Lately, I’ve been getting many questions about pączki and the difference between celebrating Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday. Personally, I’ll take any excuse to sink my teeth into those powdered balls of fruit-filled delight. Give me Fat Saturday or, better yet, Fat Monday—what better way to kick off the work week?
But I digress. In the spirit of Fat week, let me ease your mind of all your pączki-motivated queries.
Why do we have Fat days?
In the pre-Christian era, the last few weeks of winter were typically the last opportunities for people to eat well, since the food they had stored up would begin running out. After this period, there would often be a period of hunger until the spring.
During the Christian era, the last few weeks of winter coincided with the period preceding Lent (Carnival), which was the last chance to indulge in food before 40 days of fasting. Countries around the world celebrate Carnival with their own unique spin, but these fat days are generally meant to be times of excess.
Is it Fat Tuesday or Fat Thursday?
To begin answering this question, Christians around the globe observe Fat Tuesday, also known as “Shrove Tuesday,” as the last day before Lent. As the last day of Carnival, it is the absolute final opportunity to eat normally before Lenten fasting.
Fat Thursday is only observed by a few countries, most famously Poland (where it’s known as tłusty czwartek), as a day marking the beginning of the final week before Lent. The traditional dessert consumed on Fat Thursday is, of course, pączki. It should be noted that Poles observe Fat Tuesday also, calling it “ostatki,” which translates to leftovers, meaning it’s a time to finish any leftover food or sweets before Lent (including pączki!)
Over the past several decades, the consumption of pączki has been assimilated, by many western countries, into Fat Tuesday celebrations. The result is that Poles still celebrate Fat Thursday by inhaling copious amounts of pączki, while Americans, for example, do the same thing on Fat Tuesday. Americans of Polish descent, like yours truly, take advantage of the situation to stuff our mouths with pączki on BOTH days!
In short, Polish people celebrate Fat Thursday the week before Lent. Most Christians celebrate Fat Tuesday the day before Lent. Smart people celebrate both 😉
What are pączki?
Pączki are a type of round, puffy, fruit-filled donut, often topped with powdered sugar or glaze. Common flavors include raspberry, strawberry, apple, prune, blueberry and apricot. They can also be filled with custard or cream.
How do you pronounce pączki?
Many Americans like to pronounce pączki as “poonch-key.” Wrong. The key is that Polish “ą,” which has a nasal “own” sound. So, be sure to pronounce it “p-own-ch-key.”
Are pączki Polish?
As much as I would like to answer this question with a “yes,” that would be a lie. Although the Poles have made this dessert their own and marketed it worldwide over the past century, historians speculate it was the ancient Romans or groups in the near-east who originally developed the recipe.
Were pączki always sweet?
No. For most of their history, paćzki were filled with pork fat and fried in lard, probably making them even unhealthier than they are today. For Christians, they were a very practical food, providing an opportunity to use up all the leftover butter, lard, sugar and other cardiac arresting ingredients before Lent. These original pączki also had a much harder substance and did not use yeast as an ingredient.
The idea of sweet pączki likely came from north Africa or the middle east and arrived in Poland during the 16th century. In the 18th century, bakers began adding yeast, which gave pączki their recognizably round, puffy shape. Today, hardly anyone can imagine fat-filled pączki, as they are most commonly filled with some kind of fruit or custard.
Is pączki singular or plural?
Many Americans, when speaking of many pączki, say “pączkis.” This is incorrect. The word pączki is already plural. The singular word for pączki is one “pączek.” Of course, I think the reason no one ever says that is because one does not simply have “one pączek.”
What are the nutritional facts of pączki?
So just how unhealthy are pączki? It obviously depends on what you put in them. As an example, let’s look at raspberry pączki (my personal favorite).
One raspberry pączek has roughly 410 calories, 15 grams of fat, nine grams of saturated fat, 15 mg of cholesterol, 360 mg of sodium and 58 grams of carbs according to myfitnesspal.com. This makes it healthier than a Big Mac burger, but watch out, as it’s very easy to eat two or three pączki in one sitting. And, again, it depends on the pączek. One strawberry and cream cheese pączek has more than double the amount of cholesterol as raspberry.
How do I make pączki?
Google it! There’s way too many recipes and variations to list them all here. YouTube also has countless great step-by-step videos.
Have more questions about pączki? Ask away in the comments