Despite hospitality businesses responding to the coronavirus pandemic with enormous creativity, it hasn’t exactly been an environment for fulfilling dreams. But with Covid-19 forcing Pasi Petanen to shut his popular Newtown restaurant Cafe Paci, he saw it as an opportunity to pursue his dream of being a baker – at least for a little while.

“In 2016, I wanted to start a bakery. But with Sydney rents and the cost of setting up, it was way too expensive for the return I’d get,” Petanen tells Broadsheet.

The bakery is a small operation. There are three staff packing boxes, making Double Roasters coffee and serving customers while Petanen and another baker make the bread and pastries.

The menu changes weekly and Petanen experiments with recipes from his native Finland. There are karelian pies (rye pastry stuffed with rice pudding and served with egg butter), cinnamon rolls and at Easter, cardamom buns with marzipan and whipped cream. Some pastries have history. “We did an Alexandertorte made from short pastry with raspberry jam in the middle, pink icing and chocolate on top. It’s very traditional; they use to make it for Tsar Alexander of Russia [who died in 1825].”

Even more traditional is limppu, a molasses-glazed sourdough that has been a signature of Paci since his pop-up days and a highlight of any Cafe Paci meal. “My favourite thing is the bread. It’s a festive Finnish rye bread with potato and molasses. We eat it at Christmas and Easter.”

Making limppu is a three-day process. First the potato is cooked, mashed and left to ferment overnight. The next day it’s mixed with rye and plain flours, sourdough starter, molasses and caraway seeds. Another fermentation happens overnight in the fridge. On the morning of the third day, they glaze the loaves with molasses and bake. The result is a chewy sourdough with a savoury, nutty inside and a crisp, sweetish crust. Petanen recommends having it with butter, pickles and cheese. “Comté if you have it, but Coon tasty cheese is fine,” he says.

Customers seem to like limppu as much as Petanen. By 9am people are queueing to get their hands on one of the coveted loaves. Even with a 2am start, Petanen can only churn out 36 loaves a day. By 10am, the bread is sold out.

Petanen has been surprised by the response to the bakery, with people even making the journey from Manly to buy the goods. That said he acknowledges the suburb isn’t exactly overtaken by pastry shops. “It’s a good pocket of Newtown to have a bakery. There’s Saga on Enmore Road, but down this end there’s not much. Campos does nice pastries, but to get fresh local bread, you have to go to Brickfields in Chippendale.”

Although Petanen is fulfilling his dream of being a baker, the early mornings are difficult and he’s looking forward to things returning to normal. “I want to sleep in, at least until 8am,” he says laughing. “I might open a bakery as a retirement plan one day, but somewhere where it’s more affordable. For now, we’re just making enough to feed the neighbourhood, to have some fun and help the staff pay their rent.”

Cafe Paci
131 King Street Newtown
02 9550 6196

Fri to Sun 9am–1pm (or until sold out)