Polish treats take center stage on Paczki Day

January 30, 2008 11:50:13 AM PST
Paczki Day always falls on the Thursday before Fat Tuesday. It's a busy time of week for the folks at the Oak Mill Bakery, where they're frying tens of thousands of the Polish treats.Whatever you call them, please, do not call them donuts. The bakers at Oak Mill have been busy this week getting ready for their own "Super Bowl" of sorts. They're trying to keep up with the growing demand for these softball-sized fried treats.

You could call their main bakery in Des Plaines Paczki Central for not only Chicago, but the entire Midwest. The sprawling headquarters for Oak Mill Bakery - which operates half-dozen bakeries in the region - makes not only tons of cakes, pastries and other sweet treats, but also, the beloved ponchek.

"Fifteen years ago we started with two dozens paczkis...the first time we fried two dozen paczkis. And for now we're usually getting 100,000 of them," said Bogna Solak, Oak Mill Bakery.

"Please don't use the name doughnuts, you know, because I could, you know, be very upset if you're going to call paczki doughnuts. Doughnuts are doughnuts with the little hole in the middle. Paczki are paczki and come all the way from Europe."

The dough begins as a large ball, but once it's placed into a special cutting machine, it comes out a few seconds later, evenly divided into perfect little spheres. The balls are transferred to the deep fryer, where they float on the oil for a minute or two; once browned, they're carefully flipped over to cook the other side. Removed to a cooling tray, they don't get to rest long, as they must be filled and frosted.

"The most popular in Poland was always the prune or plain sugar. We have from lemon filling, apricot filling, strawberry, rose petal," said Solak.

Sure, it looks easy, but when you try to do it yourself, you realize looks can be deceiving. The paczki are incredibly delicate, and if you squeeze them too hard, they'll lose their shape. Each one must be filled and frosted by hand. Some are just given a shower of refined sugar. A more recent creation is the Gourmet version, which has to be sliced in half.

"This is typical American adventure, what I call them 'gourmet paczki' cut in half with cream cheese filling and fresh strawberry or whipping cream and cherry, blueberry, pineapple...that's how many we're doing. That's a fancy-schmancy paczki exactly and you better eat only one."

Over the years, Bogna has developed several flavors including a rose petal jam, which is a flavor she brought back with her from Poland a few years ago. If for some reason you can't pick up a paczki Thursday, all of the bakeries will continue to sell them through the weekend.

Oak Mill Bakery
8012 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles


2314 E. Rand Rd., Arlington Heights

4747 N. Harlem Ave., Harwood Heights

5635 W. Belmont Ave.

5747 S. Harlem Ave.