I’ve been lucky enough to work in some great restaurants and bakeries, like Bakeri and Ovenly in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve worked with some great people, and I’ve learned from some really awesome people. The industry is a rough place and finding your way through it as a young baker or cook can be exhausting and unforgiving. That being said, it’s also taught me a lot of skills that I will hold onto for the rest of my life! Working in professional bakeries is truly a treat. Some of these tips and tricks you may already know… I would give you a cookie if I could. 😉
1. Scale, scale, scale. The only way you can ever rely on a recipe to produce the same product time and again is if you scale it. When I started baking, I didn’t know this. I showed up to a trail in a restaurant and was asked to scale something. I confessed my lack of knowledge regretfully, and didn’t get the job. Now, my scale is my best friend and I take full advantage of its powers. You can snag one for around $20.
2. No room temperature butter? No problem. Over the 2 years and some change that I worked with Shuna Lydon, she taught me more than anyone has ever taught me in my life. Honestly! One day at work she was quizzing the bakers, asking “what do you do when you need to room temp butter for a recipe, but all of your butter is cold?” Various answers came up, ranging from “microwave?” (NO!) to “top of the oven?” (NO!) and a few others. It turns out the best way to bring butter to room temperature quickly is to slice it thinly and let it sit for 10ish minutes. When you slice the butter into thinner slices, it takes much less time to warm up than if it was still one big cold block.
3. Also while working at Bakeri, I learned the art of lifting pies, loaves, and tarts out of their pans with parchment paper. I’m not saying Bakeri invented the wheel when it comes to this technique, but this was the first place I learned it, and I cherish it for that and many other reasons. It’s simple: before lining your pie or tart, put a piece of parchment in the bottom of your pan. It doesn’t change anything – except the amount of difficulty you can sometimes face getting your pie out of the pan! When your pie is done baking, let it cool, then lift it out carefully using the parchment you so intelligently thought to place underneath your gorgeous creation.
4. The changing of seasons affects your baking, and so does the weather. If it’s super humid or raining outside, your pate brisee might need a little less water than it does on other days. If it’s especially wet outside, good luck with meringues! This can also change the baking time of pastries. Actual changes are slight, but worth noting and being prepared for.
5. My very first professional pastry job was in a hotel restaurant in NYC. My chef’s name was Crystal, and let’s just say she had a LOT of patience. She also taught me the art of mise en place. Mise en place is important. In French it literally means “to put in place.” It sounds like a fancy term that maybe only professionals utilize, but it’s much more than that – it’s a roll call for all of the ingredients. You can count the ingredients and cross check it with the recipe you’re preparing. Missing one? Not anymore. When you’re preparing a complex or time sensitive recipe, measuring out all of your ingredients can be the small step that makes all the difference.
6. You can’t always trust ovens. Crazy, right? It’s true – some ovens run hot. Some ovens run several degrees under what you set them at. If you have a sneaky suspicion that your oven can’t be trusted, buy a thermometer and confront your oven to its face. It won’t be offended. Also, all ovens are different! This makes “bake times” on recipes only a suggestion. You should always keep an eye on what you’re baking. Check on it halfway through the time you think it should be done and give it a rotation. Never hurt anything!
7. Cleaning as you go is arguably the most valuable skill you can have in the kitchen. (I still struggle with it.) Sometimes I get too excited about what I’m doing and forget that I’m leaving a trail of bowls, pots, and pans in my wake. If you have a small kitchen, like I do here in France (I can touch both walls if I spread out my arms), cleaning is even more important. I need to practice what I preach with this one. 🙂
8. You are your own biggest critic (most of the time). That small imperfection that just ruined your day will more than likely go unnoticed by everyone else. This doesn’t just go for professionals, but for home cooks and bakers too. Don’t be too hard on yourself!
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** All of the opinions in this post are my own and have nothing to do with the persons or bakeries mentioned. **
Photos are from Bakeri, 105 Freeman St Brooklyn, NY