Monday, September 28, 2009

runnin' out of room

Been two weeks since I posted. Been workin' the twenty on and four off schedule. There are bakers here whose last day off, was before my last posting. The Jewish holidays and the start of our pumpkin farm has had us pinned down. Now that the holidays are over, time should loosen up. It got to the point, that a week ago Friday, the "House of cards, was comin' down". It was Rosh Hashanah, the first day of our pumpkin farm and we were running our cookie sale. I was trying to unload the oven. It was so crowded, I couldn't get the door opened. I mentioned this to a baker friend of mine. I said "There wasn't room enough to get the oven door open". He said "Yeah, rack oven doors take up lot of room, swinging open". I wasn't talking about our rack oven door. I was talking about our revolving oven door. All I was trying to do, was drop down a little aluminum door. There were so many racks full of product, I couldn't do it.

Saturday morning I came in during the Saturday market bake. We had reached a new low. There were racks of shaped bread, wrapped in pallet wrap, proofing in the store. No room in back. My point, today we have a meeting with the landlord, we are leasing some more space adjacent to the bakery. Without it, we'll never get thru the upcoming winter holidays.

I baked on Saturday night. We started at midnight. We are moving some folks around, adding a couple more. The corporate world calls it "Multitasking", I always new it as "Knowing different jobs". I decided that we need a "Proofer/retarder". It is a unit that is loaded with raw, yeasted product, during the day. Lets go with, loaded around noon. At that point it is thirty eight degrees. Around 9pm, it shuts off. Sits dormant for a few hours. Around midnight it adds ambient temperature air to the chamber. Around 3am, it starts to get warm, around 90'f. As it is warming up, it starts to add humidity to the chamber. At 5am, the product is proofed and ready to bake. It would allow us to start two hours later on Sunday morning. Familiar problem. If we don't have room to open the oven door, where would we have room for a proofer/retarder? Add it to my wish list.

Currently, we get all the product ready on Saturday afternoon. The last guy out at 9pm, pulls everything out and we let it sit at room temperature until we get here. It's chancy. In the summer, product is ready to soon. In the winter, product is late, because it is so cold in here.

I guess it has worked this way so far. But the thought of two extra hours sleep on a Saturday night.

Monday, September 14, 2009

gonna be a short night

it's been a while. I apologize. I've been really overwhelmed lately. Not sure why, could be age. I can't remember a time, when I felt this far behind. It seems everyday we have a very large order from an array of customers. Wednesday we start our Rosh Hashanah goods. The same day, Didier farms opens their pumpkin patch. Wednesday, we have an order for an Italian festival at a large retirement home, here in Evanston. Worst of all the Andersonville farmer's market starts an hour earlier, at 3pm. This week one of our production staff, Joe Falcinelli, is attending a four day class at the French Pastry School. Pierre Zimmerman is here doing a guest chef class for four days. He is teaching an artisan bread class. I met Pierre at the Coupe du Monde in 2002. He was captain of the French team that won in 1996. He was the coach of the French team that won in 2008. He operates a family bakery in Alsace. Needless to say, he's a player. Hopefully Joe learns a thing or two.

The French Pastry School offers two professional bread classes each year. Up until now, they have had Pierre teach a viennoiserie(breakfast pastry) class, as well. The visiting bread instructors are Jeff Hamelman and Didier Rosada. I send one person to each of two of the three classes. I can't really say anyone has ever come back and said "We have to make this, We made this in class". It's more about maintaining interest and stimulation. I firmly believe educating our staff is the best way to spend our money.

Well, day is done, gonna be a short night. Gonna be lots of short nights this week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

cracked pumpkin pies?

Last time, the last time I will speak of things that we produce here that I am very pleased with. A few weeks ago, I boasted about the infrequency of overbaked goods, the next morning we burnt up an oven full of eclairs. Yesterday, I mentioned about our florentines. Wasn't but two hours after I posted it, I went upstairs, florentines looked terrible. I think we have some funny sugar. I've been buying up sugar, because of rumblings of nationwide shortages, causing drastic price increases. The other day they cooked some simple syrup. Simple syrup a mixture of granulated sugar, water and cream of tartar. Joe called me over to the stove and questioned the color of the syrup. It was as dark as honey. So I'm suspicious of the sugar in the ugly florentines. Gonna try again with a different brand of sugar.

