The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How does a baker work at perfecting the craft?

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RainsOfCastamere's picture
RainsOfCastamere

How does a baker work at perfecting the craft?

This question has bothered me slightly. Its probably because I'm quite a ways down from even being knowlegdebale on the subject, but as I wait to attend a baking school, I've wondered how to work on the craft at home. So far I've been running through the BBA. I feel like I'm picking up on patterns that allow me to keep my eyes out of the book and on the dough, but I keep thinking I should do more. Should I try memorizing times, temperatures and formulas? Should I start baking almost "free-form" sotospeak? Should I apply more baker's math (does wear down supplies abit though) and stock pre-ferments in large quantities? Granted I haven't even touched sourdoughs yet.

Ultimately, it seems that one can best perfect the craft in a more professional environment. In the event that I don't reach school, how does one just jump in? Staging has proven difficult when it comes to bakeries, especially in NYC and even moreso when one is a novice with practically no related work experience. It also seems a bit difficult when you find yourself needing an actual job then volunteering and such. Any tips?

I simply want to situate myself in an environment which allows constant improvement. Sorry if this is the wrong place. Questions seemed broad enough. Thanks. 

yy's picture
yy

Baker's math is pretty important if you want to get consistent, controlled results. I'm not sure what you mean when you say that it "wears down supplies." To the contrary, it allows you to scale quantities down or up according to your needs. I would also recommend the book "Bread" by Jeffrey Hamelman. It's written with both professional and home bakers in mind.

 

RainsOfCastamere's picture
RainsOfCastamere

Well I assume when you step up the batches to be larger, my supplies (mostly flour) would be put on bigger strain. Sorry if I'm being not quite understood. I've been meaning to do larger batches to calm the high demand back home, but I can barely keep up with the flour now. Perhaps I need a bigger storage unit to store the flour. 

I'll check out the book. Thanks for the reply.

patricia hains's picture
patricia hains

All good questions...but you are half way there because you clearly have passion,  Pick out a few recipes and keep practicing them until you are satisfied with the result.  And keep asking questions.  I teach classes here and mentor a few students in exchange for their assistance with some of the classes.  Too bad you are not closer.  I guess the important thing to understand is that with bread making, you never arrive because there is so much to learn and that is truly the fun of it.  So just get started and enjoy it.  Hook up with as many people in your area as you can that are passionate about bread and learn from them.  That should be an easy feat since you live in NYC.  Any chance you can do an internship in a local bakery?  All the best!

RainsOfCastamere's picture
RainsOfCastamere

I suppose I haven't looked hard enough so far because I haven't landed a internship. To be honest I dont expect that kind of thing for someone as inexperienced as myself (at least with more complex products and equipment).

Perhaps its how I approach it through resumes, walk-ins and the like. They might need some refinement although with my experience (as a dishwasher) I doubt it would hold much weight. Is it common for aspiring bakers to bring their product as some sort of portfolio?

Also thanks. 

I'mTheMami's picture
I'mTheMami

I am not from the same area you are in, but not all bakeries expect you to be a master baker the day you walk in their doors. You can work at a bakery, perhaps as someone who isnt directly involved whpith the dough making process at first.  I am sure you will quickly shine your way into that position.

 

I worked at a bakery and learned as I went, am assuming there are other bakeries out there that hire people without impressive resumes as well :)

 

good luck! 

proth5's picture
proth5

Find the best teacher  you can and work with that person.  Notice hand movements. Notice how the Big Dogs work with tremendous economy of motion.  Then practice.  Practice some more.  Practice some more. 

The Bread Bakers Guild of America (www.bbga.org) just published their education schedule - they have a great class with a great instructor in NYC.

Baker's math is a fundamental.  It is the foundation that will allow you to design your own formulas and express your creativity.  You needed bake in large quantities to use it.  But learn it right.  Once again I will reference the Bread Bakers Guild of America and its website.  They have created some great educational material based on their standard.  Why their standard?  It was designed by very experienced members of the baking community based on practical concerns.  But most of all - it is something that actually eases the process of designing formulas and increases understanding.  I see so many questions on this board about "how do I convert this to that" where the answer is simple bakers math...

Happy Baking.

RainsOfCastamere's picture
RainsOfCastamere

How does one manage ones time though? As I know it, it takes a lot of time and space. Its not how I imagine classes where they have pre-made dough ready for practice. Is one round of loaves a day sufficient?

Also thanks for the response. 

proth5's picture
proth5

how to answer your question - because I'm not sure what you are asking.  However I will give my experiences.

Most baking classing (that don't cover a full week ) cover two days - an evening so that pre ferments can be prepared and then a full day when final mixes and baking take place.  You can bake an amazing variety of breads in an 8 hour day if the teacher is well organized.  Yes, they take space - but a good class will have that space.

