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Polish paczki A Fat Tuesday favorite

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

By JoAnn Jones

Helena Tofilski of Berlin Center, who immigrated to the United States from Poland at the of age 21, knows the importance of preserving traditions and exposing others to her culture and heritage.

One of those traditions is the baking of paczki, a filled pastry that looks like a jelly doughnut but is much richer and denser. Brown and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, they are usually eaten on Fat Tuesday just before fasting on Ash Wednesday in observance of Lent.

“I bake them for my husband for Lent,” Tofilski said. “They’re always his favorite. I make them at other times, too, when I think he deserves it.”

She credits her mother-in-law for teaching her how to bake the delicious pastries, adding that her own mother “made the best rye bread in the world.”

The paczki (pronounced PUNCH-key) are being sold locally to help raise funds to purchase costumes for the Krakowiaki Polish Circle, a dance group made up of children and adults.

The group is taking orders for paczki until tomorrow, and they will be ready for pickup from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at St. Columba Cathedral parish hall, 159 W. Rayen Ave., Youngstown — just in time for Fat Tuesday next week. All orders must be prepaid.

Tolfilski emphasized that the delicious treats must be eaten while they’re very fresh, which is why they’re being picked up on Monday before Lent begins Wednesday.

Tolfiski and Agata “Agi” Khoury of Poland have been part of one of the groups baking the paczki for the orders that are coming in.

“These are homemade, and not just by our group,” Khoury said, noting that paczki is being made by several groups of people in private homes. “I’m doing this because I wanted to be part of the culture, what I grew up with. My mom would make them for us at Lent.”

“There’s a lot of camaraderie while we make them,” Khoury said. “We have to wait for the dough to rise, then we wait for the doughnut balls to rise. We always love to do things like this.”

Khoury, the mother of three children under 5, said she believes it’s important to pass traditions such as this one on to succeeding generations. “We make sure our kids know about the culture that’s been passed on to us,” she said.

Khoury, one of the choreographers of the Krakowiaki group that is selling the paczki, said the group practices every week and has posted information about their dancing on the website of the area’s umbrella group at

Aundrea Heschmeyer of Liberty, who handles the publicity for Polish Youngstown, said the goal of this umbrella group is to help all the Polish organizations in Youngstown.

“Our goal is to share with the rest of the community all things that are Polish,” said Heschmeyer. “The paczki is part of what we’re bringing back,” she said.

The group also sponsors a Happy Hour that always has an educational twist, such as a vintner talking about harvesting grapes, Heschmeyer said, adding that information about all Polish events, including the paczki sale, can be found on the website.

“Last year we sold 800 paczki, and this year our plan is to have several teams make them,” she said. “We’re hoping we don’t have to pull an all-nighter to get them all done.”

Paczki can still be ordered by going to the website and filling out the order form. Patrons can also call 330-646-4082 to order, Heschmeyer said.