Wednesday, February 17, 2010

a baker can't get a break

It's that eerie calm and quiet that I haven't heard in over a week. We've been through an incredible weekend. Our paczki eating contest Saturday, Valentine's day, Sunday, and Fat Tuesday yesterday. I'm sitting in the office and there isn't that sound of racks rolling overhead, or the air compressor starting, or the elevator going up or down, just mild, lothargic rumblings.

The paczki eating contest went well, a few "Behind the scenes" blunders. We raised over $2000 for the Red Cross, got a lot of press. Next year we will do it a little different. Had quite a crowd out on the corner, traffic was slowing as it was going by. Winners Dan Furjanic and (not sure of the other fellow's name), ate 14 in 5 minutes. I heard the inside tip was to bite, not chew, and swallow with water.

It was unfair to have these holidays so close together. We couldn't really focus on one of them. Fat Tuesday won. We can only produce so many goods. We did well with Valentine's day stuff, but bein' on a Sunday, I kinda chose Fat Tuesday.

Yesterday, we were out of paczki around 1:30, king cakes about the same. Once the doors opened at 6am, after an hour or so, I told Marc, "We're a hundred dozen paczki short and a hundred king cakes short". If we'd a had 'em, we'd a sold 'em. Next year.

Some exciting news, we are closing in on the space next door. We have a key, working out some lease details. We used the space yesterday to box and stage our king cakes. It was like layin' on the beach. OMG, to have space to spread them out, in stacks, by flavour. Lookin' forward to Easter.

Fresh strawberry, whip creme paczki, clear favorites yesterday. Last night when my son left, his hand was scarlet red from handling strawberries. This is Chicago, ya gotta mix the strawberries in "Thickener", to hold 'em together. The berries we had were very nice, we bought quite a few planning on dipping 'em in chocolate, last Saturday and Sunday, never happened. I'm sure I spoke of it, we are using straight, high butter fat whipping creme, no vegetable based non-dairy toppings, in our "Whipped creme" products. We've been using straight creme in our paczki for the last three, four years. Makes all the difference in the world. Needless to say, never been one in the stale pile, so I've never eatin' one. Had a bite of one, my wife was eatin' yesterday, gotta say, pretty special stuff. What could be bad? Fresh paczki shell, sweetened whip creme, starwberries and powdered sugar. 'Nother thing I learned, best part of bein' in the bakery, I NEVER STOP LEARNIN'. I found that dusting these items with straight confectioner's sugar, they taste so much better. There is a product available to us bakers called "Donut sugar". It is a blend of fat encapsulated sugar, titanium dioxide, vanillan, corn starch,etc. Stuff doesn't melt under refrigeration, or get absorbed in a donut, the way powdered sugar does. At Armageddon, or after Armageddon, all that will be left on earth, will be cockroaches and donut sugar. We've been dustin' stuff with it for years. Now we are starting to use a blend of the two sugars.

More exciting news, I heard last night that Pierre Zimmerman is joining the faculty at the French pastry School, here in Chicago. Huge, huge opportunity for American bakers. Pierre grew up in a family bakery in Alsace. He was the Viennoiserie guy on the '96 team, and coached the French tean that won in 2008. I've met him a few times. In fact I designed by business card after his, after winning the coupe. The "Vainquer de la Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie 2005", came from his business card, only his says "1996". I still have it. First time I met him, was at the coupe, in 2005, between the time we competed, and before it was announced we won. He gave me his business card, I read it, put it in my pocket, thought "This might come in handy". Just maybe.....

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

a couple o' finds

Sunday turned out to be the busiest Sunday we've ever had. I base all of my views on the number of transactions we make. It has nothing to do with sales dollars. Well, that's not true either, everything has to do with sales dollars. I compare the overall month, to previous months, based on sales $$ for the month. But to compare day to day, Super Bowl Sunday to last Super Bowl Sunday, I look at the count. Again, with our register setup, I'm very secure with it's reporting properties.

