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McHenry County bakeries prepare for Fat Tuesday

CRYSTAL LAKE – Pastry chef Konrad Kochmanski gets little rest in the frantic days before Fat Tuesday.

To get him through long shifts where he prepares thousands of paczki for hundreds of McHenry County residents celebrating the Polish holiday before the start of Lent, he depends on three good friends – his wife, coffee and Red Bull.

“He doesn’t much go to sleep,” said Beata Kochmanski, the pastry chef’s wife, less than 24 hours before Konrad’s Bakery, 9531 Ackman Road, Lake in the Hills, opens two hours early at 6 a.m. Tuesday to sell thousands of paczki to satisfy McHenry County’s sweet tooth. “Tomorrow we’ll have 5,000 paczkis for sale.”

The life of a Polish pastry chef is not glamorous. The sugar-splattered post comes with long hours in the kitchen, little sleep and no time to talk to anyone – except a small, loyal bakery crew – let alone the media calling for a quote to throw in a newspaper story. Konrad Kochmanski was not available to talk with the Northwest Herald on Monday. There was too much work to be done, his wife said.

“On Thursday, we sold 1,500 paczkis – 125 dozen,” Beata Kochmanski said.

In McHenry County, people take their paczki seriously. The Polish pastry is similar to a jelly doughnut, but this delectable treat is made with an especially rich, raised yeast dough filled with a combination of buttercream and fruit or buttercream and custard.

At Country Donuts, a 24-hour pastry shop in Crystal Lake, paczki demand has been overwhelming this year.

“We can’t keep up,” said co-owner Larry Swanson, a 72-year-old pastry chef who has been baking for 42 years. “We’ve had hundreds of orders every day.”

Country Donuts stopped taking orders Sunday and Monday. On those days, the bakery whipped up more than 800 dozen paczki – orders for customers from as far as Elgin.

“Some people just go nuts,” Swanson said.

The secret to making a good paczki? A proper, generous portion, Swanson said.

“You can’t have a small paczki,” he said. “It’s a big thing.”

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