It’s dangerous out there, today. Not just the calories, but standing in the cold queuing for the pączki. I finally got a taste of standing in line in -5C. Didn’t think I could hack the 30 minutes but I did. Folks buy like packets of 10 to 15 pieces at a time.
Pączki Siege Warsaw Insider (March, 2011)
Resistance is futile. Give in and join the pączki feeding frenzy on Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday). March 3rd is the last day of sanctioned over indulgence before the tightening of the belts for Lent.
“We have only pączki,” barks the sales assistant, somewhat puzzled by my silly question of whether there are any cheesecake or ciasto drożdżowe (yeast cake) on Tłusty Czwartek. Traditionally, on the last Thursday before Lent, everyone loosens the belts and binges on these deep-fried yeast-risen dough. And at the cukierni (pastry shops), all production capacity and shelf space are ceded to pączki and faworki (deep-fried pastry shaped into ribbons or roses, and generously doused in icing sugar). The latter is really just a supporting act. The diva of the day is the pączek (the singular of pączki) that packs in 300 to 350 calories a pop. Should you decline to fatten your waistline, the rap you’ll get is, “No calorie counting on Tłusty Czwartek!” Further, you’re cornered in by an urban myth that predicts bad luck for the next 12 months if you didn’t surrender to at least one. So, there’s no fighting tradition or social pressure. Have one. Or a dozen. “Everything in moderation” is not the order of the day.
Also an order of the day is to wrap up snugly and stand in queue at your preferred pączki supplier. While queuing, if you’re feeling brave (or reckless), you could engage the stranger next in line to a discussion on whether a pączek can be called a jelly doughnut. Be aware that some folks get quite worked up over this indecent notion, arguing that the dough for the Polish version is richer, lighter, and fluffier and possibly has a higher IQ, too.
Another contentious point is what constitutes a genuinely traditional pączek. According to Pracownia Cukiernicza, a third generation family-run setup with almost 90 years history, the filling should be plum jam and the orb is either glazed or dusted with icing sugar only. At Blikle’s, the aristocrat of Warsaw’s sweets business, the jam is rosehip and the glazing is speckled with candied citrus peel. Blikle’s rendition is often regarded as the industry standard. However, both parties have their followers. Mrs. Adamuszewska, the owner of Pracownia Cukiernicza, claimed that on Fat Thursday the faithful ones show up to queue at as early as 4am. She said their key selling point is nothing is produced in advance so that every customer walks off with freshly-made, warm pączki. They sell nothing but pączki day in day out. Located in a pre-war redbrick building, this basic store is a trip back in time to the-way-we-were. Meanwhile, Blikle’s pączki sales figures speak for themselves: a 1000% surge on Fat Thursday compared to other days.
Around the corner from Blikle’s flagship store is Pawłowice, a hole-in-the-wall operation with “free-style” pączki. A non-conformist, by local pączek benchmark, it has boldly brought in more flavours, including chocolate, cherry and advokat fillings. There are long lines here throughout the year despite the grouchy, hurry-up-and-decide-what-you-want service.
Maybe not grouchy, but certainly not cracking a smile anytime soon are the shop assistants of Cukiernia Sławomir Dybalski, located near Politechnika Warszawska (Warsaw University of Technology). That hasn’t stopped me from frequenting them. You get plum jam and the glazing is encrusted with orange peels. That’s what I’ll be having, unless someone flies in some Krispy Kreme.
Blikle: ul. Nowy Świat 33, tel. 22 826-6619
Cukiernia Sławomir Dybalski: ul. Noakowskiego 16, tel. 22 621-6004
Pawłowice: ul. Chmielna 13,
Pracownia Cukiernicza: ul. Górczewska 15, tel. 22 632-1918