There are many artisan bakers in our magical city, but none like Delightful Pastries Chef Dobra Bielinski. When she talks, she uses an explosion of words to describe places, ingredients and events, and to passionately talk about her career change, triggered by an encounter with perfect pastries, back in Europe. When she pauses, her hands keep moving, nervously showing her guests the collection of humongous pots or the location of imported preserves. She gets tired of resting when she’s silent – and who can blame her? When you have unquenched passion like she does, resting is simply impossible.
I visited Chef Bielinski’s bakery one icy winter morning, and as I walked to the store, the sharp wind and fresh snow made the experience way too cold to be pleasant. Thankfully, relief was on hand as soon as I stepped inside Chef Dobra’s shop. Located on a quaint section of Lawrence Ave in Jefferson Park, Delightful Pastries is owned and operated by Chef Dobra Bielinski and Stasia Hawryszczuk, and has been serving home-style European pastries, cakes and baked goods for over 20 years. I wanted to visit the store to find out more about a quintessential Polish tradition: paczki. Once I got inside, however, I discovered a magical paczki ingredient that made me stay for much much longer – I’m talking about candied orange peel 😉
Delightful Pastries opened in 1998 with the goal to offer its clientele authentic European pastries made with as many local ingredients as possible. Fast forward to present, and Chef Dobra and her associates still make their products in-house, using quality fresh ingredients, without chemicals or preservatives.
Delightful Pastries sweets are crafted according to European baking traditions handed down from generation to generation.
Delightful Pastries makes paczki all year-round, but business gets really busy around Fat Tuesday (February 25), which is affectionately known across Chicagoland as Paczki Day. Paczki – sometimes translated as “doughnut” and always interpreted as “delicious” – are essentially fried dough filled with flavored cream and topped with powdered sugar, although there are certainly creative variations on the pastry, depending on where you buy them.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, thousands upon thousands of paczki are made by Delightful Pastries staff, to be enjoyed throughout the Windy City. Once taken out of the deep fryer, the paczki are glazed and allowed to rest a little bit before being filled with various delicious authentic fruit jellies and butters, many imported straight from Poland.
Chef Dobra went through the entire paczki making process with me – from the ingredients they use all the way to fillings and toppings.
And yet, if I were to pick one thing that stood out to me the most, I would say it was the moment when I discovered Chef Dobra made the candied orange peel traditionally used as paczki topping in-house. I know from experience that candied orange peel is very laborious and time-consuming (up to a week long from start to finish!) – which makes Chef Dobra’s efforts all the more praiseworthy.
Hearing her speak, I was reminded of my own childhood experiences with orange peel, and how my mom and aunt used to preserve it because they hated waste and wanted to use the most out of oranges (back in those days, oranges were a delicacy).
Sporting a base delicately soaked in orange syrup goodness, a moist center, a translucent light glaze and a citrusy delightful topping, these paczki couldn’t get more delicious or authentic.
Looking at such amazing buns of beauty, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude thinking of all the hard work deployed to create these magical treats.
Perfection till the last bite of orange peel!
Delightful Pastries has many kinds of paczki available in-store this season, from gourmet flavors such as Fresh Strawberry and Whipped Cream, Passion Fruit Jelly, Salted Caramel, and German Chocolate with pecans and coconut custard topping, to traditional flavors such as Custard Topped with Chocolate Fudge, Apricot Jelly, Plum Butter, Raspberry Jelly, and Rose Petal Jelly.
This weekend Delightful Pastries will host a paczki class, where students will get the chance to make their own paczki dough, and then fry and fill it. In addition, students will learn how to shape and to fry another famous Polish sweet treat: Angel Wings.
I left Chef Dobra Bielinski’s bakery as the clock turned noon and rays of sunshine pierced the clouds. My body was still cold, but my heart was warm from my earlier encounter with the distinguished pastry chef. As I left the store, Chef Dobra smiled and shook my hand repeatedly, unable to stand still, as always. When you have Chef Dobra’s unquenched passion, resting is truly impossible – today, on Fat Tuesday, or ever.
Happy Paczki Day, everyone! 🙂
*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.