Fat Tuesday, the day to feast before fasting, is coming up and what better way to celebrate than with cake and doughnuts. Local bakers are preparing some well-known and some not-so-well-known Mardi Gras desserts.
This year, Fat Tuesday is Feb. 9. It’s always the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent that for many Christian denominations marks a period of fasting before Easter. And in many cultures, it’s tradition to enjoy some indulgences before giving them up.
The paczki tradition
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At Firehouse, Fitzgerald’s ode to Fat Tuesday is paczki, a jelly-filled doughnut little known on the West Coast. But customers line up to buy them when they’re available in Midwest and East Coast bakeries.
Former Chicago resident Diane Hayes has fond memories of devouring paczki (pronounced POONCH-key).
“What’s funny is that you could buy them in the grocery store, but everyone has their favorite bakery,” says Hayes, who now lives in Fresno. “Plus, there was something special about getting paczki fresh on that one day.”
The story goes that the doughnut originated in Poland as a way to use up the lard, sugar and eggs in people’s homes before fasting for Lent.
Hayes says that paczki was traditionally filled with prunes or apricots. But these days you can find paczki stuffed with many different fruit fillings, cream or chocolate.
Fitzgerald says the doughnut is like no other she’s made. The recipe calls for eggs, lots of them. The eggs are also whipped until they are extremely fluffy.
“They are built to absorb lots of filling,” she says. “And it’s pretty astonishing how much you can fit in there.”
Fitzgerald is making the paczki doughnuts as a special order item selling for $24 a dozen. The doughnuts will be filled with boysenberry jam. To place an order, call her at 559-696-0094.
King cake: Don’t forget the plastic toy baby
At Eddie’s Bakery on the northwest corner of Herndon and Cedar avenues, the king cake is always a popular dessert for Mardi Gras parties. The spongy cake is made of Danish dough that’s braided and decorated with frosting and rock candy sprinkles in yellow, purple and green. The inside has a cream cheese filling.
A few Mardi Gras beads may drape the cake that traditionally comes with a plastic toy baby inside.
The king cake commemorates the arrival of the three wise men who came bearing gifts to the Christ Child. The plastic toy symbolizes the baby Jesus. At king cake parties, whoever gets the slice of cake with the plastic baby is asked to host the next party.
Cherise Araica, a manager at Eddie’s Bakery, says the cake has been popular over the years. And for safety reasons, the bakery does not put the toy baby into the cake.
“We don’t hide it, we just place it on the side,” she says.
King cakes are $26.95 and will serve about 16 people. Eddie’s Bakery is at 7089 N. Cedar Ave., and can be reached at 559-323-0900.