Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fat Thursday

42/365: Pączki for Fat Thursday
I'll have a dozen of those, and a dozen of these.

The photo above shows a confectioner's stall at the market near my place. Normally the shelves are filled with different kinds of cakes- chocolate eclairs, honey gingerbread, puff pastries, jam buns...

But today, it is all pączki. Because today, my friends, is Fat Thursday, and custom declares that on Fat Thursday a person should eat as many pączki as they can. And then they should eat some more.

Last year, Poles are said to have eaten 95 million pączki. That's about two and a half per citizen.  You see, no one counts calories on this day(a pączek will set you back about 400 empty ones, if you really must know). If you don't eat, you'll be miserable for the rest of the year, superstition says.

But pączki are available year-round. Why are they so immensely popular on this one day in the year?

Lots of pączki
Afternoon delivery to the bakeries. All of those crates are filled with pączki.

Fat Thursday a.k.a. Tłusty Czwartek (pronounced twoosty tschvartek) is a mobile feast, falling on the thursday before Ash Wednesday. One week of Carnival remains; one week before sweets, fatty foods and festivities must be set aside for Lent. In Catholic custom, Lent is fourty days of fasting and religious reflection meant to cleanse and prepare the faithful for Easter.

The practical purpose of Fat Thursday is for bakers to use up all excess of fat and sugar before the fasting begins and business on sweet treats slows down. On this day, you might have a hard time finding anything BUT pączki in the bakeries.

Rose jam, marmalade, toffee, chocolate? So many different fillings...

The traditional pączek is a yeasty ball with a rose jam centre, fried in lard (vegetarians beware). But, according to the most famous Polish confectioners, the Blikle family, in the 17th century, pączki were stuffed with bacon.

Now, there is a common misconception in America, I have noticed, about this traditional Polish dessert called 'pączki'.  I'd like to clear that up.

First of all, we do not eat them on Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the Tuesday followed immediately by Ash Wednesday, effectively the last day of the Carnival before Lent, but it is not a feast celebrated in Poland.

We do not celebrate 'Pączki Day', either. That is a Polish-American tradition.

Second of all, they are not doughnuts. Doughnuts have holes in them and they are a completely different dough besides. And what you might think are doughnut holes are mini pączki, or pączusie.

Now, about the name itself. I have heard the word explained as 'packages'. Not so- the word actually means 'buds'. See the little tail underneath the 'a'? That makes an 'aw' sound, and the word is pronounced 'pawnchkee'. The confusion comes from replacing the letter with a regular 'a':


are, indeed, packages, preferably wrapped up in brown paper and tied up with string.


however, are buds, such as you would see on a tree in springtime, and though the cakes named after them do often come wrapped in paper, its colour is waxed off-white, and the string is ribbon rather than jute.

These are also pączki.

Note also that the word is plural, the singular form being 'pączek' (pronounced 'pawncheck'). One pączek, two pączki. Of course it is only natural that the English language would add an extra s and adapt the word as pączkis. :) (the aforementioned 'pączusie' is a diminutive, and indicates the 'pączek' has been shrunk to cuteness.)

If all this etymology has made you hungry, you should feel justified in running out to the nearest confectionery shop and bringing home as many sweet pastries as you can carry. It is, after all, Tłusty Czwartek.

Meta Info:

Wikipedia entry on Fat Thursday:

Blikle on pączki:


  1. Świetny blog :) Trzymaj tak dalej! Dopiero co go odkryłam, ale z pewnością przeczytam wszystkie Twoje posty:) Miło wiedzieć, że mamy w kraju takich wspaniałych małych ambasadorów. Pisz, pisz i nie przestawaj. Niech cały świat się dowie, że Poland is awesome:)

    1. Dziękuję! Blog jest jeszcze młody ale będzie się rozwijał. Materiału w tym kraju jest na stulecia...