Jasenko Osmic, co-owner of the bakery, grew up eating bourek in his native Bosnia. He has run the bakery with his father, Bakir, and sister Aldijana for 10 years. Balkan Bakery serves a range of Bosnian breads, pastries, and coffee. Back in Sarajevo, where the family lived until 1997, they, like many others, baked bourek in their home. At Balkan Bakery, the Osmics produce a homestyle bourek.
Jasenko prefers a homestyle bourek to what you might find in a Bosnian bakery. “A lot more grease, lard, and less ingredients are put inside,” he says of commercial versions. “You don’t get a lot of filling. You get mostly dough. When you eat ours, every bite you get the filling.”
One of the amazing things about bourek is that, somehow, it isn’t all over America.
Balkan Bakery cranks out bourek. Jasenko peals them out of the oven right as the bakery opens at 8 a.m. The three Osmics are the bakery’s only employees. They make all boureks themselves – not to mention the breads, pretzels, and desserts. The work requires long hours and focus, muscle memory and strength, determination as the day’s ninth hour zips past and you’re still shoveling steaming dough Frisbees from the oven.
“This is one of the staple foods of Bosnia,” Jasenko says. “You eat it breakfast, lunch. It’s an all-day food.”
There is magnetism, too, in witnessing a bourek’s birth.
Behind the counter, Jasenko slicks vegetable oil over a steel table. He then stretches homemade phyllo dough, made with high-gluten flour, to a dashing thinness – thin as an oak leaf, thin as a thought – and drapes it over the table like a sail.
Dough covers the table from rim to rim. He cuts off excess, leaving a phyllo rectangle the exact proportions as the tabletop. He knives down the middle, bisects the dough. With a spatula, he rapidly flicks spinach-cheese mixture onto the dough.
Each tiny line of mixture lands with a slippery plop. Soon, a green-white column of filling lines an edge of each dough patch.
Jasenko shovels out the zeljianica ("spinach bourek" in Bosnian). He moves a batch of eight to a cooling rack, then a warming case. They sell for $5.75 a piece. If you had a colorwheel with all the possible grades of brown, these boureks would show just about all of them. A warming light casts them in a yellow glow. Jasenko doesn't even pause to admire them as they sit, hot and newborn.
Jasenko gets back to making more.
Balkan Bakery. 1107 East Bell Road, #16; 602-996-4598.
Tuesday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; closed Monday.