Life in a Professional Bakery
Recently, I joined our fabulous Bakeshop as the new AM Baker. If you don’t know what “AM Baker” means, don’t worry- neither did I at first. On paper, it means baking fresh muffins, cookies, and scones every day as well as a daily ritual of decorating all the gorgeous desserts made by our unbelievably talented pastry bakers. Sounds simple, right? I mean, I can’t begin to count how many muffins, cookies, and scones I’ve made over the years as a home baker so I thought I was in fairly good shape heading into this position. “How different can it be?” I reasoned.
Long story short, I reasoned poorly. There is a WORLD of difference between making a batch of muffins on a lazy Sunday morning and making multiple batches of different muffins AND cookies AND scones all at once with one big in-your-face kicker: a deadline of 8am. It’s an exhilarating race to the finish every day but what does a typical day really look like for a novice AM Baker? Allow me to give you a glimpse into my professional life…
3:45am: Wake up and get out the door!
4:30am: Greet your coworkers who’ve been at work since about 2am and find out what you’re baking that day. There are three different batches of classic muffins, one gluten-free, one vegan, one gluten-free and vegan; one big batch of sweet scones, full-size and mini, one savory scone; and four classic cookies, two gluten-free, and two vegan. Ready, set, get your ingredients and GO! (Drink coffee.)
5:15am: Cookies first. Lay them all out on sheet trays and spend the next 45 minutes or so rotating them in, out, and around to ensure perfect chewiness and browning. Join your coworkers in singing along to the radio like fools. Meanwhile…
5:30am: Start muffins. (Drink coffee.) Mix each kind in its own bowl, adding whatever fruit and/or nuts are needed that day, and scoop them out into muffin pans. (By the way, home bakers, did you know that ice cream scoops are perfect for this? These and cookies as a matter of fact, so I recommend picking up scoops in varying sizes to use at home.) Don’t forget the toppings! Each muffin has its own topping, whether it be an oat-butter-flour crisp, chopped nuts, cut sugar, blueberries, banana slices, peaches, you name it. Whatever it is, toppings make each muffin oodles more attractive and let’s face it- attractive food is just more fun to eat!
6:15am: (Drink coffee. Start an impromptu dance party with the other bakers.) Start getting muffins into the oven as the cookies are coming out. Barter with your coworkers to use their ovens because space is at a premium and you need every shelf you can get. It’s a dance of cold trays, hot trays, and oven mitts with bread heading in one direction, pies in another, and cookies and muffins swapping places. By this point, the air is ringing regularly with shouts of “hot tray”, “hot coming ’round the corner”, “sharp”, and other safety calls necessary for a happy and accident-free bakeshop. Meanwhile…
6:45am: Start scones. This is your favorite part, if you’re like me. I love making scones although it’s difficult to explain why. Maybe because it’s more physical than the other items- it requires stirring, kneading, and cutting, and the flour-y dough feels amazing to work with. It feels rustic, as scones are meant to be, and creative. Revel in the creativity (drink coffee) and get ’em in the oven ASAP as the muffins are reaching perfection.
7:30am: 30 minutes to go! While the scones are puffing up in the oven, you grab your product signs and begin to build towers of baked goods. There’s one devoted to vegan items, another to gluten-free items, one for only cookies, another for only muffins, and the last for scones. Watching them change from empty surfaces to layers overflowing with the fruits of your labor is undoubtedly satisfying but don’t get caught up in how nice they look- zip them over to the espresso & juice bar pronto!
7:50am: Remove scones from oven and let cool as long as possible before moving them over as well. But if they’re maple, remember the maple glaze! They’re just not the same without it and the more maple the better! ¡Viva Vermont!
8:00-8:30am: Breathe. (Drink coffee.) Clean your station, put yesterday’s product signs away, feel good that you won (or did your best and almost won) the race again, and take a lunch break!
9:00am: Decide which desserts will be available for the day, making sure there is ample variety and a good balance between fruit desserts and chocolate desserts, classic, gluten-free, and vegan. Thankfully, you work with some amazing bakers who have supplied all the cheesecakes, tarts, cupcakes, bars, crème brûlées, brownies, cakes, and more that your heart desires. Take a moment to ogle their creations and dream of taking home one of everything ’cause admit it: one never gets tired of excellent desserts.
9:30am: Load up the station with heavy cream for whipping, fresh fruit, blocks of chocolate, confectioner’s sugar, and anything else that might make these already-gorgeous desserts sparkle. (Consider switching to tea but drink more coffee.) With a chef’s knife, a vegetable peeler, a pastry bag & star tip, spatulas, whisks, and- how cool is this?- a blow torch, you’re ready to go! Sprinkle, set, scrape, pipe, spread, torch(!), shake, smooth, and decorate with glee!
11:00am: Cart your masterpieces over to the espresso & juice bar and graciously accept the compliments of standers-by. Yes, they do look tempting, don’t they?
11:15am: Make the biggest batch of cookie dough you’ve ever seen with the biggest mixer and paddle attachment you’ve ever used. They’re not quite Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen-worthy, but they’re not far from it. If you’re like me, you’ll giggle a little bit as you cream a whopping 6 lbs of softened butter with 27 cups of mixed brown & white sugars and come alarmingly close to passing out with joy as you measure 24 cups of chocolate chips. Then grab the ubiquitous, handy-dandy ice cream scoop and get to work scooping out perfect mounds of delectable cookie dough. Eye the gigantic whisk attachment with ill-concealed desire and hope against hope that you’re there to see it being used someday.
12:10pm: Time to clean up and make the area pristine for the next day!
12:30pm: Find yourself telling people to “have a good evening” despite the fact that it’s only just now past noon.
It’s life-altering, working in a bakeshop; among changes big and small, I now eat lunch before 9am, appreciate the difference a sprinkle of oats can make to a muffin, and regard a regular-sized batch of cookies as amusingly tiny. I had no idea what I was signing up for and the reality of the job just can’t be expressed fully on paper. But I love it and am enjoying getting better at it every day. One thing’s for sure: I’ll never make the “home baking must be practically like commercial baking” mistake again!