Christine LaSorda was working in advertising when she realized she would be much happier in a career combining her two childhood pleasures: reading storybooks and making baked goods with her grandmother.
So she learned to make traditional desserts at the Illinois Institute of Art. That led to A Baker's Tale, which she recently opened in Wicker Park and where she set her imagination free.
She still makes classic sweets, but for breakfast one version of her cream puffs ($2.75-$3.25 ) is filled with salted caramel mousse and pastry cream, glazed with caramel and topped with candied bacon. She makes her own interpretation of a banana split by filling eclairs ($2.75-$3.25) with fresh bananas and strawberries and chocolate and vanilla mousse and topping it off with whipped cream, peanuts and a cherry. Her cupcakes ($3.25-$3.75) include one with honey that is filled with blueberry compote and topped with basil buttercream.
In remembrance of one of LaSorda's beloved books, the decor of A Baker's Tale is inspired by "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Customers can savor sweets and savory lunch creations while seated under a lifelike tree sprouting blossoms made of crumpled pages from Lewis Carroll's book and decorated with teacups. Keys of all sizes, reminiscent of ones used by Alice to open the door to a whimsical world, add another element of wonderland fantasy.
In tribute to other characters that Alice encounters, LaSorda has created mini cookies ($1.25 each), including one to resemble the White Rabbit and another decorated like the colorful headgear of the Mad Hatter. Like all of LaSorda's creations, they seem to be echoing the words "Eat me," written on the cake Alice ate that transported her to a magical world. LaSorda, who plans to hold literary events at A Baker's Tale, says she hopes the place will help grown-ups recall the sweets and beloved stories of their childhood when their imaginations were allowed to run wild.
A Baker's Tale, 2127 W. Division St., 872-206-5581; a-bakers-tale.com
It started with croissants
Jeffrey Hallenbeck graduated with a degree in architecture at a time when jobs in the field were more than scarce, so he decided to create a career inspired by one of his other passions: baking.
Hallenbeck will soon open a storefront bakery in Pilsen called Beurrage. The name is the French word for the block of butter that is rolled between layers of dough to create flaky croissants. Hallenbeck says it took him about a year to perfect his technique for making them before he started selling them in 2012 at the Pilsen Community Market and eventually at Katherine Anne Confections and several independent cafes.
At Beurrage, Hallenbeck will offer croissants made with his own house-made butter in traditional sweet flavors and seasonal savory ones filled perhaps with leeks, garlic and cheese or maybe roasted peppers and tomatoes. He will also bake breads, made with his own sourdough starter, like potato and caramelized onion and a rye bread flavored with flax seeds. Hallenbeck is now waiting for a former corner tavern to be transformed into Beurrage, decorated in rustic reclaimed wood. He expects to open in mid-April. He says, "We don't have a lot of eye-grabbing details because we hope the pastries will be the jewels that are the centerpiece."
Beurrage, 1248 W. 18th St. Watch for updates at beurrage.com