The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

baking internship

codruta's picture

Summer News.   My path in becoming a baker... (part II)

... goes through Kalispell Montana USA

 (A true story about chance, adventure and passion without boundaries)


Hello, TFL friends.

          As some of you know, there are some changes going on in my life and it all started a few months ago, when I decided I want to be a baker and open my own bakery in my town.
In the last years, I've been an amateur home baker and a TFL member and I spent hours and hours reading bread related subjects, experimenting and learning from my mistakes. I learnt a lot from books, blogs and from the greatest bakers on TFL. My love for bread grew so much, till one day I realized I'm only happy when I bake (no exaggeration here) and from that moment my final decision was taken.

I have been searching for a while some bakeries in Europe who would take interns during summer and some of you probably already read my previous post about this (link here) and so you know I'll go to Powburn at the beginning of August to meet Andy (Ananda) and to work with him for a week.

          One day I was talking with MC Farine, asking her if she can guide me to a nice bakery she visited in her travels in Europe. Her answer pointed me in a direction I would have never thought of: she suggested to talk to Mark Sinclair (mcs on TFL), the famous baker from the Back Home Bakery, Kalispell, Montana, USA. I needed three days to have the courage to write him, but I finally did and his answer to my request was affirmative.

          To make a long story short, I will spare you of the part that I had to go to the trouble of getting a tourist Visa for USA (there was some stress involved, because I was not the classic rich tourist type and there was a high risk of being rejected, but it all ended well) and I rather speak about the great joy I feel for getting the chance of traveling to USA to meet Mark, the baker who inspired me so much in the past and in the last months. My emotions are precipitating as the time for internship is approaching and I can't tell how glad I am because things arranged themselves as they did.

          I read all the posts here on TFL written by the former interns or by Mark himself, I read and re-read his internship application, I made my homeworks, I've talked to Mark a few times about the program and I know exactly where I'm heading (sleep deprivation, long hours of work, rigorous program) but I am very excited and motivated and determined to do my best and get the maximum from this amazing opportunity and challenging experience.

          TFL members who have been there before me, please feel free to advise me or to warn me, if it's the case, what are the dos and don'ts I have to be careful about.

          I think I will be the first Back Home Bakery intern who travelled from so faraway to get there. Also the first to spend more than 2 weeks in a row there. The first who's English is not the native language.

          For those of you unfamiliar with Mark's website, please visit it (link here) and watch his tutorial videos (link here) (or order the DVD's) because they are amazing and helpful whatever is your stage in baking (the ones demonstrating the shaping techniques are my favorites).

          I'll be at The Back Home Bakery in the interval between 16 August - 3 September. I will keep you updated when I'll get there, but till then I want to share wih you a drawing that Mark did specially for this blog post, which makes me smile everytime I look at it and it also makes my future to look so pretty :)

                                             "Under the spell of Kalispell" (my title)
with the note that "brutarie - deschis" means "Bakery - open"


If you have time and patience you can also read my post in my romanian blog (link here) (translation available on the upper right side), which given the fact that it was written in my native language it is a longer and more emotional version of this one presented here. Hope you'll enjoy it :)

Till we'll hear again, I'm wishing you all the best and keep on baking!



mcs's picture

This past week Randy came up from Missoula, MT to help us out at the bakery.  It was a very busy week as we had plenty of special orders plus the usual wholesale and farmers' market work to do.  Fortunately we had perfect weather for both farmers' markets and we had lots of happy customers at both of them.  On Saturday we had quite the customer demand as Sharon and I quickly filled the orders and Randy worked his butt off to keep the shelves filled with bread and the display cases stocked with pastries (sound familiar Thomas?).  If you haven't experienced it yet, it's a very gratfiying feeling to have worked your hardest for the week and to have dozens of very pleased customers waiting in line to enjoy the breads and pastries you've produced.
Thanks for the hard work, Randy, and I hope you show off some of the baking skills you've learned at home for your family.


PS If you missed Thomas' account of his most recent experience at the bakery, you can see it here.


