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Bread camp at The Back Home Bakery

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PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Bread camp at The Back Home Bakery

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.


Paul

Comments

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

TIRED!! I can't even imagine keeping that type of schedule. I usually work 4 ten hour days (56yo). I get up at 3:50AM and at home by 5:30PM (this is with commuting time)


I appreciate, but don't envy Mark's work ethic. For all who have taken an internship, you guys rock!! It's not for me, but I would do it for a week to help out!! Just in case you need some back up.


Betty


PS: Paul, sleep addled ?? You are a great bread baker!! I'm sure Mark was happy to have you!!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Betty,


Mark's dedication and energy levels are amazing.  Most mornings he has to make delivery runs into Kalispell or Whitefish (another smaller town north of Kalispell) to deliver baked goods to his wholesale customers.  I'd find myself nodding off in the middle of a conversation as we were going down the road. 


There were a couple of days when we'd squeeze in an hour or two of nap time in the afternoon, which helped.  Still, most afternoons and evenings involved setting up the bigas for the next day's bake, along with pastry prep work (butter blocks for the croissants, pastry dough mixing, sheeting and shaping) that could then be frozen for later use.  For Saturday's bake, we even pre-weighed all of the dry ingredients for each bread and did some other prep work (cutting up olives and cheese for the Kalamata jack bread, for instance) on Friday to reduce the Saturday morning work load. 


Running a small bakery is a big challenge and very tiring.  I could draw some parallels to farming, in the sense of having to be at work every day of the year, but I remember farming as having better hours.


Paul

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Thanks, Paul, for your story and the photos.  I hope you avoided getting dishpan hands!


Speaking as one who mutters unladylike comments when the alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., I am awestruck at your energy level - let alone rolling out of bed at such uncivilized hours!  ;-)

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

are just above the sink, Lindy. 


The only thing that I had going for me was that I went a time zone to the west, so a 2:00 wake-up felt more like a 3:00 wake-up to me.  Still, my wife did the driving on our first day heading home while I slept.  And I'm not in the habit of sleeping in cars.


Paul

chouette22's picture
chouette22

... of your internship! I am so tempted, but with my job and kids, it's not likely to happen for a great while.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

If my kids were still at home, I probably couldn't have swung the trip, either.  Still, if circumstances permit . . .


Paul

smithbr11's picture
smithbr11

...as I'll be heading out to Mark's place at the end of September.  I've been trying to think of ways to best prepare myself; after reading your post it sounds like the best thing to do is arrive well rested.  If only I could take a real vacation before my time intensive manual labor dish washing vacation begins!


Seriously though, reading your post before I went to sleep last night got me really excited for the trip.  It sounds like a great experience, and I can't wait to work with, and learn as much as I can, from Mark. 


You mentioned getting up at 2-2:30.  What time did you wrap up for the day/grab a few hours of sleep? Any additional advice for a future intern?


Best,


Brendan

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

is to keep your eyes open and pay attention.  Your primary purpose is to assist Mark; it's his money and his reputation that is on the line.  If you go in with the attitude of wanting to support what he is doing, you'll do fine.  The benefits you gain will be a result of what you pick up as you work with Mark.


There aren't any set work hours.  Just ask "What's next?" whenever you finish a task.  After a couple of days, you'll start anticipating what needs to be done.  Unless you stay up "late" talking with Mark and Sharon, you'll probably be heading to bed somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00 most nights.  And don't worry about the bear.  He or she knocked over the garbage cans 3 nights in a row, but always before I made the moonlight stroll from the guest cabin down to the bakery.


Paul


P.S. I thought of another tip: the pre-shaped baguettes go into the couche seam-side up, the final shaped baguettes go into the couche seam-side down.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Paul,


What a great post. Isn't it amazing what a young body can do? The experience of working in a fast paced environment with so many different products must of been good for your skills.


So have you decided where you can fit that home sized sheeter yet?


Eric

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

We talked about that, Eric, as I was drooling over some of Mark's "toys".  I think the home version is also called a pasta maker. ;-)


In the hands of a capable baker, the sheeter is a wonderful tool.  Not nearly as much heat gets transferred to the dough as does with hands and a rolling pin.  Butter breakouts in a laminated dough, such as for croissants, are still a concern but much less likely when using the sheeter.  It's also a lot easier to get to the desired final thickness without having stretched or torn the dough, or leaving uneven thicknesses.  Even so, Mark does a final roll with a pin and checks with a stainless steel ruler, just to make sure that he has everything squared up and dimensionally correct.


It was kind of fun (well, for an engineer, anyway) to see just how much commercial baking relies on accurate and precise measurements.  The "a handful of this and a pinch of that" approach would soon bankrupt a baker in both wasted materials and ruined product.


Paul


 

proth5's picture
proth5

I've been on hiatus from posting or logging into TFl, but this one was too much for me.


Oh - a sheeter - that is one of the tools of my dreams.


Thanks for posting your experiences.  After getting a heads up on the schedule I decided that there was no way that I could prep for such a week other than making sure I was well rested and healthy.  I head to Kalispell in a little over a week.  I hope I have requisite ability to stay awake.


Let ya all know....


Pat

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Mark said that you would be doing an internship soon.  Glad to hear it!  I think you'll have lots of fun.  Mark says he likes the analytical way that engineers think, so take full advantage of it.  Having two of us in relatively short order will either float his boat or make him regret ever saying that.  Enjoy!


