Evanston bakery Bennison's preps for Fat Tuesday

March 2, 2014 (EVANSTON, Ill.)

The two items signify one, last sugar-and-fat-filled splurge before Lent. A bakery in Evanston has been making both of these indulgences for decades.

The ritual of forming the yeast-fueled dough, letting it rise, then frying it on both sides until golden brown has been practiced over and over at Bennison's Bakery in Evanston. The local legend has certainly had to adapt with the times, but the addition of Paczki to its menu is relatively new, considering they've been in business more than 75 years.

"Thirty years ago, 25 years ago it was nothing, it just didn't happen. Now all of a sudden, over the last 12, 14, 16 years it's just really exploded," said Jory Downer, Bennison's Bakery.

Downer says this week, his kitchen is a blur of forming, shaping, frying, filling and slicing, adding strawberries and cream to what is certainly not an old-school paczki, like the simply sugar-dusted or glazed varieties.

"We make nine different ones: raspberry, apple, apricot, cheese, prune - that's very traditional," Downersaid.

That's not all, since it's Mardi Gras, king cakes are big business, too. Rolled and cut out by machine, then hand-formed into braids and eventually rings, they come in cream cheese, apple, cherry or praline pecan. Once they're baked off, each one is slit open to hide the symbolic baby.

"Whoever gets the baby is bound for good luck for the remainder of the year, and I think, needs to buy the king cake at the next celebration," Downer said.

They'll have to first wade through a shower of sweet glaze and a few handfuls of colorful sugar. Downer says his staff isn't going to get much sleep over the next few days, but that's part of the appeal to one of the biggest weekends of the year on the baking calendar.

"People think that the real thing going on in Chicago is the Pittsburgh Penguins-Blackhawks game at Soldier Field, but the real deal is here at Davis and Maple," he said.

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