Paczki for all!

The Polish pastry is a Lenten tradition whose roots run deep here in Pittsburgh.


photo by Kate Gilliland

The paczki at Oakmont Bakery are arguably the best in town.

Kate Gilliland, Staff Writer

This year Mardi Gras fell on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Known for elaborate parades with shimmering beads, fatty foods and a great excuse to party, Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, marks the day before Ash Wednesday and last Tuesday before Lent begins in the Catholic church. 

During Lent, Catholics usually give up a guilty pleasure for the 40 days before Easter. They also give up eating meat every Friday and attend church fish fries to celebrate.

The point of Lent is for Catholics to give up something important to them. This replicates and commemorates Jesus’s 40-day retreat into the desert. In centuries past, the rules of Lent were very strict, but now, in some areas, they have relaxed, and giving up one indulgent food item or a bad habit for 40 days will suffice. 

But the day before Lent contains several traditions of indulgence, usually involving fried foods and desserts. One popular Polish tradition is the making and eating of the paczki (pronounced puhnch-kee). 

Paczki is actually the plural form of the Polish word. The singular form is paczek. The rich donut started off with being filled with fruit, but now options consist of custards, creams, and still fruit. The donuts are incredibly filling because their original purpose was to be a final treat of indulgence before Lent. 

The tradition began during the Medieval Age in Poland when households needed to get rid of sugar, fruit, butter and eggs due to the rules of Lent, so to reduce waste they would make paczki

Back then, Lent involved eating one meal a day and fasting all of Friday until dinner. All rich foods were not allowed. So, the making and eating of the paczki is a final sweet treat before Lent and a way of getting rid of ingredients that won’t be used for several weeks. 

Paczki made their way to the United States when Polish immigrants came and spread out across the country. With Pittsburgh being full of eastern European ancestry, the pastry is very popular around Pittsburgh. It is so popular that there is a national holiday dedicated to paczki. Paczki Day falls on March 1, 2022, the same as Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Although paczki can be casually bought at grocery stores, like Giant Eagle, and local bakeries, in my opinion the best place to get paczki in Pittsburgh is Oakmont Bakery, which carries over a dozen paczki fillings leading up to the month of Lent. 

“The two most popular flavors of paczki are the Oakmont Cream, with a chocolate cream filling, and the Pittsburgh Cream, with a white buttercream filling,” said Oakmont Bakery manager Rhiannon Martin.  

Selling over 400 boxes of paczki in just one day, Oakmont Bakery has become known for their fan-favorite paczki

Although just looking at paczki may suggest they are just like every other donut, they are much more historic and meaningful than any common dessert.  They’re more delicious, too.