Dobra had worked in a variety of Chicago bakeries, and didn’t care for the ingredients she had to use. Growing up in Poland, she knew a different approach.
Delightful Pastries is a Chicago bakery with a commitment to community. Owner Dobra Bielinski sees her business as a place for connections – not just between the dozen people who work in the bakery and its customers, but all the way back to the ground.
Dobra had worked in a variety of Chicago bakeries, and didn’t care for the ingredients she had to use. Growing up in Poland—her family left in the 1980s because of martial law, which was the government’s response to the Solidarity Movement—she knew a different approach.“When I opened up my bakery, I made a promise to myself to use as many local ingredients as possible,” said Dobra.
“We like to use local stuff in Poland. Everybody goes picking – apples, plums, cherries, strawberries, raspberries. There's a picking season for every fruit, and everyone has a little plot of land they garden,” she said. This practice extends to how she procures – Wisconsin butter, Michigan eggs, apples, cherries, raspberries, and flour for bread from Illinois.
Sourcing grains was tricky until she found fellow AGC member Janie’s Mill. Dobra wishes AGC had been around 24 years ago when she started Delightful Pastries. Farmers’ markets made finding produce and other goods relatively easy, but our network, she said, served a vital role introducing her to fresh flour.
“Bread Camp was huge for me,” she said, referring to the week-long events for bakers that were held by the now closed Spence Farm Foundation in conjunction with AGC in 2018 and 19. Bread Camp provided hands-on classes helping professional bakers understand whole grain and sifted stone ground flours, and the process of getting them from field to bakery. The Camps also served as a place for meeting local producers, and that’s when Dobra started working with Janie's Mill.
Flour of known origin suited Dobra’s goal to stock ingredients that didn’t require a PhD in chemistry to understand, and that would create clean, enjoyable food. The bakery doesn’t use dough conditioners; they laminate their croissant dough themselves; their sourdough is actual natural leavening, not a powder added for flavor with commercial yeast. Buttercreams are not powdered sugar with shortening, but velvety creations from scratch made with homemade sugar syrups and butter.
Dedication to ingredients and processes doesn’t narrow the range of the bakery’s production, it’s quite the contrary: “This is a bakery without borders,” Dobra said. French classics, Polish standards like Lenten paczki – a very specific type of donut – and Russian cakes, like sharlotka, a roasted apple cake, are all at home here, as are all people, whether they’re seeking out flavors of home or just discovering paczki (pronounced POINCH-key, as she’s happy to explain).
That sense of business as a lever for a better world is expansive. This spring, as Russia invaded Ukraine, Delightful Pastries raised money for World Central Kitchen. This human rights atrocity angers Dobra, and she can’t imagine Poland absorbing more than three million refugees. “We need to level up to Human 2.0, and help stop what’s happening,” she said.
Dobra enjoys connecting with people through the classes she teaches, which will resume in the fall, and finds them ideal places for conversations that push the edges of people’s awareness of what is possible in terms of ingredients. The same is true for the farmers’ markets (Daley Plaza on Thursdays and Division Street on Saturdays) and to a certain extent, at the store, though exchanges can be more rushed. Helping people understand the power of their purchases, and how they can support more environmentally sound grain chains, is important; she has the same message for fellow business owners.
“Every little bit helps out. We need to take a look and see what is doable for our facility and see how to start integrating local grains, and other local producers to make a better product,” she said. Dobra’s communication channels include spots on a Polish radio station in Chicago.
AGC is lucky to have members with a strong sense of their role in their communities and the world, with big hearts that are willing to try new things, share knowledge, and use the leverage they have to make change.