By Raquel Zaldivar
Chicagoans in Wicker Park made sure to stop through Oak Mill Bakery for Fat Tuesday to pick up pączki, or a doughnut-like Polish treat traditionally made for the pre-Lenten celebration. While the Wicker Park location has only been open for six years, Oak Mill Bakery has been making the polish dessert for almost 30 years. Even so, the demand at the bakery for pączki has increased every year.
“Our pre-orders were larger than last year,” Executive Chef Jessica Nowicki said. “And last year we were higher than ever before, so we’ve surpassed that by far.”
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In anticipation of people coming to get their pączki fix, Nowicki ordered an additional 3,000 pączkis in addition to the 50 orders she has previously placed for Tuesday alone. Those original orders had about 12 dozen of the pastries each, ready to be filled by the bakery staff.
“We decorate them, we fill them but all the dough is actually made in our production kitchen in Des Plaines, so we get shipments of them throughout the day,” she said.
Starting at six a.m., a steady stream of customers lined up at Oak Mills’ counter. Kelsey Gallan, who is Ukranian, looked up where to find the best pączki and decided on the Wicker Park bakery.
“I mean it’s Fat Tuesday. I kind of had to come. Bit of a cold walk, but it was worth it, I hope,” she said before biting into her poppy-flavored pączki.
Other customers at Oak Mill have been buying pączki for years and make sure not to miss out on the pre-Lent tradition. While customer Brenda Russell isn’t Polish herself, she said that she grew up with many Polish friends and buys pączki every year for herself and her husband.
“My husband is Polish. My best friend is Polish, so I’m honorary Polish and it’s just sort of a tradition. It’s something that you feel like you have to do,” Russell said.
Neil Bossard works in Wicker Park and also indulges in some pączki every year. He decided to stop in on his lunch break for one of his favorite flavors: blueberry.
“My wife gets them every year, and I figured I’d bring some back to the guys in the office,” he said.
When asked why she thinks pączki continue to be popular in Chicago, Nowicki said it’s due to Chicago’s large Polish population. She also said they’re different from regular doughnuts that are available year-round.
“They proof them twice, so they’re very airy. You have to watch them the entire time that they’re in the fryer and they’re only best when you eat them [the same day],” she said.
Additional reporting by Kat Lonsdorf.