Like a knife through cake, the snowblower had cut a crisp channel through the 2-foot-high snowbank in front of Dobra Bielinski’s bakery door.
Had there been a wall of ice blocking the way, Bielinski’s customers likely would have found a way in.
“I’ve done it every year for the last 15 years. So I was like, I’m not breaking tradition. I got up early, I shoveled and I came out,” said Dan Hoban of Portage Park. “My grandma used to make them, but this is the best I’ve had since she passed away.”
Customers flock to Delightful Pastries at the corner of Austin and Lawrence avenues every Fat Tuesday in search of her paczki, pouches of fried dough filled with reservoirs of rose petal jelly, custard — even Kentucky moonshine and lemon curd.
They came this Tuesday, albeit a bit more slowly. Knee-deep snow and impassable alleyways do that. By 7:30 a.m., 30 or so customers had trickled in. It’s usually four or five times that, Bielinski said.
“Usually, this place is packed. You couldn’t move,” she said.
Bielinski was ready regardless. She got to her bakery at 4 a.m. She estimates she and her staff will make about 30,000 paczki between “Polish Fat Thursday and American Fat Tuesday,” she said.
“it’s good for Polish Americans because we can double dip. We get to celebrate twice, and you’re a happy camper when you have paczki,” she said.
Teetering towers of boxes filled with paczki occupied every spare inch of counter space. The sugary warm scent permeated even a three-layered mask on top of a disposable one.
“I take the sugar almost to the point of burning, but I stop right before it burns,” Bielinski said, describing how she makes her salted caramel variety. “I add cream. I add butter. I add sea salt. Then we do an immersion blender so it forms an emulsion. We pipe it out. It’s delicious!”
She hugs customers who’ve been coming to her store for years.
“Hey sweetheart, how are you?” she says to another regular.
Barb Orze, 67, of Portage Park, was one of the early arrivals. She trudged six blocks through the snow to get to the bakery. She said the paczki would be a reward for having to dig her car out from the snow.
By early afternoon, she still hadn’t tackled the car, but she’d already dug into the paczki.
“I ate two of them and I kind of broke into a third,” she said. “That’s not that much when you’re hungry and you’ve had a nice walk out in the snow.”