- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Dainty Maid expects to sell 20,000 paczki this year.

Those are four zeros.

Owner David Hab motioned across the north side of his downtown South Bend bakery, explaining how more than 1,000 boxes of fresh pre-ordered paczki will be stacked alphabetically early Tuesday morning, awaiting the line of customers who will likely be waiting for the doors to open.

“It’s our biggest day of the year,” Hab tells the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1Dxywpx).

The first customer usually starts the line around 4 in the morning outside Dainty Maid on South Michigan Street. This particular patron has been driving down from St. Joseph for years to pick up 16 dozen paczki (pronounced POONCH’-key) for his staff.



That’s a lot of doughnuts.

Sorry, a lot of paczki.

You see, some bakers don’t like it when people refer to their paczki as doughnuts, or worse yet, as glorified jelly doughnuts. Because they’re not.

Paczki dough is much richer than regular doughnut dough, and the recipe is pulled out only once a year at such independent bakeries as Dainty Maid, Macri’s Bakery, West End Bakery, Bakers Dozen and others across the region.

“We use more eggs, more butter, more sugar and all that good stuff,” says Larry Habinski, the bakery manager at Dainty Maid, where he has worked for 41 years. He takes a small amount of dough and stretches it between his fingers.

“This makes it lighter than a doughnut,” he explains about the consistency when it’s pulled almost paper-thin. He offers a warm sample before this particular paczki is sliced and filled with strawberries and cream. It tastes airy and smells like french toast.

Hab shakes his head, genuinely pleased as he tastes a warm bite. He looks surprised to be asked if he’s tired of making paczki yet, seeing as Dainty Maid rolled them out earlier than ever this year.

“No, no - and we have to know what they taste like,” he says with a smile.

Two factors played into the decision to roll them out a full two weeks before Fat Tuesday: demand and competition.

Area grocers like Martin’s Super Markets have been selling paczki since late January, alongside Valentine’s cupcakes and cookies. Martin’s delivers them fresh daily from the company’s Mishawaka central bakery. They are sold in half-dozen boxes and individually.

“Our paczki are wildly popular,” says Cindy Kaplan, Martin’s media marketing manager. The addition of new filling flavors over the years, she says, has led to the increasing popularity of paczki.

Lemon, custard, raspberry, cream cheese, cherry, apple, blueberry, chocolate butter cream and apricot are some of the ways bakeries and stores are filling paczki today.

Some consumers are adamant about what they think constitutes a traditional paczki.

For many people, prune filling is traditional. Others, like me, remember eating paczki without a filling.

Just a few days before the start of Lent every year, my Grandma Prescott, who was of Polish descent, would deliver several dozen of the round sugar-coated doughnuts to our family.

They were about the size of a golf ball. Her paczki were puffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. I don’t remember them tasting particularly sweet, which made me reach for the paczki covered in extra sugar.

“In your grandma’s day and before, the tradition was to get rid of what was left over in your pantry, including lard, dried fruit and sugar,” Hab says. Now, fresh strawberries and cream are the top seller at Dainty Maid and other bakeries.

Dainty Maid will use more than 200 flats of strawberries and 500 gallons of whipped topping in its paczki this year.

Strawberries and cream were also among the first paczki that George Macri placed in the Macri’s Italian Bakery cases on Thursday. Hands down, that’s his best seller, too.

Normally, paczki have been a Tuesday-only tradition at his downtown South Bend store. But seeing as he already had extra strawberries being delivered for Valentine’s Day orders, the timing seemed perfect to start offering paczki earlier.

“We have them out to let folks know Fat Tuesday’s coming up,” he says.

Macri’s Bakery expects to sell about 4,000 paczki over the next few days, but most customers will wait, and stand in line on Tuesday, for their paczki.

“Tuesday is always our single biggest sales day of the year,” Macri says.

“It’s hard to believe,” he adds. “Christmas and Easter are the other two big days for us, but they won’t match Fat Tuesday. Bakers have always said there should be another day of the year that’s comparable to ‘paczki day.’ But there never is.”

___

Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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