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  November 6, 2000

Bakery Brings Fresh Taste of
Home Cooking to Campus Eateries

It's about 9:15 in the morning and Norma Gottlieb has just rolled a rack of fresh-baked bread out of the oven. A savory aroma fills the air.

Gottlieb, wearing a crisp white apron, pushes the rack of hot golden brown loaves out of the kitchen to cool.

"These are whole wheat breads for dinner," says Steve Popovich, admiring the some 80 loaves that line the rack. "A lot of them will be packed in pastry cabinets, based on what the dining halls have ordered," he explains, pointing to a row of aluminum cabinets with shelves, some stocked with blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies.

Popovich manages the University bakery, where breads, cakes, cookies and other tasty treats are made for the University's 13 dining halls, four coffee shops, four snack bars and catering services. The bakery is tucked away in the commissary warehouse on Gurleyville Road. "If you follow your nose, you'll find us," Popovich says inspecting a Danish honey twist.

During the school year, the bakery, part of the Department of Dining Services, operates in two shifts with a total staff of five - 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. The evening shift works on breakfast and lunch items. The morning staff finish lunch, prepare dinner pastries and do "prep" work for the following day.

Sounds of clattering aluminum, buzzing mixers and whirring fans echo from the large, light-filled industrial kitchen. Stainless steel appliances pepper the space where long countertops lined with spices hover over bins filled with ingredients like confectioner's sugar, pastry flour, and cake mix. There are huge ovens, giant mixers and steam kettles that can hold 60 gallons of pudding or pie filling.

"It's like what you have at home, but on a larger scale," Popovich says.

That's understandable, considering the volume of goods produced: During a typical week, the bakery turns out some 300 loaves of bread, 600 dozen rolls, 50 sheet cakes, hundreds of pies and dozens of pastries. And then there are the cookies: Thousands of them. One thousand dozen each week, during the school year, says Popovich. "And these are just the regular size cookies for the dining halls and catering, not the large ones we sell to the four coffee shops.

"The snack bar in Ryan alone gets about 115 dozen jumbo cookies a week," he says. These famous chocolate chip, white chocolate chip and monster cookies (oatmeal and chocolate chip), are individually wrapped and labeled by bakery staff. "A lot of labor goes into it," Popovich says.

About 64 dozen assorted muffins, wrapped, labeled and ready for sale are also supplied to cash operations each week.

A buzzer goes off. "That's the timer for the chocolate cakes," says Popovich, opening the door of a huge stainless steel oven. It's new. "We save a lot of labor with it because you don't have to handle the pans. You bake directly on the racks," he explains.

Popovich says that most items in the bakery are made from scratch, but "since we've expanded our offerings to dining services and catering, we're using some convenience items."

Gottlieb rolls the rack holding 20 sheet cakes out of the oven. The scent in the air is unmistakably chocolate. She pokes a cake in the middle to see if it's done. It is. Later, each cake will be covered in creamy, chocolate frosting to become "Midnight Chocolate Cake," a dining hall dessert.

Minutes before, butterscotch brownies, vanilla pudding and apple cobbler were loaded on a delivery truck for today's lunch. Earlier, banana breads were dispatched for the breakfast crowd.

Paco Miranda, standing at a counter, carefully sprinkles crumbled toffee bits on balls of cookie dough. Nearby, a huge batch of angel food cake mix swirls under the power of a 10 inch-wide beater.

Miranda lifts the last tray of Heath Bar chip cookie dough onto a rack and rolls it into a refrigerator. They'll be baked tonight, he says: all 120 dozen.

Friday is the bakery's busiest day, "because we have a lot to prepare for the weekend," Popovich explains. Tomorrow's fare includes Vienna bridge rolls, glorious morning muffins, devil's food cake, blueberry crisp, apple pie, chocolate pudding and cinnamon buns.

Meanwhile, Karen Smith has just poured angel food batter into the last of 66 pans. It's just the way it should be: light and airy.

Popovich says the bakery makes a much larger variety of items than it did 10 years ago, when there were only one or two choices for dessert. "Students expect more these days," he says. "They are the mall generation. They can go to a mall and choose from 15 different restaurants. They have all kinds of choices in all aspects of their lives. If we didn't offer those kinds of choices, they'd be looking for somebody else to do the job."

One job that Popovich has enjoyed every year takes him out of the bakery and onto the street: he passes out pies that people have ordered from the bakery's Thanksgiving pie sale. The day before Thanksgiving he will be found, as usual, in the parking lot of the Bishop Center, handing out pies baked fresh that morning. "We have always done this as a convenience. Most people have to work five days a week, right up until the day before Thanksgiving in many cases. They don't have time to bake like they did years ago."

The Thanksgiving pie sheet order form has already been mailed to the University community. Orders for the pie sale must be made by Nov. 17. Pick-up is Nov. 22, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Sherry Fisher