Randy paying his dues the Back Home Bakery way


Me watching in wonder as Randy tackles 18 loaves worth of stretch and fold


Happy Randy as he boules up 27 pounds of dough after a stretch-and-fold





tssaweber's picture

I spent another 10 days at [Professor] Mark's The Back Home Bakery. Other then working hard I had a great time up in the Rockies and enjoyed my time with Mark and his wife Sharon very much. It was great to see how he was able to organize his process to multiply his output and meet the demand of his divers clientele. I was not surprised that we sold out at all three Farmer's Market I participated. 

I leave it up to you to decide if I learned something!!


Thanks Sharon and Mark for you hospitality!


mcs's picture

 This past week (June 5-11) May visited the Back Home Bakery from the L.A. area for her internship.  During the week we had the usual work-load plus a bunch of extra palmiers and baguettes for a special order.  The area she felt she improved on the most was controlling the factors to get the desired dough temperatures in both loaf breads and laminated doughs.  Although I'd like to think that being in the bakery was her main highlight of the trip, seeing this as we were coming home from the Tuesday night farmers' market was probably at the top of the list. 
Thanks for the hard work May, and for spoiling Hoku rotten.


May working on the 20qt mixer while we start the rolls


shaping as I record times in the background





mcs's picture

Last week Patrick loaded up his truck and drove up from San Antonio, Texas for the first internship slot of 2011.  We had a busy week preparing for Memorial Day, some wholesale accounts, and two farmers' markets.  Patrick had a bit of practice with all of the bakery equipment including using the sheeter to laminate 75 pounds of croissant dough on Thursday morning.  He elected to stay in the area for an extra week for some rainy sight-seeing in Glacier National Park and finished his stay by helping us and intern #2 (May) on an extra-busy Saturday morning.  More about that in my blog entry about her week. 
Thanks for the hard work during your internship week and for helping us on both farmers' market Saturdays.  I hope you enjoyed the stay and learned lots about the baking process.


Patrick showing the mixer who's boss and operating on a Mannele made with baguette dough



Both of us working on a batch of rolls on a Saturday morning


proth5's picture

 Or: My Adventures at the Back Home Bakery.

 They all told me I was too old to start in any kind of professional baking.  "My teacher" said it.  Even the organizers of La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie tell me I am too old to be eligible to compete (Oh, and I don't bake that well...)

 They were right.

 And I say this not in the spirit of complaining that Mark is a maniacal slave driver (although I did hand many customers at the Tuesday farmer's market small pieces of paper on which I had printed "Help me!") but rather to drive home how physically demanding this baking business can be.  I knew it in my head.  Now I know it in every aching part of my body.

 For those of us who work in offices spending many hours hunched over a computer, the first shock is the standing.  In my home kitchen, I can pull up a chair and rest while stirring the jam (for example.) In the world of professional baking, one stands.  I am told by a friend who went from information systems work to working retail (a story for which the world is not yet prepared) that in a month or so, standing becomes easier.  But what a month it would be!  I was barely able to hobble up and down stairs at the end of a day and I was sure that my feet were some kind of malevolent entity determined to make me suffer as payback.

 The hours, of course, are grueling.  Getting to work at 3AM is cake, but continuing to work until 6PM kind of takes it out of a person - at least us old folks.  Mark essentially works the hours of two people.  He tells me that he soon will be able to slack off a bit. But he does this for months at a time.  He previously worked construction.  He is a fit, strong sort of guy used to hard physical work.  The transition from "paper" work to physical work is quite a large one.  As we lose our regenerative powers, this transition becomes more and more difficult.  I won't say it can't be done - but it would take considerable effort for a "more mature" individual,

 One thing in particular was striking for me.  I have some problems with my right hand that are the result of injuries long in the past.  In my typical life - which does include some heavy-duty home baking/cooking and gardening - this is a minor inconvenience.  As the days passed at the Back Home Bakery, this little problem became a big one.  Mark may or may not have noticed, but I did mixing, shaping, egg washing, and was his faithful prep monkey with a right hand in such pain that it hurt to lift a fork.  I am sure that he may have thought that I had some unnatural compulsion to wash dishes (without gloves) but the real reason I was so quick to head to the sink was that the jet of hot water on my right hand was the only thing that reduced the pain enough to enable me to go on to the next task.  If I were to bake at these volumes week after week, I would have to have the hand thing "taken care of" - with the expense and bother that would involve - if it were even possible.  Winners play with pain, but a few years of that could be quite wearing.  Anyone who is seriously considering running that small bakery at an age where little aches and pains are tolerated as "just getting old" needs to seriously consider what the strain of daily, repetitive, hard work would do.

