The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Opinions on baking schools and classes across the US, oven opinions

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Baker4life's picture
Baker4life

Opinions on baking schools and classes across the US, oven opinions

Good morning all !

First let me introduce myself. My name is Marcel and I am an avid home baker/chef who is always seeking to further my skills in the kitchen to benefit my families health and well being. I've been a lurker on this site for a while but even after joining up several months back never chimed in as I felt I had nothing to contribute. After losing my account information and having to start anew this morning I still have nothing to contribute but instead hope some of you can offer your advice. All that lurking has paid off because from the information posted to this site I know there are some great bakers/chefs amongst us. So here we go.

First, I would like to hear opinions on baking schools and classes and if there is a school or class in particular that I should be looking into if I am a novice home baker wanting to take it to the next level. While my full time job and location wouldn't allow for a culinary class over several months/years I do have the ability to take off a week at a time to drive or fly to some of the classes offered in several different states. My main interest lies in artisan baking with natural risen breads but I am also interested in taking classes to pursue bread in all aspects. If it's bread I am interested. So far I have been looking at King Arthur Flour, Zingermans, San Francisco Baking Institute, Artisan Bread School, Hains House, Artisan School in San Diego, and some scant lesser known schools found by a simple google search. While some have reviews others do not and I think that's mostly due to the fact the schools are small and graduates either don't leave feedback or just don't think to do it.

All the schools I mentioned above are an option for me but what I am looking for is where my money and time will best be spent. And as far as where I want this to lead I hope to one day open my own small bakery/pastry shop offering both wood fired artisan breads as well as breads cooked in a more conventional matter like a electric or gas oven. Which leads me to my next question.

 

OVENS. I am wanting 2 types at some point down the road. Wood fired brick, clay,refractory of some type and your more conventional oven with steam /vapor setup. While I have researched both types and realize each oven signifies what path you want to take with your loaves but I would like you guys to weigh in and possibly throw out some names and models of conventionals as well as offer up types of wood fired that you've used or have and what style I should be looking at. On the conventional side I am seeing a lot of used Vulcan double ovens, Hobart deck ovens, and other brands whose name escapes me right now, pop up for 1/2 the price of a new one or less. I am wondering if it would be a wise decision to invest in one of these first or if I need to look at building my own wood fired first.

I can elaborate more on my future endeavors with baking and pastry but wanted to get this ball rolling before work this morning. For now I am off to the real job.

I look forward to your comments and advice and hope this is the start of a long standing relationship with this site.

Marcel

proth5's picture
proth5

If you haven't already, I suggest that you join the Bread Baker's Guild of America (www.bbga.org).  Since your trajectory is oriented towards becoming a professional, the educational and networking opportunities membership provides is outstanding.  I seem to push it a lot - because I value my membership - but I am not by nature a "joiner" and when I find an organization that actually adds value to my life, I tend to enthuse.

Your money is best spent where you can find instructors who speak directly to your style of learning and baking - and that is a difficult thing to assess from doing internet searches. 

I know people who have studied at King Arthur, Zingerman's, and SFBI and each has gotten value from their classes - you really can't go far wrong with any of these three.  Since you have a real job, and will be doing this on vaction time you might consider how each location fits your preferences and where you could have a good time when you aren't baking/learning.  Vermont is nice, but a far cry from San Francisco.  My young nephew waxes fondly about Ann Arbor - I don't see it, but he loves it there.

You might try taking short classes at one or the other before commiting to a week long class.  This can give you a feeling for the instructors and the environment.  Again, the BBGA offers short classes on specialized topics where you could meet instructors and other serious home or professional bakers and discuss.

Your best education, of course, is to find a bakery that will let you work as an intern baker.  Classes are great - but nothing takes the place of mixing/shaping/baking many loaves, over and over.  You will also get the chance to understand what you really like and don't like about production baking (like starting work at 2AM) and this may influence your path. This is difficult to do when you have a "real" job - but the best learning experience you will ever have.

As for ovens - I have been baking in a Vulcan double oven.  I like it for pastries, but it performs only so-so for free standing "crusty" loaves - even at low fan the convection is just a but too strong for my tastes.  But great for pastries.

Good luck in your search!