Foolproof my proofing skills.
June 3, 2011 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Where can I tips and tricks for commercial baking? (And for handling work-related criticism).

I'm a baker doing mixing, shaping, and baking at a bakery under new management. My bosses are nice, but training is somewhat inadequate and I've found myself making some mistakes. I've previously worked a year at another bakery where the baking schedule (proofing, baking time, etc) was carefully managed and the owners had more experience and clearer expectations. Problems I've had include irregular proofing, burning of some doughs, and leaving folds in the dough that leave holes in the baked product. In short, I'm looking for resources for commercial kitchens that will help to troubleshoot these practices or could put me in touch with other bakers that have successfully overcome these practices. I've looked at general baking sites, which offer some general information, but stuff geared towards commercial output would be great.

In addition, I have trouble in environments where expectations are unclear, since I tend to accept blame readily and have trouble overcoming my personal tendency to internalize criticism. So, it'd be great to be able to find some advice for working in small businesses and managing business critique while staying focused on end goals.

posted by ajarbaday to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
the professional forums at might be helpful
posted by mizrachi at 9:04 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about Hamelman's Bread?
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:53 PM on June 3, 2011

Where do you live? King Arthur Flour (in Vermont) has all sorts of baking classes, including ones for professional bakers. Check out the course calendar here.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 7:40 AM on June 4, 2011

I made a similar transition about two years ago. I went from a small bakery with very high standards of consistency and a super tightly written fermentation schedule (with, of course, very high stress levels) to a much larger bakery with a much less organized process.

I found the latter just as stressful as the former. The mixer, eager to finish up and go home would mix all the doughs as fast as he could regardless of how many people we had to work the bench. Dough would pile up; undivided, unshaped, and overfermenting. Variations on this sort of theme happened on a daily basis. If the managerial void in your new shop is like this, keep in mind that there is only so much you as an individual baker can do. Don't hold yourself accountable for the indifference of your co-workers.

Baking is a sheparding sort of activity. While the process itself takes many hours or sometimes days, there are vital moments where one must check in, assess the situation, and make necessary corrections. If the individual bakers are not engaged enough to make these assessments they must be written into the schedule. For a variety of reasons, the bread I'm baking now has multiple turns written into the fermentation schedule. While it's not their primary purpose, these turns force me to touch the dough at least twice during bulk fermentation. If it's too cold after the first turn I move it to a warmer spot and visa versa. Either way I have a general idea how the dough is progressing and where I can expect it to be an hour down the line.

Finding a way to incorporate this kind of engagement with the "passive" steps in the baking process is one of the best things you can do for your bread. It might help you to keep a journal. At the end of the day, take a few minutes and jot down what went well, what went poorly, what you did and how the bread turned out. Your mixer should already be keeping a record of doughs mixed (dough type, time mixed, water amount, water temp, finished dough temp, expected dividing time), but having a personal record can help you learn how the tweaks you make from day to day affect the final product.

Regarding the internal criticism. One nice thing about baking is that there's always more bread tomorrow! When I'm baking I hold in my head an ideal picture of the bread I'm trying to make. The one that is perfectly shaped, perfectly scored, fully proofed and perfectly baked. I know that loaf rarely happens, but I also know that I'm almost the only one who notices the difference between it and a dozen other "perfectly good" loaves. It keeps me evaluating ways to make the next loaf better than dwelling on what made the last loaf lousy.

I hope that's helpful. Shoot me a MeMail if you have specific problems or questions.
posted by clockwork at 7:44 PM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

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