Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Paczki, Polkas, and Pictures

Last year, I wrote about various food-related adventures I wanted to have, from taking a road trip with my best-est blogging buddies to immersing myself in sensory and digestive overload at the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest (a.k.a.: "The Super Bowl of Swine").

And now, I can officially say that I've knocked one item off my "to do" list ... YES!!!

My BFF Wendy and I went on one of our "Thelma and Louise"-style trips yesterday, and we reveled in pączki [POONCH-key] - gorgeous, obscenely rich, filled pastries - from the New Palace Bakery in Hamtramck [ham-TRAM-ick], a traditionally Polish city which is mostly-but-not-entirely surrounded by Detroit.

In Polish communities, all the butter, eggs, sugar, cream, lard, and other items that are about to become verboten during Lent - as Christians prepare for Easter through a combination of sacrifice, abstinence, fasting, and penitence - are embedded into sturdy, luscious pączki. (Please note: pączki is the plural, pączek [POON-chek] is the singular. And yes, I'm the only one with a sufficient language OCD to make this distinction; everyone else calls them pączki no matter how many they're talking about ... or eating.  But hearing the English-y non-word "pączkis" - pluralizing the plural - makes my brain want to scream.)

Pączki may look familiar, as though they're merely glorified jelly doughnuts. However, to refer to them as such is to commit a sacrilege - these are a decadent delicacy all their own!

So Wendy and I set out first thing in the morning to purchase pączki, which can admittedly be found at bakeries in Ann Arbor as well as at grocery stores (though these are of such lesser quality that they don't really count). But Hamtramck is the heart and home of pączki - it's only right to shop there.

But truthfully, for reasons far more important than simply acquiring excellent pączki, Wendy and I schlepped off to wait in the cold to have ourselves an experience.

Rather than regaling you with a long-winded tale of amusement, diversion, sugar, and whatnot, here is a photo essay of our Pączki Day adventure:

Where we started in line; the bakery door is still around the corner and down the street a bit. Fortunately, the weather was 32-ish: cold enough to know it's February in Michigan, warm enough not to lose any toes while waiting outside for an hour.  We made friends, chatting with a man behind us who was buying treats for his co-workers, with a woman who had the good sense to wear boots and snowpants to help her stay warm, with a presumed drug rep who was buying pączki to take to doctors' offices (and help keep the docs and drug companies in business!), and with a man who'd just moved to Michigan and was immediately ready to assimilate by joining - beaming with happiness - in our traditions and rituals.

Our host/doorman, who would have served as a security guard if folks hadn't been so giddily well-behaved.  He was a true character!  Numerous times, just for the festivity of it, he called out "One ... two ... three ... HAPPY PACZKI DAY!!!"  And, of course, everyone joined in with him.  (Be sure to notice his sparkly belt slathered in rhinestones.)

Channel 2's news cameras were covering the show live.  The Detroit News had a cameraman inside, shooting footage for its website.

Another shop offering a different type of pre-Lenten treat.  Note that they are "beignet-skis," rather than the better known "beignets," because Hamtramck is traditionally a Polish town ... ;)

All of the staff were wonderfully friendly, despite having worked since 3 a.m. yesterday and undoubtedly having worked very long hours in previous days, as well.  The plan was to close only when they ran out of supplies to continue the pączki-making fest.  Notice the "I Survived Pączki Day" t-shirt hanging in the window, though its message isn't at all legible - Wendy and I each bought one.

Just a few of the fillings being offered.  Caramel Cream was the new flavor for this year, so I had to make sure I bought some (4).  I also ordered Custard (6), which is Jeremy's favorite, and Raspberry (2).  Yes, I bought one dozen pączki and am proud of it!  Frankly, when I think of the flavors I didn't get to try - Cherry coated with chocolate, the Strawberry/Custard Combo, Lemon, the Pink Custard in honor of breast cancer awareness - I wish I'd bought more.

In the door!  We took a number (#16), then waited for nearly 2 hours.  They were at #77 when we got in; they went up to #100, then went back to #1 again.  Remarkably, there was no pushing, no shoving, no cutting, no complaining, no whining; everyone chatted, danced a bit to the polka music being played overhead, told stories of how far they'd driven and whether it was their first or fifteenth trek to Hamtramck ... it was a great, big, happy, pączki-loving family!

My favorite chuckle of the day!  In the display cases, which offered beautiful cookies and cupcakes and breads and such (that, of course, were being ignored because the pączki were stealing the spotlight), I found hamantaschen - Jewish cookies!  Hamantaschen are served at Purim, but they've been assimilated and are now also considered a German Christmas cookie.  When I asked a very nice woman if I could sneak past her to take this picture, I explained my reasoning; the man with her leaned in to listen to my story, then his neighbor came closer ... then the folks further back asked what I was saying, and the men were passing the message along.  Everyone came for Polish-Catholic treats, but also left with information about Jewish ones!

Success!  The fabulously seductive and sublime Caramel Cream pączek - split and filled with a light, fluffy, sweet frosting.  This variety is the one that was most coveted by folks who saw my Facebook post yesterday; it's the one at the bottom-left corner in the picture at the top.


Unknown said...

Oh wow, what fun... well except standing in the cold... don't know that there are too many things I would stand in 32 degree weather for... Granted, I have never had a paczek before, so maybe I WOULD standing in line in 32 degree weather!! lol They do look pretty amazing!

WlZ said...

I was there, it was all Mary said and more... I'll be feeling the side-effects for some time, gloriously so! Already looking forward to next year :)

Candace said...

Now that I see the "big picture", I know that I made the right decision to start with the bottom left corner of the box and work my way up. Paczki has to be the only word to use because quite frankly.....who could only have one? I've made my decision that it will be Fat Tuesday when I come visit you. Someday. :)

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

My husband, the Detroit expert in the family, has never heard of these. And I know he has been to Hamtramck. Boy, did he miss out! These sound delicious!

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