 I also found out how humbling it is for those of us who work with complex systems in our current profession to realize we can make a mistake weighing out water.  "How hard can it be?"  It can be hard - and left unnoticed the consequences could be dire.

 Not to say that the time spent was unpleasant.  While Mark may come off as a relentless, pitiless, heartless, cyborg who never sleeps and has no consideration for the well being of his interns - he is only doing what needs to be done to make his business viable. He is willing to put in stupendous effort (and so is his capable helpmate...) to make the vision he has for his life a reality.  In a sense, many of us have been willing to do this, but for many of us it is in the past and not the future.  I've reinvented myself at least twice in this way.  I know I will have to reinvent myself one more time.  What remains is the question of my willingness and ability to put in this type of effort again and what form that reinvention will take.  Further, to wax even more abstract, the incredible demands we put on the people who provide the most basic necessities of life are really something to think about when we grouse about the cost of food.

 All in all, I got the kind of practice that I wanted and needed. I shaped and scored more bread in a week than I would have in many months and that matters.  I learned a technique to form boules that is so good, that I will defy "my teacher" and even use it in his/her presence.  I learned that obsessive perfectionism is for home bakers - not pros (unless they intend to go into competition.) I finally mastered two fisted roll making.  I spent quality time with the sheeter (I do love me some sheeter.) I realized that I have the heart of a pastry chef and the starker realities of turning out "daily bread" are less appealing to me.  I learned that I get a kind of enduring satisfaction out of things like looking at the proofer - full at 6:30AM and thinking - "we really knocked that out today - got it done faster than yesterday" - or from simple things like beating Mark to the bakery in the morning (not an easy thing.) The Montana night sky must be seen to be appreciated.  Sharon (Mark's wife) is a lovely person who has much patience for all and deserves to be elevated to sainthood.  I learned to wrangle plastic wrap (yeah, you think it's simple...)

 Mark and Sharon learned never to give me coffee.  It may seem like a good idea, but it is not.

 Would I recommend it?  To vigorous, healthy folk of any age who want to deal in the reality of a small artisan bakery - yes.  Folk like me - at your own peril.

 But, I got through the week and I think I could have at least gotten through another.  Yes, I could have pushed myself more on my final Sunday to do some laminating, but at that point it would have been practicing a skill that I will not use again soon and to be frank I just would have slowed Mark down.  I sit (oh, lovely sitting!) here now in my somewhat cushier surroundings knowing full well that I like them - but do not need them. Baking aside, it's good to know that I own the things and they do not own me.

 Has it changed my thinking about working professionally?  Well, not really.  I've been messing about with various food disciplines for a long time and have some small skill in some of them.  I was never thinking about doing anything more than a "hobby business" after saving sufficient funds for retirement.  You know - have a hobby that pays for itself and maybe earns a little pin money.  I have been and still am searching for the right way to model this business.  My realization that pastry holds more appeal than pure bread baking is important, but not earth shattering.  I knew I would be taking a hit physically (not quite as much as I did during my internship) as I made the transition.  I have to give serious thought to the question of my right hand and what medical science may or may not be able to do for it.  I knew the economics of the food business would be harsh.  Fortunately, I still have a while to mull this over.

 I do have the shining memory of someone buying a bear claw, biting into it - smiling - and then handing pieces to his family.  "That," I said to Mark, "That, is why all us tech types want to be bakers."

 Thanks, Mark! Ya know we only abuse those that we deeply appreciate!  If I ever take leave of my senses again - I'll be back!

pmccool's picture

I had the pleasure of spending a week working as a baking intern for Mark Sinclair at his The Back Home Bakery in Kalispell, Montana.  Other than the sleep deprivation, it was a thoroughly enjoyable week of measuring ingredients, washing dishes, mixing bigas and doughs, washing dishes, stretching and folding dough, washing dishes, pre-shaping and shaping loaves, washing dishes, making pastries and fillings, washing dishes, scraping the workbench, washing dishes, packaging the finished breads/pastries, building friendships with Mark and Sharon (his wife), and washing dishes.

