Pupils of the King: a Week of King Arthur Bread School, Part I

“YOU’RE going to bread school?!”

said almost everyone I told I was going to bread school. The usual next response: “Oh, lucky!!!”

They were right about my good fortune, but wrong to be surprised at my need. Before I started getting paid to bake, I was always a pie/cake/sweets gal–bread, not so much. And though I’m now entering my 8th season of professional baking, I spent the first two seasons as Assistant Baker, i.e., managing neither bread nor oven. When I trained to be a Head Baker, the people who trained me had received no professional training. Now, “We do this because it works” works just fine most days, but it leaves two questions unanswered:

  1. What do you do if it doesn’t work?
  2. What if something else worked even better?

Therefore I was THRILLED when my current boss, who bought Holly B’s Bakery from Holly B, decided to make the investment to send me to an intensive, 5-day, 38-hour course in Bread Fundamentals. I knew I had a LOT to learn. Like, everything.

But the answer to “What did you learn in Bread School?” is so big and complex, I’m going to turn this into two posts. Or maybe more! That knowledge might just ferment and grow, like a certain little yeasty-beast I’ve been hearing about all week.

I should also say off the bat, in case you’re a sourdough enthusiast, that this class covered pretty much everything BUT sourdough. Those breads require a class of their own. Hopefully, someday…

But back to Bread Fundamentals. Long story short, King Arthur Flour Baking School is the brainchild of King Arthur Chef Jeffrey Hamelman (world’s mellowest rock star chef) and Washington State University Bread Lab’s Stephen Jones. They teamed up several years to begin offering intensive baking classes (mostly bread) out here in the Northwest. King Arthur, of course, has been offering classes forever, all over the country but especially on their Vermont home ground. Lucky, LUCKY me–this workshop was under 20 miles from our ferry terminal!

I started on Monday, wide-eyed. So much of this was new to me, starting with the uniform. At Holly B’s we wear aprons, but I’ve never worn Chef Whites!

Gretchen’s first-ever work uniform!

Then there was the equipment in the teaching room.

4-deck steam oven with a moveable loader. At my bakery, the only loader is me.

Best of all, however, was the combination of Chef Jeffrey’s short lectures followed by immediate demonstrations and hands-on guided practice. Here he demonstrates a Challah braid:

He makes it look so easy. Well, ok…braiding isn’t actually very hard. Ask most long-haired women.

Now here’s my own careful step-by-steps (different braid on this one):

…with four strands…

A three and a four

Both finished challahs, with a few friends…a good Wednesday!

Chef Jeffrey also wowed us with possibilities. Here’s an amazing 3-tiered Challah he built

Whoa.

I thought it looked like a ferry boat. 🙂

The teaching was always firm and immediate, but gentle. (As a teacher, I sure appreciated that; I think from TV chefs I expected to be snapped at.)

Checking the “heads” of our petites brioches…

OK, maybe I could have used a little more guidance on my Epis de blé…

By the end of Day 3, we had made baguettes with three different doughs; whole wheat batards, oat loaves, challah, brioche, sunflower seed rounds, and…I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Day 4 we got FANCY:

Auvergnats. Trés chic.

Coronnes Bordelaise. Wouldn’t that be a cool addition to Thanksgiving?

One more picture of my new, freshly-baked confidence:

Ahhhhh…

Next post: So what DID I learn in Bread School?

 

Happy “Independence” Day to All You Small Business Owners…Bless Your Hearts!

When I left teaching to become a baker, some of my former students were confused. “How’s your bakery?” I would sometimes see on Facebook.

Well, they were half right. I do feel like it’s MY bakery, especially when I unlock the doors at oh-dark-thirty and turn our oven on. But in truth, Holly B’s Bakery (“Holly’s Buns Are Best”) is not MINE…for which I thank my lucky stars. Especially at this time of year.

For a little bakery in a town with a tourist-dependent economy, July Fourth is Black Friday and the post-Christmas sales all wrapped up in one buttery croissant. Or make that 250 croissants.

