Monday, February 13, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: baking

December, 1981

I'm not a professional baker, but I want the shop to have freshly baked breads every day and can not afford to hire anyone to do the baking for me. I decide to do it myself. Years before, when Joyce and I moved to Montana and lived in a commune with 5 other people, we made our bread daily for our lunches and dinner, taking turns (it was a commune after all). I remember this was the only shared chore that I honestly loved. So I jump into baking cinnamon rolls and breads the first day we open. I rise early in the morning and go down to the shop and start the breads. All of this takes hours and I race to get things out before customers come in. I never make it and I don't know how I ever think I am going to have time to help Valerie, but the kitchen is so small that I can't help but look over her shoulder while she is chopping ingredients. We talk constantly.

I have bought a huge Robo-Coupe, similar to a Cuisinart, and use that to mix the doughs. It holds 25 quarts so I can make a good amount of dough, and it turns out the dough in just a few minutes because of its high speed. Every baker I hired over the years would look at me like I was crazy, but they all learned to love that machine. Each day I would make a sourdough, a wheat bread and a Swedish Rye. I would also make cinnamon rolls, French breakfast puffs and croissants. I don't know anything about making croissants, but there is only one French bakery in town making them and I want to bake a filled croissant with ham and cheese for lunch, chocolate croissants, and plain croissants for our Tarragon chicken salad. So I practice and learn.  Finally I make three coffeecakes and a couple of sweet breads.

One problem I initially have is with the pans I use for the bread. I have bought used pans that are precoated with a rubbery like substance. These are for professional bakers who don't have time to spray the pans. The pans tend to work with yeast breads, but not so well with quick breads that have lots of sugar. Large bakeries send these pans in often to be recoated since the coating tends to wear off. I decide to ignore that and go back to spraying the pans for yeast breads and spraying and coating the spray with flour for the quick breads. The loaves come out fine.  We sell out every day.

Here is a recipe I brought with me from Spokane:

 Zucchini Bread 

This recipe was one of the first I collected. We used it in Spokane at Henny’s on the bread plate that each table got. It was always a favorite.

3 Eggs
1 C Oil
1 C Brown Sugar
1 C White Sugar
2 C Grated Zucchini
 2 T Vanilla
 3 C flour
 1 t Baking soda
¼ t Baking Powder
 ¼ t Salt
1 T Cinnamon
 ½ C Pecans, toasted and chopped
 ¾ C Raisins

Mix all ingredients in a mixer until blended. Grease 2 or 3 loaf pans. Line each pan with parchment on the bottom if desired. That will prevent the bread from sticking. Fill the pans from ½ to ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and remove from the pan.

February 7, 2012

Yesterday I was talking to Amy about our cookies.  I was frustrated that they vary so much from day to day depending on who is baking them.  I started cursing all of the bakers I have had.  All of them have been talented, but most bakers tend to specialize in one type of baking over another.  In other words, some bakers make excellent bread but fall short on their cakes.  Some are production wizards but have trouble with making things taste good.  I think the key to baking is treating each thing you make as if it is your baby.  More than cooking, the baker must be emotionally invested in his product.  He has to love each thing he produces and feel it is the best he can make.  If he doesn't, people complain that the cookie isn't very good, the cake is a little dry, or that the pie is a little runny.  I was not able to continue to bake every day in my shop for more than a few months.  I was spending way too much time making far too few products to be profitable.  But baking got into my soul and allowed me to be able to critique and improve all of the bakers I subsequently hired.

Early January, 1982

I have decided to hire a baker to increase our production.  It takes me at least an hour to roll out all the croissants I need each day and another 1/2 hour or more for the cinnamon rolls.  I am introduced to a young man who has worked at the French bakery on the Plaza and knows baking.  He comes in to talk to me and we hit it off.  He shows me how he makes croissants and he has about 3 times the speed I do.
I hire him immediately.  Scott Self becomes my first baker.  He is a monster at production.


I had to get some French cookbooks to find how to make croissants. After I got the recipe perfected, I realized that our Reed oven made a huge difference in making a perfect croissant. This was a wonderful baking oven that had 4 racks on reels that rotated in the oven-very bulky but effective and gave a perfect bake.  My croissants tended to be very crispy when coming out of the oven and were an immediate hit.  We filled them with ham and swiss for a grab-it-and-go sandwich, as well as a chocolate and an almond filling.

8 C flour
3 T yeast
1 T salt
1 T sugar
3 & 3/4 C water with some milk

Mix the dough until sticky.  Cover and let rise until doubled.  Punch down and turn out onto a floured table.

Soften 1 pound butter and flatten out.  Roll out the dough into a rectangle.  Spread butter over the rectangle evenly and fold into thirds (this is called a three fold).  Cover and let rest in the refigerator for 20 minutes or so.  Take out and roll the dough out into another rectangle (your rectangle will have to be rolled out the opposite direction of your first fold.  You are trying to add layers to the croissant and to seal in the butter by this procedure). Make another 3 fold. Let it rest.  Roll out again and make another 3 fold the opposite direction of the last.  Let rest and roll out the entire dough to about 1/2 " thick.  Cut into triangles and roll each up placing the tip of the triangle at the front of the croissant.  Shape and let rise until doubled.  Brush with egg white or milk and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

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