Paczki? Hard to say, culinary Lenten treat made by nuns
HAMMOND, Ind. – Things are heating up in the kitchen at the Albertine Home here where the sisters are preparing for Lent in Polish culinary fashion. In a word, that's paczki.
NUN FILLS PRE-LENTEN PASTRY – Sister Patrycja Bryniarska fills paczki dough with jelly at the Albertine Home in Hammond, Ind., Feb. 23. The traditional Polish pastries are said to have come about as a way to do away with rich ingredients that could not be consumed during Lent. (CNS photo/Northwest Indiana Catholic)
A pastry associated with pre-Lenten activities, paczki are very popular with the Albertines, and Sister Patrycja Bryniarska is the unofficial "pro" at making them. She came to this country several years ago from Poland. Having learned cooking from other sisters, Sister Patrycja is now in charge when it comes to paczki.
Working with Sister Donata Stachowiak as her interpreter, Sister Patrycja told the Northwest Indiana Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Gary, that paczki are not just for "fat Tuesday," the day before Ash Wednesday. That, the sisters said, is more of an American tradition. In their native Poland, paczki are prepared on the previous Thursday.
So, in keeping with the traditions of two paczki-loving countries, Sister Patrycja may make up to 100 on each of two days.
"No one knows how this tradition got started," said Sister Donata, noting that paczki may go back to the 17th century.
According to one account, religious Poles, knowing that they had to give up all their favorite foods for Lent but not wanting to let anything go to waste, took all the rich ingredients, mixed them in a batter, and came up with paczki.
That story makes some sense to Sister Donata. She recalled that people in her native country would eat all they could just before Lent, because once Lent arrived, "they stopped celebrating."
Back in the kitchen, Sister Patrycja had the batter ready and was waiting for it to rise to three times its original size. She starts with flour, sugar and eggs; mixes them; and then covers the batter to allow it to rise on its own – with the help of a well-heated kitchen. The entire process takes about two hours.
"The most important part is to take time to prepare the dough," Sister Patrycja said.
Sister stresses the need to make the dough "poofy." Otherwise, she said, the batter becomes "doughy."
"You have to take time," Sister Patrycja said, adding, "The kitchen has to be warm, because the dough has to be warm."
After the batter rises, Sister Patrycja then kneads the dough. About 40-50 minutes later she starts forming dough balls that become paczki. She will then add rose marmalade for filling. After adding a little vodka – to the batter, not the cook – she then places the balls in oil for frying. The alcohol, Sister Patrycja explained, keeps the grease in the cooking oil from saturating the paczki dough.
Sister Patrycja fries the paczki until they are a light brown color. As to the filling, some people use chocolate, pudding, or jelly, and they have a specific means of getting the filling into the center. Sister Patrycja has "just her own way" of doing it, Sister Donata said.
"You have to be very creative," said Sister Donata.
Sister Patrycja recalled that while growing up in Poland, paczki were a real treat – something the children looked forward to every year.
"Everyone (in Poland) has to eat at least one," Sister Donata said of paczki.
That was not a problem at the Albertine Home, where residents were treated to two days of paczki – the Thursday and Tuesday prior to Lent – and where the sisters wouldn't think of selling their popular pastries.
"It's a big treat here," said Sister Donata. "Sometimes the people ask for more than one."
Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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