate the sophistication of a bakery just because it’s Polish.