When asked about their motivations for enrolling in the Just Bakery Program, many new students reply that they love baking, or have always wanted to learn to bake. Most harbor fond memories of grandma’s matchless homemade oatmeal cookies or perfect apple pie, and dream of recovering the skills that have been lost over the generations as packaged foods became our go-to meals, and home cooking was relegated to a weekend hobby. However, within the first two weeks of their training at Just Bakery, students discover that commercial baking is very different from home baking; and that the ability to produce a tasty treat from scratch is only a very small part of keeping a bakery running.
An individual person can make a single loaf of bread, or even several loaves of bread, in her home kitchen; but it takes a team to prepare dozens of loaves of multigrain bread, sourdough, cheese rolls, morning buns, Danishes, blueberry muffins, brownies, three flavors of cookie, coffee cakes, and sweet breads, and have it all packaged and ready to go by delivery time. Without cohesive team work, a bakery is destined to fail. This is one of the most important lessons that we can teach our students. From their first day of hands-on training, Just Bakery students learn how to work together with their fellow students to get the job done. Once they have mastered some of the basic recipes, they are ready to help Just Bakery’s production crew with the weekend bake.
The first step a production team takes is deciding exactly what to make, and how much. In addition to the weekend sales that we hold during services at local churches, Just Bakery handles both standing catering orders and one-time catering requests from customers. The program coordinator receives these orders and forwards them to the kitchen manager, who prints and posts them on clipboards in the kitchen: one board for each day of the week. Before beginning to bake, the production team must first combine all the order forms for an individual day onto one master sheet listing the total for each product. Based on those numbers, they can then choose the batch size of each recipe.
Clipboards with order forms for each day of the week
The first recipe to go on the mixer is bread dough. Because yeast bread must go through an hours-long process of rising and fermenting before it is ready to go in the oven, it needs a head start. While the person on the mixer measures his ingredients, another member of the production crew pulls unbaked coffee cakes from the refrigerator and pops them in the oven, counts out cookies (twenty to a tray), and checks the freezer for any pre-prepped items.
When the bread dough has finished mixing, it goes through a thirty-minute bulk fermentation. Then, it’s all hands on deck. One person weighs out pound-and-a-half chunks of bread dough, while the others shape it into tight balls and set it on the floured table to rest. After another fifteen minutes, it is ready to punch down and roll out into tight, oblong loaves. Then it is wheeled into the proofer to rise. In the meantime, croissant dough for morning buns must be thawed, rolled out, and spread with egg wash and cinnamon sugar. Trays of brownies must be frosted, the melted chocolate waved into elegant chevrons.
Trays of cookies
Throughout the action, members of the production team look out for each other. If Phil has his hands in the dough when the oven timer beeps, Ken steps up and checks the product to see if it is ready to come out of the oven. If Ismail is busy mixing muffin batter, Phil helps him put away his ingredients and wash his bowls and utensils. Throughout the day, dirty dishes are a constant task; it is everyone’s job to keep the dishes running through the dishwasher, and everyone’s problem is it doesn’t get done.
After everything is out of the oven and cool, it is time for the finishing touches. Coffee cakes and danishes are drizzled with icing, and brownies are sliced into squares. Cheese rolls are packaged eight to a bag, cookies ten to a box, and muffins two to a container. Everything must be labelled using the industrial label machine, which has all the ingredients, prices, weights, and allergen information saved in its memory. The kitchen manager arranges racks on the table, each with an order form attached to it, and carefully counts out products to fulfill the order. Other team members begin the daily process of sweeping, mopping, and sanitizing the kitchen. Everyone helps.
The cleaning equipment and the label machine
The loaves of bread that come out of Just Bakery’s kitchen are the product of combined effort. The person who mixes the dough is only one small part of a larger process that requires many hands and a mindset of cooperation. By the end of their three months, Just Bakery’s students have mastered all of our recipes; but more importantly, they have learned how to operate as part of a team in a commercial kitchen environment. That is the most important skill that they will take with them as they move on to the next stage in their lives.
…by Diana G…