20 April 2014

BAK 111 - Pastry Practicum

Hot Cross Buns

The BAK-111 class is the core of the Pastry program for first quarter. This is the time we spend working hands-on in the school bake shop, making "product" (baked goods and desserts) for sale in the pastry case (The Buzz) downstairs, and in the two school restaurants. This was my first week in the kitchen, and it was a bit of a rough start.

The course is structured into five two-week segments. For each segment, we work on one type of product. Spring quarter is a week shorter than Fall and Winter, so our first segment is only one week. Each segment is called a "rotation." With our small class size, we have only one or two students in each rotation at a time, and if there are two of us, the partners also change each time, so we have a chance to work with different people. On Tuesday and Thursday we work 10-1:30, and on Wednesday and Friday it's 9-1:30. I'll give you my rotations as an example:

Week 1: Breads
Week 2/3: Cookies
Week 4/5: Doughs
Week 6/7: Cakes
Week 8/9: Tarts

I have a partner for the first four rotations, but am on my own for the last one. There are three chefs who teach the different rotations. This week I had Chef Don for Breads. I don't know if all the chefs run their rotations the same way. Chef Don had us work under three 2nd quarter students. The chef demonstrated some things to us directly, but he is supervising all the students (all 4 quarters, about 20 people) who are doing breads/doughs, so he doesn't have time to hold anyone's hand. The 2nd quarter students did not seem to have much more experience than we did. I think the schedule was accelerated due to the one week rotation; but maybe it's always that busy in breads.

I did a good bit of dough prepping and shaping: baguettes, naan, 3-braid challah, and different buns. I also scaled some doughs ("scaling" is mise en place, i.e. getting all the ingredients weighed or measured and the pans prepared) and learned to use two of the big mixers. I learned how to refresh the levain (sourdough starter in dough form) that is used perpetually in the school bread-making. And I helped frost some hot cross buns that we made Friday (seen above). We don't get walked through all the steps of making something - there are several types of product being made at the same time in different stages, and we filled in and worked on whatever needed to be done moment to moment.

I also spent a lot of time washing bowls and pans and scraping out and washing the big mixers - two of them have bowls that are permanently attached and they are a big job to clean, especially when someone has let the leftover dough harden in them. The 3rd/4th quarter students work independently and seem to do their own cleanup, but the 2nd quarter students just piled up used bowls and pans, and we 1st quarters got to clean them at the end of the day. I am looking forward to third quarter.

I liked watching the 3rd/4th quarter students who were working at benches near us. I learned a lot of little things from them, for example, how best to scrape out the 20 quart mixing bowls. They were very friendly and patient with us 1st quarter students. Several of them told us that in first quarter the bread rotation was the toughest, and that our other ones would be much more fun. Encouraging words!

I made only two major mistakes this week. One was to put some leftover focaccia toppings (I forgot to mention we make focaccia mini-pizzas each day) into the walk-in freezer instead of the walk-in COOLER (they are next door to each other). Not sure how I mistook a freezer for a fridge; I blame light-headedness due to no lunch (did I mention that we had no breaks except for one day, because we were so busy?). Also, I forgot that the baking racks that sit out next to the rack ovens are always supposed to be considered hot unless proven otherwise, and I put my hand on one without testing it first. I let go very quickly and did not get blistered, but I think I won't forget THAT again.

Two more things I learned this week: before each rotation, read the chapter(s) in the Professional Baking text that cover the type of product I'll be making, to help avoid making ignorant mistakes; and when talking to a chef, never argue, never explain, and never apologize. "Yes, Chef" is an excellent response to any criticism, correction or direction.

This week: on to COOKIES.


  1. Two weeks with cookies sounds like heaven!

  2. I'll be waiting for those CHOCOLATE cookies in the mail!!! Don't burn your hands girl, those racks are hot. I'm getting the impression that all Chef's are prima-donnas.

  3. This chef isn't a prima donna, but he knows WAY more about bread than I do. I just need to keep reminding myself I don't know everything.... yet.

  4. Sounds intense with lots to learn but it appears you're more than holding your own. You probably won't know everything for another week or two though ;-).

  5. I've heard that about chefs from my line cook friends. :) Yay for cookies!!

  6. love that hanging "yet" . . .