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Paczki Day brings out die-hard paczki lovers

Tom Greenwood and Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

It doesn't matter what you call them: gut bombs, wide wasters, belly busters or Polish crack, for one day a year everyone in the metro area pigs out on paczki.

Catherine Jagiello of Woodhaven leaves the New Palace Bakery on Joseph Campau with 5 dozen paczki.

This sweet, tasty, heavy, delicious, custard/chocolate/jelly filled Polish pastry seduces vegans, destroys diets and laughs at your stinkin' Lipitor.

A traditional treat on Fat Tuesday, they pack more than 400 calories and 25 grams of fat in a comforting confection with an artery clogging half-life of about two weeks.

But totally worth it.

All of which means "nic" to the dozens of metro area commuters who braved single-digit temperatures Tuesday morning outside the New Palace Bakery on Joseph Campau.

"I'm a born and bred Detroiter," said Arlene Ickes, 55, who arrived shortly after 8 a.m. "My parents were born in Poland and Germany and I've never gone a Paczki Day without paczki."

Ickes, who now lives in Canton Township, said she was looking to stock up on the raspberry-filled variety.

"I was so excited this morning," she said. "My mouth has been watering since 4:30 this morning."

Suzy Ognanovich, whose family has owned the bakery for more than 40 years, opened its doors at 3 a.m. for a line that began forming at 2 a.m.

"It's a tradition," Ognanovich said.

"It's the day before Lent begins, so it's the last day to indulge."

None of the New Palace Bakery's 25 flavors are made too far in advance, to ensure customers get fresh paczki.

Ognanovich said the most popular flavors every year are raspberry and custard, but customers this year also are reaching for new additions — chocolate marshmallow crunch and chocolate hazelnut buttercream.

The bakery's 25 flavors aren't made too far in advance to ensure customers get fresh paczki, Ognanovich said.

"They're baking nonstop," said Ognanovich of the store's bakers. "When the boxes come out, they're warm."

Paczki are available all year long, said Ognanovich, but the bakery uses a special recipe for Paczki Day.

"It's the authentic recipe, made from scratch," she said. "And it's a spongier dough."

The Paczki Day tradition originated in Poland but drifted to Detroit with immigrants early in the last century. It's celebrated the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Lenten season, a 40-day period leading up to Easter when many Christians give up indulgences.

Preparing for Ash Wednesday, Polish families traditionally emptied their pantries of temptations such as sugar and butter, baking the ingredients into a doughnut-type dessert they named paczki.

Families in Poland still celebrate Paczki Day, Ognanovich said, but typically earlier than their American counterparts.

"It's the Thursday before Lent in Poland," she said. "So you have more time to indulge, through the weekend."

Down the street, New Martha Washington Bakery had a shorter line of seasoned Paczki Day participants.

The bakery opened at 5 a.m. Monday and will remain open through Tuesday, said Sunca Bakic, whose father has owned the bakery since 1973.

Bakic said she made the decision to stay open the night before Paczki Day after years of hungry customers waiting outside while bakers prepared for Tuesday morning.

"The customers would just knock on the door," she said. "It became more of a tradition to be open Monday night."

Hamtramck resident Rebecca McMath said she has gotten the traditional treats at New Martha Washington for almost 25 years.

"We used to come here, even from Wyandotte, to this bakery," she said. "They're the best."

McMath on Tuesday visited the bakery with her two children, 6-year-old Lauren and Gage Smith, who turned 15 on Tuesday.

"It's very exciting," Gage said of his Paczki Day birthday. Gage added he would get first pick of the family's one dozen paczki.

Jeri Seeley, 36, said she has come to the bakery from Waterford Township for seven years on Paczki Day.

This is the only one I'll go to (because) they do the best paczki," she said. "I'm not buying the Kroger paczki."

Seeley originally ordered a dozen paczki, but left with 18 after realizing she mistakenly ordered Bavarian Creme instead of her favorite, buttercream.

"I'm not going to walk away without my buttercream," she said.

Detroiter Zee Darwish said her toes were getting numb from the cold as she waited in a line that stretched around the block outside of the New Palace.

"I usually pre-order and I made the mistake of not doing that this year," she said, after about a half hour in line outside. "But I'll wait as long as it takes. I'm determined."

Do zobaczenia na siłowni (see you at the gym.)

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