Monday, December 11, 2023

Baking bread with Dobra Bielinski


     “Are you ready to cook?” asked Dobra Bielinski when we met Friday morning at her Delightful Pastries — both a name and an apt description — on Lawrence Avenue.
     Well bake, technically. But I wasn’t about to correct her.
     Regular readers might remember my column on Bielinski from March 2022, when I featured her for Paczki Day. The holiday isn’t until Feb. 13 this year; so why am I back now, in December?
     We got along so well — I described Bielinski as “a bubbling cauldron of strong opinions,” — that I said I’d like to return someday and see her bake bread. An offer that 99 out of 100 people would let vanish on the wind. But the Warsaw-born baker is that 1 out of 100, if not out of a thousand. She circled back and reminded me of my suggestion that we bake bread.
     Bielinski had already been at it for hours when I got there.
     “I was up at 3:45 a.m.” she said, as I donned a soft white apron. “I had to have something to eat.”
     And breakfast was ...?
     “One of my worker’s mom is visiting from Poland, so she made this potato cake — basically potatoes grated with caramelized onion and little bits of bacon, they add tons of eggs and a little bit of flour, and just put it in a cake pan and bake the whole thing,” she said. “Then I had my mom’s leftover goulash.”
     If you wish you’d been sitting next to Bielinski with a spoon, please continue reading. Otherwise, you can check back with me later this week — I have a feeling this is going to linger into a second column. The problem with fresh baked goods: it’s hard to stop.

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9 comments:

  1. As someone who lived in Chicago for almost twenty-five years and took bakeries like this for granted, I can tell you how much I miss them today. Someone willing to move downstate and create the same kind of bakery here would make a killing once word got out as to how good it was.

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    1. Sadly no one makes a killing with a bakery. People buy crap from grocery stores for half the price. Hipster " bakeries" do ok but make their money from beverages. re coffee

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    2. In my South Lawndale neighborhood, when I was wee, there were two bakeries within easy walking distance and at least two more, both Czech, on 26th Street. Fantastic bread, rolls, and pastry. Still, most people would take a short hike to Vesecky's, in Berwyn, and never fail to bring home a cream and raisin cake. Vesecky's closed last week. Sometime in the 1960s, the late Norbert Blei, a remarkable writer, did a long piece on how they made their breads, cakes, etc. He spent a shift with the bakers starting at night and not leaving until the bakery opened at 6 a.m. the next day. The thing I remember most was the bakers refreshing themselves with quart bottles of beer during their breaks.

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  2. It's worth mentioning that the Sun-Times has added a link to a 2019 video profile they did on Dobra and her business. You can really get a sense of how accurately Neil has described her chatty personality. Fun viewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kY7MA9DUOgY

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    1. Indeed. I noticed that video had 191 views. The heart breaks...

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    2. I guess Ji Suk Yi, from that video, no longer works at the Sun-Times? I certainly enjoyed "The Grid," the fun and informative series of articles and videos she did about neighborhood spots in Chicago. Hadn't thought about that for quite a while.

      But, I think I did see her at Lincoln Park Zoo a few months ago, accompanied by a cameraman by the snow leopards. I recognized her right away, but at that point (and since) could not figure out why. The serendipitous posting of this paczki video did the trick in reminding me. : )

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  3. We are happy customers of this wonderful bakery. Nor let’s have that Polish potato pancake recipe!

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  4. Hard, hot work, baking. On my first WestPac cruise , my squadron sent me on temporary duty to the aircraft carrier's bakery. 400 loaves of Bayonne bread and as many hamburger and hotdog rolls as possible in a space the size of a studio apartment. 12 hour shifts, 13 when we entered a different time zone sailing west. The only perks was fresh baked bread and trading the same to the galley for meatloaf. While our recipe was designed for efficiency, one proofing only, the Navy had fancier recipes for rye and wheat breads that we made for ourselves. A meatloaf sandwich on hot, fresh rye, washed down with 21 day wine is the equal of most meals I've enjoyed since. That experience gives me special insight to bakeries as well, so I patronize them regularly.

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  5. Tremendous! And in my hood...usually get my stuff at Ideal but will be headed to Dobra today. Thank you.

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