Our kitchen is TINY. Three bakers have to squeeze past each other. We have only one oven. But the food must be baked! Here, I’ll try to give you some visuals:

#1

cinn rolls

dough

full racks

overflow 1

overflow 2

Can you imagine the planning all this bounty requires? The ordering, the scheduling, the storage? What if you get it wrong? What if you run out of chocolate chips? What if you bake too many pesto baguettes and not enough of the olive tapenade? What if you make too much? What if you don’t make enough?

How does Holly ever sleep in late June (let alone continue to be the World’s Nicest Boss)???

baguettes

Holly’s oldest son, Ty, is now co-owner (and the World’s Second Nicest Boss). Maybe it eases the stress to have someone to plan with. I sure hope so!

bread rack

I LOVE my job. I love “my” bakery. But around Independence Day, I am extra-super grateful that I’m fairly “independent” of the stress of being in charge, and I take my hat off to all those brave souls who carry that load.

last

Happy Independence Day, business owners! Now go get some sleep.

Danish

How ’bout you? Do you own your own business? ARE you your own business? Or do you have that in your family? How do people COPE????

Promotion? Careful What You Wish For…

I’m a head baker now.

No, this does not mean I bake heads. (Although if you prepped ’em for me just right, I would pop ’em in my oven & make sure the eyelids came out nice & crispy.)

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

Here’s what the Assistant Baker does at Holly B’s Bakery (where “Holly’s Buns Are Best”):

–takes dough made during the previous shift and fills, rolls, and/or twists it into cinnamon rolls, butterhorns, brioches & rugelach

–scoops or chops and presses cookie dough into flat rounds

–makes macaroons and chocolate chip cookies from scratch (these doughs don’t keep as well, plus our fridge isn’t that big)

–assembles & cuts out scones & biscuits with pre-made dry mixes

–makes brownies & bars….

…and puts all of the above on racks for the Head Baker to decide when to bake.

"You WILL be the most delicious croissants ever. Resistance is futile."

“You WILL be the most delicious croissants ever. Resistance is futile.”

Here’s what the Head Baker does:

–makes bread doughs & sets them up to rise

–rolls out, fills & assembles danish and about a zillion different kinds of croissants, working FAST so the cold dough doesn’t get sticky and refuse to roll

–shapes, rises and bakes all bread loaves, including our filled baguettes (can you say carmelized onion and brie? Mais oui!)

–bakes everything the Assistant Baker puts on the racks, keeping in mind a) how long each item might need to rise; b) how long each item might use up oven space; c) how hot said oven needs to be for said item; and d) when each item is needed up front.

Here’s what an Assistant Baker Worries About:

Am I making this right?

Here’s what a Head Baker Worries About:

Am I making this right? Am I rising anything so long it flattens? Are my ovens hot enough or too hot? Am I burning anything, or  underbaking it so it falls apart when de-panned? Am I missing any special orders that need to be picked up by, God help us all, 7 am? Am I noticing whether we’re running out of any ingredients that the next shift will need? Am I paying attention to my Assistant Baker’s work in case, God help us all, she’s as much a rookie as I am?

You get the idea.

Friends from my former life, who knew I walked away from 20 years of teaching high school into a blessedly, no, miraculously stress-free life of writing and assistant baking, are now a little baffled. “You want more stress in your life…why, exactly?”

Here’s all I can tell them, all I can tell myself: After three years on the JV, I wanted to join the Varsity.

Yep, it’s more stressful. I’m already starting to dream about those little oven timers going off like panicked baby ducks. (For the record, I still dream about trying to teach out-of-control classrooms too; guess that stays with a teacher for life!)

But it is WORTH it. If I was proud of my work before, now, as a HEAD BAKER, when I see those racks of bread that I BROUGHT INTO THIS WORLD FROM RAW INGREDIENTS AND DID NOT BURN, I want to grab the nearest customer and yell, “Hey! Aren’t they gorgeous? I MADE those! Eat them! Bow down to me!”

Of course, it’s only been a week. I’ll get back to you on the stress thing.

How about you? Ever felt like you’ve bitten off more than you could chew, workwise? Ever decided it was worth it anyway? Tell me your story. You know I’ll relate.