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 

Pâte Brisée (Pie Dough)

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Brisée and I have had a long, tumultuous, on and off relationship. Simply known to most as “pie dough,” this dough can make or break a quiche or an apple pie. If you know a few basic points about pie dough, you can easily make some at home that will rival the pies of your favorite bakery.

Important Tips To Remember:
– Warmth is your enemy when making this dough. If your dough gets too warm, the butter will melt right out (or right in, making a more dense dough).
– Keep all ingredients cold. Your water (ice cold!). Your flour. Your butter. Even the bowl you are mixing it in should be refrigerated!
– Work quickly and confidently. 

This recipe is versatile and can be used in a multitude of ways. I choose not to add any sugar to the dough, but if you must, you can add a sprinkle. It’s nice to have a bit more sugar if you’re making a sweet pie, but if you’re making a quiche or something similar I would avoid it. 

Making pie dough becomes a lot easier when you have the correct tools, such as a bowl scraper or bench knife. This recipe will make enough for two 9 inch pies, or one double crusted pie.

Ingredients:
400 grams all purpose flour (3.25 cups)
200 grams butter (2.25 sticks)
1 teaspoon of salt
Approximately 150 grams of ice cold water (½ cup)

1.  Measure out all of your ingredients and refrigerate them until they’re nice and cold. Cut the butter into small cubes, or slivers. Add the salt to the flour.

2. Work the butter into the flour using a fork, pastry blender, your fingers (quickly!), or a bench knife on a work surface. You want small, scraggly pieces of butter in the flour – not big chunks, but not completely invisible either.
Once all of your butter is blended into the flour, pour the flour out onto a clean work surface. Form a circle shape with a hole in the center, like a big donut. 

3. Pour the water into the hole in the middle and using a fork, mix it carefully to combine the liquid with the flour. Don’t let the water out of the center!
Using your hands, press all of the ingredients together gently until it sticks together. Too dry? Add a little water at a time by sprinkling it from your fingertips. You can also add flour if you find your dough is getting to wet. 

Depending on the day and the weather, you may need more or less liquid! You will understand after making the dough a few times.

4. That’s it! Refrigerate the dough overnight, or at least 1 hour until it’s completely cold. Take care of your dough and it will take care of you!

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Serious Note: Do not over mix or overwork. This photo shows right about where my dough is when it’s finished. I only pack it together enough to hold. Remember, this dough is not going to be completely cohesive. It’s going to be scraggly and shaggy looking. It will not be as wet as you probably think it should be, and you may still see chunks of butter. That’s great! It means your dough is going to be beautifully flaky. In the same sense, really large chunks of butter will disappear and leave a hole in your pastry if it’s too big!

The Chocolate Chip Cookie

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A person’s favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe says a lot about them. It’s taken me a while to perfect my recipe, but I think I’m finally in a position to share my favorite. It’s finally getting cold outside, so naturally I jump at any excuse to turn on my oven. 

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Ingredients:

1.25c all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
1 stick of butter
½ cup of brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1.5-2 cups chopped chocolate 

1. Combine melted butter with both sugars, salt, and vanilla. Whisk it.
2. Add egg, whisk until fully incorporated.
3. Switch to a spatula or wooden spoon and fold in chocolate, flour, and nutmeg. Cut into the dough with the spatula and fold just until all the flour is absorbed and you see no more streaks.
4. Portion cookies and bake on 350 degrees until golden brown but still a little raw in the center. Approx. 10-14 minutes depending on the size of your cookies and your oven.

I tend to portion my cookies a bit smaller since I have a small oven. Keep in mind that the size of your cookie is directly proportionate to it’s texture and baking time. For more tips, here’s a really helpful article about the chemistry of a perfect cookie: http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2013/12/the-food-lab-the-best-chocolate-chip-cookies.html

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.

Lavender Lemonade

Lavender, lemons, sugar & ice – these ingredients will make your summer taste nice.

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The “swiss army knife of plants,” lavender, is often times just considered to be used for cleaning or as an aromatic. It’s loved for it’s antidepressant qualities, repelling mosquitos, smelling heavenly, and flavoring teas. Now, you have one more way to love it: in a glass of lemonade. 

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Ingredients

2 cups fresh lemon juice 

1 cup lavender simple syrup

6 cups water 

1) Have your lover juice all of the lemons for you, and tell them they will be rewarded with an amazing glass of lemonade. 

2) Make at least a cup of simple syrup (a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water). When the syrup is boiling, throw in 3 big pinches of dried lavender. Lower the temperature. Let it simmer for 5 minutes.  Strain out the lavender and save the syrup in a heatproof container. Voilà! You made simple syrup. 

3) Mix together your lemon juice, water, and simple syrup. I like it the way I have it listed in this recipe, but you might like it a little different – so add more or less simple syrup/lemon juice to your taste.