A typical day would start at 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning.  We'd begin by pulling bigas from the refrigerator (they had been mixed the previous afternoon or evening) and measuring the ingredients for each bread.  Most of the breads were mixed in a 20-quart mixer, except for the baguettes, which were a larger batch that was mixed in the 60-quart mixer.  The other exception was on Saturday morning, when about half of the breads were mixed in the 60-quart mixer because of the larger batches being prepared for the Kalispell farmers' market later that morning.  Mark also pulled 2 or 3 frozen pastry doughs from the freezer at about the same time so that they could be thawed and ready for sheeting and shaping during a lull in the bread production.

After mixing, the bread doughs were placed in a proofer.  Most were given 3 stretch and folds at 45-minute intervals.  After proofing, the doughs were shaped and placed on sheet pans, then put back in the proofer for their final proof prior to slashing and baking.  The baguettes, again, were an exception to this general practice; they received a pre-shape, then a ferment at room temperature, followed by a final shaping and final room-temperature ferment before slashing and loading into the oven.  Mark uses two convection ovens; one is electric and the other is gas fired.  All of the baking is done on sheet pans, rather than on a deck or stone.  Neither oven is steam-injected, so Mark throws a can of water on a cast-iron griddle sitting in the bottom of the oven when a bread requires steaming.  

What I haven't conveyed well is the overall planning that Mark does in deciding which doughs are mixed first and which are mixed last.  Based on experienced he has gained and on the particular day's product roster (it varies from day to day), Mark sequences the production steps so that he can maintain a steady flow of bread or pastries in and out of the ovens without creating bottlenecks or gaps.  And it's all subject to change, depending on the activity of the doughs.  There are anywhere from 1 to 4 timers in use at any given point and each step of the process for each bread or pastry is noted on a sheet of paper.  If it didn't get written down, it would get lost in the ever-changing flow of the work.  A couple of examples may help to illustrate just how important time management is in a bakery.  One: "If you have time to stand around, you've probably missed something."  Two: Mark muttering "That timer rules my life" as he leaves the dinner table to put the rye starter in the refrigerator for the night.

I encountered several surprises during my week at The Back Home Bakery:

- Mark produces a variety of pastries, using both croissant dough and puff pastry dough.  I had preconceived that he was primarily making breads, but that was a misconception on my part.

- Mark uses Wheat Montana's AP flour, which most other milling companies would label as a high-protein bread flour.  Still, he produces incredibly tender and flaky pastries and robust breads using that same flour.  The man knows what he's doing.

- Aforesaid pastries, still warm from the oven, make a spectacular breakfast.  My wife ran out of adjectives by Thursday.

- Mark is something of a Renaissance man: teacher, coach, log home builder and baker.  And very patient with a well-meaning but sometimes-addled assistant.  I'm sticking with the sleep deprivation defense as long as I can.  

Saturday was the biggest production day of the week because of the Kalispell farmers market, so we were up at 1:00 a.m.  Sharon also pitched in, so there were three of us banging around in the bakery, trying not to trip over each other.  That morning we produced and packaged:

- palmiers

- bear claws

- croissants

- cherry croissants

- blueberry croissants

- cheese danish

- pain au chocolat

- apple strudel

- ham and cheese croissants

- sticky buns

- sour rye bread (based on Eric's Fav Rye)

- rustic white bread

- buckwheat-flax bread

- baguettes

- Sal's rolls (torpedo shaped, made from baguette dough)

- Portuguese sweet bread (shaped as rolls)

- Kalamata jack bread

All of the above was loaded in the van, along with the booth and display fixtures, and ready to roll by 7:30.

Here are a couple of pictures from that morning:

Sharon, wisely, bundled up for the chilly morning.  Mark's concession to the cold was to change from shorts to jeans and put on a cap.

Sharon waiting on early customers.

Mark's commitment to putting out a high-quality product is paying off.  He has loyal customers who come looking for their favorites and who are very disappointed if they arrive too late and find that item has sold out.

I'm very grateful to have had a week working with Mark and getting to know both he and Sharon.  Should you have the opportunity to pursue a future internship, I can highly recommend it.


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