Busy day yesterday. A lady called mid morning, claimed the pumpkin donuts this year are better than last years. I'm puzzled, the last pumpkin donut she could have possibly tasted from here was December 24th. Pretty good memory. We mixed a batch of pumpkin pie filling yesterday as well. We will bake it today. It seems all bakers prefer to let pumpkin pie mix sit overnite, in the fridge, before baking. Our mix in particular works much better that way. Although I don't have much to compare it to. We've been making the same pumpkin pie recipe since my dad bought the bakery. I'm hesitant to talk about the success we have with it. I'll probably go upstairs and see some ugly pumpkin pies.

I'm really pretty proud of our pumpkin pies. We use only fresh broken eggs, not powdered or frozen. We use quite a bit of honey. If the mix sits overnight like I mentioned, the pies really have a nice shine. All that honey comes to the top as they cool. We use half evaporated milk and half fresh whole milk, no milk powder. This is the truth. I've been here, at Bennison's for thirty four Thanksgiving seasons. I'd be surprised if I've seen a half a dozen pumpkin pies crack in that time. Cracked pumpkin pies is something a lot of bakers battle. If I hear of that occurring, I immediately suggest trying fresh broken eggs, two and a half pounds for every number ten can of pumpkin.

A lot of old bakers believe that you need to "Age" canned pumpkin from one season to the next. Salesmen come in and when I ask about pumpkin, they reply "I have last years crop for x amount, and I have this years crop for this amount". Not sure I agree with the whole aging pumpkin thing. My dad always bought a year ahead. I guess maybe I'm just not old enough to think like that yet.

Gotta get upstairs and get started here. Got a lot of stuff to get ready for the market tonight. Weather is gorgeous, gonna be a big day.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

thumbs down to the garlic

Well I got here this morning and they were here, pumpkin donuts. I thought we would wait until next Tuesday, the day after Labor day, but Arturo said "It's September 1st". There will be celebrating in the streets, at the corner of Davis and Maple. So I went ahead and made a batch of florentines.

Florentines are legendary here in Evanston. Tag's bakery, here in town, up on Central street, makes 'em by the ton. Especially at Christmas, although last Christmas season, he was down big time from previous years. Used to be, we made florentines just for the customers that were in the wrong bakery. Folks from out of town would come to our bakery looking for florentines, thinking we had to be the florentine bakery. Not the case anymore. I gotta say, the florentines at Tag's are beautiful, just beautiful. Ours were never that nice. I mentioned before that I spoke with a few sugar guys I know and they fixed our problem. Now, ours are very nice. I'm looking forward to a busy winter season with them. We are working on some form of packaging, to create an upscale gift package.

We've already started on another sheet of plum kuchen slices. A number of people asked about them yesterday. We were busy yesterday, lots of traffic in the store. I guess we could really live on the edge and put together some pumpkin slices. Better yet, we make pumpkin cheese slices. We use a prebaked short dough bottom, we spread on a quarter inch of cheese filling, and then pour on pumpkin pie mix. They bake forever, but I'm tellin' you. Delicious, flat out delicious. We used to have a young man working in the store named John Willis. He went off to college. Every Thanksgiving he calls, from the airport looking for pumpkin cheese slices. Comes right here from the airport. We also make a pumpkin cheese gallete, same format only we use pie dough for that.

Tomorrow, for the Aville market we are making T.A.R.R.P. bread. We use sun dried tomatoes, asiago cheese, fresh rosemary, roasted garlic and shredded Parmesan. Hence the name. We use a little Whole wheat flour in the dough, we shape this afternoon, retard overnite and bake tomorrow. We use old baguette dough as the preferment. we don't add any yeast to the dough. There is enough residual yeast in the old dough. Really has outstanding flavour. I'm not a big fan of garlic, so I've only eaten very small pieces of this bread, but the aroma is incredible. It's one of those things that will call people in off the sidewalk. I know it's kinda weird not to eat garlic, my mother never cooked with it. Besides, if it isn't in a White Castle kitchen, why would anyone need it in theirs? I try to leave early the day they roast the garlic here. Marc roasts twenty pounds at at time. We buy whole peeled garlic, dump it into a deep roasting pan, add butter and olive oil, and roast it very slow.I explained before, you can't add raw garlic to a bread dough. The enzymes in it are to strong. Roasting it, denatures the enzymes. I saw a baking and pastry instructor add raw garlic to a dough. In thirty minutes it turned to soup, pancake batter. He blamed it on some other thing. After class, he asked me what happened.

Hey gotta run, lots goin' on here. Planning on huge markets tomorrow, weather will be perfect.