The manager of Hamtramck’s New Martha Washington Bakery shares things you didn’t know about the Fat Tuesday treat
New Martha Washington Bakery in Hamtramck has made the same paczki for 44 years. The only thing that’s changed? The fillings.
“It used to be nothing but raspberry, prune, custard and apricot. Those were the first four,” says manager Sunca “Sandy” Bakic, whose parents bought the bakery in operation since 1925.
Fast forward a few decades, and you’ll find 19 flavors on the menu. The new flavors this year include guava and chocolate buttercream frosting — and perhaps a surprise flavor Bakic is concocting.
“I have something up my sleeve,” she says, two weeks before Fat Tuesday. “I’m going to see if I can squeeze it in there.”
Bakic, 58, came to the United States at age 11 from Yugoslavia and remembers her grandma always making the doughy spheres topped with sugar or piped with fruit before Ash Wednesday. The family-owned bakery fries (not bakes) paczki in vegetable oil, but traditionally, they were fried in lard.
“For Lent you had to be Lentin, so no meats, no lard, no fats,” Bakic says. “To use up all the fats in the household (paczki) were fried to consume everything.”
Travel around the U.S., and it might be hard to find paczki on Fat Tuesday. Bakic explains they’re more popular in European-based neighborhoods, like Hamtramck, where Polish, Ukrainian, Russian and Serbian immigrants settled.
“They all had them back home,” she says, so it was customary to whip up the treat.
Paczki only became a trend when the media and locals caught on to the tradition, at least in Metro Detroit.
“Just like everybody’s Irish for March 17, everybody’s Polish for Paczki Day,” Bakic says.
She makes one important distinction: “Paczki” — without an “s” — is plural. “Paczek” is singular.
“The ‘ą’ has the little hook that makes it not the ‘pa’ but ‘pu’ sound,” she says. Paczki without the hook means “boxes” in Polish. “I don’t think people want to eat boxes,” she laughs.
Bakic shared a few other fun paczki facts, except for one: How many New Martha Washington Bakery makes each Fat Tuesday. Her father, Petar Petrovic, 81, keeps it such a tight secret that even she doesn’t know — and good luck pulling it out of the bakers.
“Each individual baker knows how many they mix,” she says, “and they don’t reveal that.”
Paczki fun facts
1. Number of paczki flavors offered on Fat Tuesday?
2. What temperature are they fried at?
3. How long are they fried?
5 to 6 minutes
4. How many ingredients are inside?
8 in plain, more in filled
5. How many paczki fit on one baking sheet?
6. How many calories is one paczek?
340 to 450 calories, depending on the flavor
7. How many grams of fat is one paczek?
11 to 22 grams
8. How much does one paczek weigh?
2 to 3 1/2 ounces, depending if they’re plain, sugared or filled
9. How many customers come on Fat Tuesday?
Hundreds. “When our doors open Monday morning, we don’t stop until Tuesday night,” Bakic says. “All we know, it’s lines out the door.”
10. How many staff members work on Fat Tuesday?
11. How many bakers work on Fat Tuesday?
9 to 10 per shift
12. What time do you start making paczki?
Starting Sunday night, it’s around the clock.
13. How many paczki are left over at the end of the day?
Not many. “Even if someone came to rob us, we wouldn’t have one to throw at somebody,” Bakic says.
14. How many years has the bakery sold paczki?
15. How many years have paczki been around historically?
Hundreds, likely since the Middle Ages
16. How much do they cost?
$16 per dozen
17. Number of days they stay good for?
2 days maximum
18. How many does the average customer eat in one day?
1 to 6