HomePlacesFamiliar Bakery in Chicago, IL

Familiar Bakery in Chicago, IL

(This article appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

Ashley Robinson, Founder & Pastry Chef

Company Mission

Familiar Bakery is your neighborhood go-to for homestyle bagels and pastries, cookies, and top-notch donuts, reminding you that something amazing can be summoned from a few simple ingredients.

Signature Products

Donuts are our specialty. We use a milk bread dough for the raised donuts, and all of our glazes and fillings are made with the best possible ingredients. Our strawberry and blueberry glazed, for example, are made with fruit from our favorite farm in Michigan, and our buttercrunch is made with Marcona almonds. We also make specialty pastries, such as a cinnamon cardamom knot made with two types of lovely cinnamon and a bunch of cardamom, and a ham and cheese swirl that’s made with Tasso ham from the butcher at our sister restaurant, Dusek’s Tavern. Our bagels are also a big hit. They’re sourdough, fermented for a few days, and our everything bagel has truly everything on it, including nigella, fennel, fried shallots, and wild-harvested dried seaweed from my home state of Maine.

Production Tip

Our biggest cost saving was figuring out a great way to use donut scraps. Our yeasted donut dough has a lot of expensive ingredients and needs to be mixed every day, but you can’t really re-roll the dough and get beautiful donuts. So to avoid throwing the scraps away, we roll the scrap into a brown sugar-filled spiral that we cut and fry. This is how we make our Larry donuts (which we named for reasons we can hardly remember but now we could never call them anything else!). They’re never perfectly uniform, but we embrace the organic look and end up with at least 25 percent more sellable product every day.

Equipment ‘Must-Haves’

We’re a tiny, scrappy bakery, and we pride ourselves with doing a lot with a little. Our kitchen is mostly just mixers and ovens. That said, we need our donut fryer, for obvious reasons – it is designed for speed and efficiency, and we use it for that! Otherwise, the two tools that are used most in our day-to-day are scissors. We have at least four different sizes of scissors that we use for everything, with blades up to eight inches long. They’re especially useful in portioning and shaping our yeasted buns. Basically, the user has more control than with a knife and doesn’t need a cutting board, the scissors don’t stick to the dough as much, and it’s just faster and cleaner than relying on knives, especially the notoriously dull things that are pastry knives. Our products come out cleaner and more even, and it saves the baker quite a bit of time when shaping to portion the dough this way. Once you start cutting dough with scissors, you’ll never go back.

Secret of Success

We’re a tiny new spot, so we’re still in the phase where everything is rather boutique, and frankly it’s not hard to make the most beautiful pastries in the world when operating at a small scale. But that said, for every single new menu item that we create, we ask the question – what would it be like to make 1000 or more of this item? We’re hyper-focused on developing a menu, systems, and staff that is built for growth and success at a large scale, and our first goal is always to make sure that as we expand, we will not lose quality. The process of building out systems can feel tedious, especially with a small staff, but we know it to be crucial, especially with the level of quality we strive for every day. We also prioritize our staff’s well-being, because bakeries don’t work without bakers, and it’s both ethical and just good business practice to treat employees well and create a work environment that they want to stay in long-term.

Future Goals

We’re a brand new spot, so we have more plans than we can even list! First, we are thrilled about announcing our new full-size bakery, inside of the Old Post Office Building’s food hall, From Here On. The food hall is also owned by 16 on Center. Popping up at Revival Food Hall has been amazing, but we’re ready to make our home in the beautiful, historic Old Post Office. Once we move, we’re finally going to be able to add laminated items to the menu, including my personal favorite, our Golden Sugar Morning Bun, which is a croissant dough swirled with all sorts of saffron, ceylon cinnamon, and orange zest. Otherwise, our biggest priority is expanding our savory menu with items like house-cured salmon for bagels, romesco breakfast buns, slab pizza, and other heartier options. At the end of the day, our goal is to be a part of everyone’s daily ritual, so we want to make sure our menu covers sweet treats and savory snacks alike.

Visit www.familiarbakery.com for more info

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