Paczki Day is over and all I have to show for it is this animated GIF.

I was so caught up in the fever of Valentine’s Day this year – making mugs for besties, baking peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies for care packages, and planning a fun day with Bear – that I totally blew it on Paczki Day! In case this is the first time you’ve encountered the word, paczkis (pronounced PUNCH-key) are basically a glorified Polish jelly donut filled with either a custard or fruit preserve. They usually have a glazed or powdered sugar exterior, though on occasion they’re left plain. The dough is rich and buttery and, in most cases, the pastry is deep-fried.

Pause. Take it in. Maybe wipe away the drool. Do we need to re-cap? Custard, jellies, glaze, powdered sugar, butter, and fried sweet dough. What’s not to love? These decadent little puffs are traditionally made in early February and kept around at some bakeries through Easter Sunday. But official Paczki Day, which traditionally falls on the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (commonly known as Fat Tuesday), is for some bakers the only day in the whole year that they make and sell them! Just a taste of gluttony before that month of fasting and penance. Oh, Catholicism!

While we had plans to track down and sample paczkis from the small handful of locations in the Twin Cities and prepare a formal dossier, we only managed to try two versions. We had a set from our local grocery store last week, which were decent enough for a donut fix. Their fillings were custard, raspberry, and lemon; all a bit too sweet for my tastes and pretty artificial in terms of flavor. Considering the dearth of decent, cheap donuts available though, they definitely filled some sort of void…which was later replaced with some feelings of regret.

We also made it to Sarah Jane’s Bakery in Northeast Minneapolis and sampled their selection – chocolate-covered custard, glazed raspberry and peach. These were much better in that you could taste the butter in the dough and they had that yellow hue that only comes from real eggs. The dough itself was my favorite part, with their glazes also being really delicious and slightly crunchy. I would have been one content cupcake with just a glazed, un-filled paczki, but this is tradition we’re talking about and there are to be no substitutions. The custard and raspberry confiture were average, but the peach paczki really out-shined them both. The woman behind the counter convinced us to try one and I’m glad we gave in because it was the best of the bunch.

Having not been able to seek out paczkis on actual Paczki Day, we missed a few local spots to sample from, but there’s always next year. Considering the number of paczkis we’ve eaten in the last few weeks, coupled with Valentine’s Day sweets and candy, our pancreas are probably all the better for it.

If you’re looking to try making paczkis yourself, this looks like a really fantastic recipe.

Princess Bars

When you go to college with just over 2,000 other women, there’s a lot to laugh about. In fact, I don’t think it’s healthy to make it through 4 years of school at the Bryn Mawr’s and Smith’s of the world if you’re incapable of identifying moments where the whole notion is a little bit hilarious. Don’t get me wrong, my time at Mount Holyoke College in picturesque Western Massachusetts was nothing short of wonderful. It changed me in ways that any college experience should, forced me to read the American canon, and introduced me to lifelong friends. But it was also stuck in a constant tussle between the traditional, bougie image of being the nation’s oldest women’s college and the rampant liberalism and queerness of its student and faculty bodies.

Imagine then our nightly tradition of Milk & Cookies, aka M&C’s, where the dining hall of each dorm opened up between the hours of 9-10pm for some kind of sweet treat and the milk, soda, or hot beverage of your choice. The dorks, the divas, the white girls with dreads, the crew and rugby teams (swoon!), all of us, clamoring downstairs to stuff our little faces. We had it so good. My beau, who was down the road serving time at UMass this very same moment in time, never misses an opportunity to make fun of M&C’s, imagining it as The Facts of Life meets The Golden Girls around a towering table of cheesecakes and bonbons. It’s not far from the truth.

Anyway, when you have M&C’s every weeknight for 4 years, two things happen: 1) You develop a fevered addiction to having dessert every single evening between 9pm & 10pm and 2) You wind up picking favorites. There were college-wide top choices like vanilla and chocolate cupcakes or magic cookie bars. No one was ever disappointed for jumbo peanut butter cookies or brownies. Less popular nights were baked goods containing some kind of dried fruit and yet, still worse, were the nights we’d be greeted with a few boxes of graham crackers and a tub of peanut butter. It’s ok to not feel sorry for us.

Baby Houseman & Princess Bars: destined for the corner, no more!

I seemed to be in a camp of one though when it came to my hands-down favorite dessert of M&C’s: Princess Bars! Call it the obvious choice, or part of my femme root, but Princess Bars were perfection – oatmeal, coconut shortbread bars with a layer of sweet and tangy raspberry jam between the toasty, crumbly layers. Nomtastic! And yet, they were overlooked and under-appreciated amidst the hope and possibility of homemade swiss rolls. Unjust! So now, just like when Johnny came to rescue Baby (a to-be Mount Holyoke student, btw) in Dirty Dancing, I seek to revive the Princess Bar. No more will the masses put this baby in the corner.

Princess Bars
Serves 9 approx. 3-inch by 3-inch bars

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
6 Tablespoons of sweetened coconut flakes, separated
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup oats
1 cup seedless raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a square, 8-inch pan and set aside. Combine all ingredients together except for the jam and reserve 2 Tablespoons of the coconut. Press 2 cups of the oatmeal shortbread mixture into the bottom of the greased pain. Spread the jam over the shortbread base stopping approximately 1/4-inch from the edge. Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of coconut to the remaining oatmeal shortbread mixture and combine. Sprinkle these remaining crumbs over the top off jam layer. Some spots of jam should be visible between the crumbs. Bake for 35 minutes or until the jam is slowly bubbling and the crust is golden brown and fragrant with the smell of toasted butter and coconut. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes before cutting into bars and transferring to wire rack to cool and finish setting up.

Note: This is not the official Princess Bar recipe of Mount Holyoke College, as I was unable to find it anywhere. This is my attempt at its re-creation.