As for practice - well, the more often you bake, the more practice you can get.  I have a demanding career, so I can't bake as much as I would like, but if I can bake, I bake. I tend to focus on specific areas where I want to practice a technique and I might have to do this for months because of the demands of my life - but although improvement is slow, it happens.  Your personal priorities will determine how much you can practice.  I have a home kitchen that is laughably small by American standards, but I consider how to be organized and work cleanly in the space that I have.  I can bake a lot in a day if I push myself.

Finding the best teacher you can to work with is key.  Take a class - then practice - then go back to that teacher and make any course corrections you might need to make.  And remember, practice only makes perfect if you practice perfectly.  There is no amount of book reading or internet surfing that can replace working with a good teacher.  I also caution new bakers that there is a lot of stuff out on the internet (maybe including this) that is not good advice.  When you work with someone who actually has met standards in the baking world, you can keep your center and do not have to be distracted by bad advice.

Hope this helps.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

To the already good advice that you have received, I would add that you should relax and realize that you are on a long never ending journey.  The vast majority of your learning will come from your own experience whether at home, in the classroom or on the job.  Relax, have fun, bake, bake, bake and then bake some more.  Enjoy the ride.

Jeff

RainsOfCastamere's picture
RainsOfCastamere

Thanks.

richkaimd's picture
richkaimd

You might consider perusing a bread baking text book, and even consider starting from its beginning doing the practice exercises.  No doubt, if you're going into serious training, you'll be buying a text or texts on the subject, but at this point, with all your interest, you could prepare yourself for the book and practical work.  I often recommend this short and concise text:  DiMuzio's Bread Baking.  It's not more than about $20 if you get it used from, for example, Alibris on-line.  I think that the longer and more serious your course work will require a deeper text, but starting by reading through the DiMuzio one will give a good beginning foundation to build one.  

Look at all the videos linked to from this website to see the choreography of dough movement.

And practice, practice, practice.  Make mistakes and learn from them.  

 

 

 

RainsOfCastamere's picture
RainsOfCastamere

I look into the book.

Thanks. 

grind's picture
grind

They might need some refinement although with my experience (as a dishwasher) I doubt it would hold much weight.

I've read the Steve Sullivan of Acme Breads started as a dishwasher.  Just get in and show your passion and commitment and prove you can add value to your employer's business. 

Is it common for aspiring bakers to bring their product as some sort of portfolio?

Can't hurt.  Worked fonce or me.

Farmpride's picture
Farmpride

I read the subject title, then sat here staring at the screen with a  big grin for a few minutes.... what a question, it brings back decades of memories, and a tear for my first teacher, my best friend, my father.

Dish washing is all?

you have great experience for getting your foot in the door, if you are willing... that is clean up. that is always a great way in.  second, be willing to work for anything, find the owner/manager, tell him or her you will do anything, clean up, grease molds, wash the floor, and that you will gladly accept any pay they feel your worth even below min. if need be, after all paid even 5 dollars an hour is better than paying for school, ...

i was a clean up boy for years (after school), then a donut fryer(before school), then i got to be a bench hand after i fried, then a full time bench hand, and i was willing to work 18 hours a day if need be.. now i have my own shop (last 20 plus years)... i also worked for others, all the donut chains, a couple other small bakeries, and went to a 2 year school (Dunwoody, now gone) and worked full time before i went to class ... you will find it is a school of hard knocks,  .. my kids spent years sleeping in bakeries, my wife helped also...

and the tears,... my lord there was some hard lessons, and there still is.. after about 45 years i still learn every day, i still have to keep on top of how the doughs are behaving, and every batch that comes out nice is still a source of great joy. god bless you on your journey.

how old are you?

one last thing, no matter what trade you choose, if you really want to succeed, the above applies, so do not let that scare ya off. and keep a few other hobbies, it is good for your head. :)

albert/farmpride.com

RainsOfCastamere's picture
RainsOfCastamere

I'm about to be 22. I've worked about 2 years as a dishwasher for my campus' dining hall back when I was an IT major. I didn't really show much interest and found myself finding solace in baking. I loved the idea of crafting something with my own hands. So here I am.

I guess I'm intimidated. Going into a bakery, especially one with vets, and asking for something like this really scares me. I'm a bit of a work-horse mind you and being paid is one of the main motivators towards overcoming that fear--as it is really hard to upkeep supplies with no cash--but the possibility of failure looms over my head and in my experience, I tend to beat myself up really bad. Confidence isn't one of my traits and I've actually lost a lot of weight in order to serve my self-esteem and workability well. Its all a matter of making that leap.

grind's picture
grind

If you can't leap all at once then baby steps can help build your confidence.  I had a good friend once say "sometimes you just gotta peel potatoes for a while".  It's not an all or nothing proposition; just start where you can and the confidence will follow with time and familiarity.  Think of confidence as a muscle that needs exercizing.  Good luck.