As for sleep, get it when you can.  Otherwise, just keep moving.  It's surprising how productive one can be, even when tired, so long as you don't sit down.  Hmm, maybe that's why there weren't any chairs in the bakery area?


Paul

cake diva's picture
cake diva

Paul,


Your dishwashing duties made me think of that commercial with the lady (wonder what happened to her?) saying "You're soaking in it". Was it Palmolive?


I have a clearer idea now about what the internship entails.  Does one have to be more practised in the art to intern?  I have taken short classes in bread and pastry and I work quickly;  however, I am hesitant for fear of not being able to help so much beyond dishwashing. -- cake diva

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Nope, not Palmolive.  I don't remember the brand, though.


Mark isn't looking for the creme de la creme of bakers (he let me in, after all!).  He does factor in certain things, like pictures of your work that you've posted and a sense of your personality that he picks up on from your posts.  Still, the intern who preceded me was a long-time lurker on TFL, so posting here is obviously not the only (or even primary) qualification.  Your experience, plus your training, will probably stand you in good stead.  For what it's worth, I've had no formal training or classes in baking, so you are probably better-qualified than am I. 


The next time an internship opportunity comes up, let Mark know that you are interested.  Then see how things go from there.


Paul

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

the manicurist! Which I'm sure Mark didn't provide with internship!


Betty

mcs's picture
mcs

I believe your first words to me after unpacking your suitcase were, "So, how can I make myself useful?"  Hey, if someone leaves me an open door like that, you better believe I'm going to take full advantage of it.  In fact, I'm pretty sure my response was, "Oh boy, that's the wrong question to ask around here!"  Glad you enjoyed your trip and thanks for all of the help.


-Mark


http://TheBackHomeBakery.com

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I don't think so!  At least, not that time.  That's exactly why I signed up.  


The experience was wonderful, you and Sharon are lovely hosts, and I've rarely had so much fun working so hard.  Thank you for inviting me.


Paul

Jw's picture
Jw

amazed that you still have the energy to write in down. Did you have to pay for the internship... ? Cheers, Jw.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

is required, other than the cost of getting yourself there.  My way of looking at it (which may or may not match Mark's) is that your labor is your tuition.


And I didn't do any writing until I was back home--there was just too much going on for me to keep a running log while I was there.  I ought to have taken more pictures but, again, when I was in the middle of working, I wasn't thinking about photography.  Wednesday would have been a good day to do that; it seemed like everything we took out of the oven that day was exceptionally pretty.


Paul


P.S. to Mark: those videos?

mcs's picture
mcs

Here's Paul doing his thing:


 


tssaweber's picture
tssaweber

 Hi Paul,


Glad you made it up there and enjoyed. You're right Mark's energy level is unbeatable, but motivating though.  But with his schedule it is a must. Would you agree with me that with his croissants he could win many competitions............


Thomas (co-intern)


 

mcs's picture
mcs

Glad to see you're still keeping very active with your baking.  Thanks again for the help, and next time you and your family will have to visit when my wife is here so you can be properly fed. 


-Mark

tssaweber's picture
tssaweber

Thanks Mark


You did me a favor to have me work also in your kitchen, I liked that. I hope you use the spinach filling recipe for the puff pastry appetizers. It also had another benefit: chairs to nurse my bones.


I will take you up on your invite, it will not be in the near future; but I will be back in Montana. If there would not be that distance between Chicago and Kalispell I would need an other internship...........


Thomas


 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Thomas,


They look good in the bakery under artificial light but when you get them out in the sunshine, they're drop-dead gorgeous.  Yes, I'd say the croissants would be strong contenders in any competition.  When you start the day with 15 pounds of butter out on the table to make up the butter slabs, you kind of expect that things are going to turn out well.


One lady at the Kalispell market on Saturday morning was out of cash, so she wrote a check for a single croissant!  Another woman, who has a daughter in Sharon's class, said that her kids preferred the plain croissants to the sweeter pastries.  Those are some pretty strong endorsements.


BTW, Mark says you're a good cook, as well as a good baker.


Paul

tssaweber's picture
tssaweber

 Hey Paul,


The kitchen is my place to relax and have fun. I also like the differences between cooking and baking, on one side the absolute preciseness and the focus on the process (formula) and on the other hand the fantasy, the frequent changes, no bakers percentages and scale. I have in the meantime no difficulties anymore, it took a while, to repeat a baking success, but don't ask me for the recipe of a dinner you had at my house.


Thomas

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

about using a recipe as a point of departure, rather than as a set if instructions.  Sounds like you do some of the same.  We've had some really good dishes as a result but, as you note, repeatability is sometimes an issue.


Paul

tssaweber's picture
tssaweber

Yeap, that's very well put, cooking recipes are ideas from were you start, it doesn't work with bread, that's why all my bread stuff is now in Excel.


Thomas

cake diva's picture
cake diva

Sounds like the two of you had fun.  But where was Thomas in the video?

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

He had been there on an internship prior to mine.  I think Mark did post some photos from Thomas' internship in a separate thread, though.


Paul

BakerManDan's picture
BakerManDan

...and reading about your internship, I know what my next career will be. I tell friends this blog is "baking porn" for me :)

Laddavan's picture
Laddavan

Thank you so much for the video, Paul. Your guys are great team. I wish I could have team work like this.


Laddavan.