It begins a six-day lead-up to Ash Wednesday, as Poles devour sweets in droves. Chicago's Polish community is most likely standing in line as we speak, waiting for their paczki order. And our Hungry Hound says there are plenty of places to find them, including a local chain with four locations.
EXTRA COURSE: LEARN ABOUT ANOTHER POLISH PASTRY TO TRY
Since 1998, Krystyna's Deli has been selling beloved Polish ingredients and dishes to their community in Schiller Park. A recent name change to KD Market has led to new stores in Schaumburg, Wheeling and Mount Prospect, the latter of which we visited recently to see how they get ready for the next few days, when they'll sell upwards of 30,000 paczki.
The process of making paczki hasn't changed much over the years, what has changed is the volume. At KD Market, which has four locations in Chicagoland, including a brand new spacious market, deli and bakery in Mount Prospect, everything is made by hand, which means lots of labor this week.
"We hand roll them. So you take the filling, wrap the dough around it," said Robert Wojciak, owner of KD Market. "Originally they were breads with meat inside of them and were deep-fried. But they've turned into desserts and sweet things."
There are typically about six different types of filling. Two of the classics are dark plum butter and rosehip jam. Unlike other places that will first fry then fill, here, they first fill by hand, making sure to get a good seal on it, then the paczki go into a proofing chamber to rise a bit more. Into the fryer they go, and in yet another departure from places that use vegetable oil, here they fry in pure lard.
"First of all it has a totally different, authentic taste," said Wojciak.
No doubt about that, once both sides are golden brown, they're removed to cool for about five minutes, then a range of topping options: There's plain, powdered sugar; some that are dipped into a sugar glaze; others get the addition of tiny bits of candied orange zest. The key is, of course, anything sweet, since all of those pleasures are typically given up during Lent.
"Anything that's sweet, we have sweet rolls, cookies, cakes, cheesecakes. Sweet is the word for those days," he said.
In Steve's Extra Course, he talks about another sweet item you may not have heard of: Kolacz Cakes.
1046 S. Elmhurst Road, Mount Prospect
1102 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg; 847-534-5939
9500 W. Irving Park Road, Schiller Park; 847-671-1080
835 W. Dundee Road, Wheeling; 847-215-5553