At this time of year, Toledo baker Scott Nugent said he sheds various components of his heritage and becomes 100 percent Polish. How else would he supply a majority of the city's Polish population with paczki, its favorite traditional pastry?
Mr. Nugent, who owns Bakery Unlimited, 4427 Secor Rd., prides himself on being one of the few bakers in Toledo who make paczki in their time-honored form.
He said he learned his recipe 18 years ago from the late Richard Menke, a longtime Toledo baker Mr. Nugent said was pure Polish. He's been making paczki the same way ever since.
Pronounced "poonchkey," the pastries first resemble sweet dinner rolls before they are stuffed with a flavored jelly or dried fruit and rolled in powdered sugar.
They're the Polish tradition among Protestants and Catholics to indulge before Lent, which begins Wednesday. Mr. Nugent and his employees have been making paczki for a month in preparation for tomorrow's Fat Tuesday celebration, when they'll be a hot item.
"Tuesday will be the single busiest day of the year," Mr. Nugent said. "What Valentine's Day is to the flower shop, paczkis are to us. It's like Christmas for bakeries."
Mr. Nugent said he will have made 24,000 paczki just for the Lagrange Village Council, which is hosting its 17th annual Paczki Days festival that began yesterday and runs through tomorrow.
In all, Mr. Nugent said his bakeries - he recently opened a second Bakery Unlimited in Sylvania - will produce more than 72,000 of the pastries.
He said paczki originally were plain on the inside or filled with raisins or prunes. They now come with flavored fillings, including raspberry, blueberry and custard.
One would expect Mr. Nugent's employees to back up his claim, but one worker can verify through his own experience the authenticity of his boss' paczki.
Ryan Watson worked at another Toledo bakery that has since closed, and he said more preparation and attention are involved when following Mr. Nugent's recipe. "The ones we used to sell were basically just jelly balls," Mr. Watson said. "We didn't do it the traditional way. There's a little more work that goes into it this way, but the end result is much better."
The Lagrange council has enjoyed Mr. Nugent's products so much, it bought paczki from him each of the last 17 years, council Vice President Annie Walker said.
"These are the closest we could find to authentic ones," she said. "I've tasted other people's paczkis. We call those jelly doughnuts."