I also found a new favorite item here at the bakery. Our lemon tart. One had gotten damaged, either Saturday afternoon or Sunday. Again, back to eatin' outta the stale pile. The tart knocked me out! Can't imagine how good it would be, when it's fresh. I may have mentioned we don't cook the lemon filling with starch, only egg yolks. Being starch free, it doesn't get gummy or chewy. I've seen so many, what bakers call "Starch based fillngs", that after a few days will vulcanize. Kinda like a gummy bear, get chewy like your nevermind. So many times lemon pie will get soggy, not this tart. Crust was crisp, filling was firm but yielding, rather tart. Not sure if I mentioned it, we use double strength, lemon puree. We buy it frozen, from an outfit in California. I buy it, keep it in my freezer, and sell it to a few Chicago baker friends. Rather a pain, cause I gotta buy a pallet at a time to make it affordable. Our customers are worth it. Ties up a lot of room in our freezer, but there is nothing like it. It is the single reason our lemon bars are so popular. We also use "Sugar cured lemon and orange zest". Stuff is awesome! You don't get any bitterness at all, like you would from fresh lemon zest. Although, we still use fresh zest, and fresh lemon juice in some products.

Another discovery, the theory that our new cream whipper, will yield cream with more volume, proved true. For the last twenty years we've been whipping twenty ounces of creme with 2.5 ounces of sugar, to fill twenty four, strawberry paczki. That's one display pan full. Last week, I whipped the creme, the way we always have, in a stand mixer. I filled the paczki, as always. Yesterday, I whipped the creme in our new machine, I had a hard time gettin' it all in them. They were very, very full. Very cool!

Gotta get upstairs, gotta go do some snowblowing. It's startin' to pile up. Forecast for the weekend is good. Sunny, Saturday and Sunday. Just waitin' to hear about next Tuesday.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

there ain't no stinkin' leak

Huge day yesterday. I spent a part of the morning waiting on customers, and better part of the afternoon answering the phone. Highlights of my day, morning customer, not sure of the situation. We have those customers that shop every once-in-a-while, whenever they're in Evanston, maybe used to live or work here, buy up loads and keep it in their freezer. This fella coulda been one of them. He just kept orderin'. I wasn't taking care of him, but I kept hearing,"six of those, two coffee cakes",etc. When he asked for eighteen large heart cookies, I offered to help box them. Then he asked me for four of each flavour macaron. He said "My wife loves those things, and they're every bit as good as the ones we pay four dollars a piece for, at the Galleries Lafayette, in Paris". I know that LaDuree has a counter in that store. For someone to compare our macarons to LaDuree. My feet didn't touch the ground the rest of the day.

Another thing, yesterday, as I was answering the phone, I took six calls in a row. Five of them were first time callers. I know that because neither their name or their phone number was in our database. And calling from a distance, Schiller Park, forty two hundred north, in Chicago, thirteen hundred west Fulton, and so on. The one caller, that was previously entered asked who I was, and I told her. She had nothing but good things to say about the bakery, and how things have improved since she was child. Again, things that pleased me very much.

But ya know, every now and then, the powers that be, do things that keep life on even keel. Yesterday morning, one of the cleanup guys came to me and said there was a leak in the basement. Being a busy Friday, and the fact that he wasn't the least bit wet, I figured I would get to it soon. These guys have come to me in the past, about a leak, and water is dripping from the bill of their hat. Then, I know we have a leak. About thirty minutes later, I asked Matt if he noticed a leak, in the basement. He replied "No". I didn't think anymore about it. An hour later I went downstairs for some corn meal, and I noticed it. A little trickle, from under a skid of flour, that was against the basement wall. Hunh, where could that be coming from? I got a drop light and looked under the skid, and it was running from the base of the wall, where it meets the floor. Behind that wall, solid earth, that God hasn't seen for a century. I felt the wall, and the water was coming right thru the stone wall. About four feet above the floor, to the floor, sixteen feet left to right, soaked. Oh my God, I was sure at any moment, it was gonna be like a T.V. sitcom. Water was gonna blow thru the wall and press me up against a stack of sugar bags. I went and mentioned to Matt, that I found the leak they were talking about. Matt never says much, other than, "Woa, that's bad", or the comforting "Not good". He grabbed the light and held it close to the wall, and like an archeologist, moved it left to right, near the wall, "Not good". He went to the corner of the basement, raised the light, and said "I see it. Real bad. Look". I looked and about six feet back in the crawl space, gallons of water were running over the I-beam. Like a mountain creek. We measured and decided it was coming from where the two sink drains came together, inside a wall. I called my dad over, and he said "I think it more than we can handle. Better call someone". It's Friday afternoon, 2pm. I'm sure we would get typical plumbers response "I'll be right there". He'll show up on Tuesday morning. We need this fixed NOW. We can't work without water. We/I/my family, are fortunate for a lot of things in life. But being next door to a hardware store is invaluable. Matt opened up the wall, and we found the leak, leak hell, the two inch galvanized pipe was gone. Literally, gone.It was a vertical pipe, sixteen inches tall, that forty percent of the circumference was gone, the entire length. Matt went to cut it out with a sawzall, the the pipe just collapsed. He put it all back together and inside of two hours we were back in business. We are gonna let it dry out for a few days, and we'll close up the wall. Matt, thanks, you saved the day(again).

