The Baker’s Secrets: Tips & Tricks I Learned in Professional Bakeries

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 

Alexander’s Apple Pie

Lately I’ve had pie on the mind, and Thanksgiving only made it worse with everyone posting their pie photos. If I had made it home to North Carolina, I would have definitely made a pie to bring to dinner! Instead, Leo and I had a small Thanksgiving meal together at home with a nice bottle of wine. After dinner we chased it all down with a Religeuse au Chocolat from the bakery on our corner. A fair trade, I’d say. 

To scratch my pie itch I decided to make an apple pie. My recipe is inspired by Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ famous Salted Caramel Apple Pie. Although I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting their pies in Brooklyn, I’ve always loved the idea of pouring a cup of salted caramel into an apple pie. What could be better? A splash of whiskey, of course.  I can honestly tell you that I have never had a better piece of apple pie than this creation right here, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it. Holy cow.

I used my own pie dough recipe, which you should all try of course, but if you don’t have time you can use store bought pie rounds. For a pie that will piss off all of your relatives because it’s so good, I would highly recommend making your own pie crust! 

For a 9" Apple Pie 

2 prepared pie crusts, 1 lined in pie pan

6 apples

Juice of one lemon 

Splash of whiskey 

3 tablespoons of all purpose flour 

½ teaspoon ginger, fresh if possible

1 teaspoon cinnamon 

1 teaspoon salt 

A generous grating of fresh nutmeg 

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary 

For the caramel (Blackbirds’ recipe):

1 cup white sugar 

¼ cup water 

1 stick of butter 

½ cup of cream 

Generous amount of salt (to your taste)

1. First, prepare your caramel. Combine sugar and water in a medium sized pot. Stir to combine, and leave over medium heat until the mixture is clear. Whisk in butter bit by bit. Continue cooking the caramel, and when it reaches a lovely copper-like color, remove it from heat immediately and slowly pour in the cream while whisking. The mixture will expand, so be careful!  

2. Squeeze lemon juice into a big bowl and add a big splash of whiskey. Peel and slice apples thinly, and mix them into the lemon juice. Add a sprinkling of salt, and all spices. Finally, add the flour and toss it around to cover all of the apples evenly.  

3. Pour apple mixture into lined pie pan. Pile it up a bit higher than the crust, because the apples will reduce significantly! You may need more or less than six apples depending on their size. 

4. Attach your other pie round to the top with your method of choice. I did a lattice with some braid work, but you could easily just put the whole top on completely if you don’t want to create a lattice. 

5. Egg wash the entire crust, and sprinkle the top with a bit of raw sugar if you have it, and some chunky sea salt. Bake on 400 degrees until the pie is golden brown. The caramel will bubble, and a little may leak out. This is normal! To test, poke an apple with a knife to check doneness. My apples had some bite left in them, which I really loved. 

Important: COOL your pie completely before cutting! Let it set, or you may encounter a runny mess. I let my pie rest for about 3 hours before slicing it up. Where I found such self control? I have no idea.

Thanks for reading! 

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Pancetta & Parmesan Scones

Pancetta & Parmesan Scones
By: Stacie Merriman
www.FeedYourKnead.com

When I think of scones, sweet dense biscuits with sugary glaze dripping down the sides come to mind. But scones can also be savory. This recipe uses pancetta, which is an Italian bacon, and parmesan cheese. Since both of these ingredients are salty on their own, I did not add any additional salt to the dough. These are perfect with eggs and fresh fruit, and are best served warm. Enjoy!

Makes 8

2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (cold)
1 egg (room temp)
1 cup shredded parmesan (use the good stuff, not the crap in the green jar)
4 thick slices of pancetta – about 4 oz. (diced and cooked in skillet)
4 green onions (whites and a little bit of the green)
½-¾ cup buttermilk
egg wash (1 egg beaten lightly with a little water)
Preheat convection oven to 375° (350° if not convection). Line baking sheet with parchment paper or cooking spray.

Dice pancetta and cook in a small skillet. Use a slotted spoon and transfer to a few paper towels to soak up any excess fat.

In large bowl combine flour, baking powder, pepper and Italian seasoning. Cut in COLD butter with a pastry blender. If you don’t have a pastry blender, you can use 2 butter knives to work the butter into the flour. Don’t mix too much, you want to see little chunks of butter.

Add egg and parmesan, mix well. Add pancetta, onions and ½ cup buttermilk and combine well. If the dough is too thick, add a little more buttermilk, one Tablespoon at a time until dough comes together and forms a ball. Lightly flour a board and transfer dough to the board. Pat into a 10” round. Cut into 8 wedges and place on baking sheet.

Brush with egg wash. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown.