Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It's Pączki Day!

Sweet wins contest Grandma's old Polish recipe packs a winner's punch
February 3, 2008
Detroit Free Press

There are people who love paczki.

And then there are people who really love paczki.

Like Theresa Witkowski.
She's 84, a resident of Hamtramck and maker of what her granddaughters consider the best darn paczki you have ever had.

So, when the grandma had a chance to compete Saturday in the Best Homemade Paczki contest at Hamtramck's Countdown to Paczki Day 2008 celebration -- before the official Paczki Day on Tuesday -- nothing was going to stop her.

Not even a ministroke.

Witkowski was talking with some of her friends Wednesday when all of a sudden her speech started to slur. She went to St. John Macomb Hospital in Warren, where doctors told her she had experienced a ministroke.

She stayed for observation and was sent home Friday. By 5 a.m. Saturday, she was in her kitchen making dough for the fried Polish treats.

"I didn't want to disappoint my granddaughters," Witkowski said.

Her competition Saturday was a rather nontraditional entry of paczki filled with sausage links.

"No, no, no, no, no," said contest judge the Rev. Mirek Frankowski of St. Florian Church, motioning toward the meat-filled treats. "Those are not the Polish paczki."

"No, but they are very modern with the sausage," countered the Rev. Bogdan Milosz of Our Lady Queen of Apostles. "They are very creative."

But, Witkowski's lemon, raspberry and custard paczki -- one of each -- grabbed the judges' attention.

As hundreds noshed on free paczki, Witkowski explained that her family moved to the United States from Poland in the late 1800s. She has been making the doughnut-like treats for decades and said the recipe is pretty simple:

Mix 3 cups of milk with a half a pound of butter, 3/4 cup of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Let it sit until it is lukewarm. Add 12 egg yolks, a jigger of rum and 11 cups of flour.

Let it rise to double its size for about two hours.

Punch it down, and break up into golf-ball size pieces.

Let those rise for about an hour.

Deep-fry. Fill. Eat.

"That's it," she said.

But, what did the judges think?

Sweet, they said. Good texture. Soon, they decided on a winner.

Plate No. 6 -- Witkowski's raspberry-filled, glazed paczki.

Her granddaughters and the rest of the crowd cheered.

With grandma around, "we never had store-bought paczki," Lisa Zebrowski, 37, of Hamtramck said of Witkowski. That stuff just wasn't as good. "Not even close."