Gotta get upstairs, once again, cupboards are bare. That's why we make it, right? Got that guy comin' all the way from Schiller Park. Gotta make sure his stuff is ready when he gets here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

had to start sooner or later

I've caved. Couldn't take the question anymore. "When are we gonna start paczki"? We started yesterday. All varieties in the store starting today. As Southwest Airlines says "It's on".

Got a call yesterday from the folks at the Andersonville Farmer's Market, wonderin' if we would prefer starting at 3pm the entire market season, instead of switching to that start time, in the fall like last year. Last year we started at 4pm until the days started getting shorter. Tehn we started at 3pm. It would be uncomfortable, but we could do it. It's rough gettin' the truck back from the GCM, and turnin' it around in minutes. It forces us to be like an Indy pit crew. Truck pulls up and a herd of guys rush out and get it loaded. Can't wait, really. Remind me I said that come July 4th.

King cakes heatin' up, here as well. We have multilples scheduled for delivery every day. We have 20 or so, goin' to 1 Illinois Centre this morning. Tomorrow a load goin' somewhere in the western suburbs.

Bistro Bordeaux got a nice review in "Time Out" magazine, this week. FĂ©licitations, bonnes pour vous. Slightly mentioned "Foie gras, on a crusty baguette, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar". The Prairie Grass folks, George and Sarah, are opening a second location in the west loop. 215 N. Clinton, opening night, tonight. Good luck guys. I'm sure you'll do well.

Probably should mention, we started all our Valentine's day stuff as well. I'm not to excited about it this year, bein' on a Sunday and all. I think the whole Fat Tuesday thing is goin' overshadow it.

Gotta get upstiars and get'er goin'. Gonna be a big day today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

worth the wait

Picked up the pretzel dipper on Friday, put it to use on Saturday afternoon. Like layin' on the beach! Thing worked great! Just like I planned. No more mess. No more covering the table with paper and plastic. Just great! Now that we can get 'em done, we'll be selling them at our farmer's markets, this summer. We've been selling pretzel rolls at the winter market, they've been doing very well.

I just got my weekly update from "Yelp". If you're not familiar with that, it's a review kinda thing that allow people to rate their experience at any particular business. We had sixty looks, last week. Things said there, weigh on my mind. One of the more recent comments talked about inadequate customer service. Last night we had a store personnel meeting, talking about this very thing. We've had a recent change in store management, that we hope has an impact on this issue. According to the review I'm speaking of, we really got knocked because said customer had to wait while our counter staff was busy socializing. Said the "Sandwich was o.k. Not worth the wait". I know better.

Yesterday we made some really cool marble cake, We baked it in a ring mold, and poured it with a chocolate icing. The cake mix is all butter, very nice flavour. We are going to sell it in half rings. In Germany, they call it "Marmour kuchen", marble cake. When I worked for Karl Kleinert, in the late seventies, he made it. I've been tryin' to recreate that for thirty years. I like that kind of stuff. Kinda plain. Basic flavours, butter, eggs, sugar, chocolate and vanilla. Wisest bakery type statement ever, "The best baked foods have the fewest ingredients". Right? Best bread?. Flour, water, salt and some form of yeast. I got this cake formula from baker buddy, Ken Slove, Lovin' Oven Cakery. The real deal, sugar, flour, butter, eggs, milk, salt, baking powder and vanilla.

Gotta get upstairs, fortunately, cupboards are bare. Busy day yesterday. Today should be busier, election day and all. People don't pick up donuts and danish, to take to the polls, the way they used to. There are more affordable options these days. Not better value, just more affordable. But if those folks took the time to find out what's in that stuff. Always, always, refer to the statement,"The best baked foods........."

Be sure and vote! To bad the guy who said that thing 'bout the fewest ingredients, isn't on the ballot.