Monday, November 30, 2009

my baby's sick

I spent yesterday afternoon walking around the Christkindl market, downtown Chicago. Gotta say, a little disappointed. Dinkels bakery from Chicago had excellent merchandise. Stollen was delicious. We bought an apple and cheese strudel that was also very good. Hot chocolate, in a cute little ceramic boot, store bought marshmallows, real whip creme, not as good as Bennison's.

Now, the pretzels, not Dinkels, I think "Pitiful", is a compliment. I was all excited, when I heard there was going to be a pretzel vendor there. What a let down! Frozen dough nonsense, allegedly from Germany. Don't think so. I think you'll spend a lot of time, walking the streets of Darmstadt, before you'll find a jalapeno pretzel. Loads of lebkuchen, assorted gingerbread, all mass produced. You know, the stuff with no personality. Maybe next year.....maybe next year.

Came back to the bakery last night, to find, our deck oven wouldn't start. Pulled out lot's of volt meters, and testers, determined that we have a direct short in the circulating fan motor. We baked all of our bread in our rack oven last night. I was here walking the floors until almost 9pm. At which point I gave up. I'll start again this morning. There's a new motor in Cleveland. Might involve a lot of driving today. I got a great story explaining why I would bother to do that.

Cornell Gorham, works here at night. Not a baker, a very good bakers helper. Thru the summer, he sorts and packs all the bread that goes to the farmer's markets. He can load an unload the oven, mix scones, run the divider,etc. He works on Sunday nights. I explained to him how to bake bread using a rack oven, on perforated screens. I got here this morning, didn't sleep all night, you know how it is with a sick child. I knew what I would find, supermarket looking bread. Pale, squishy, bumps on the bottom. Gotta say, what's here, better than I expected. Cornell says, word for word "That brick stove makes that much difference? Bread looks like the bread at Jewel". A defining moment.

Gotta get upstairs, get the day started. Gonna be lots of fighting for oven space this morning. It's difficult to understand how guys with years of experience, don't realize that yeasted product has the right of way to the oven. Oh well. Gonna gather up my screwdrivers and wrenches. No, I don't trust any local serviceman to work on my baby, ever. Although, this is the first time it's ever been sick for this long.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

the dust has settled

Saturday morning, a little unlike the scene forty eight, or seventy two hours ago. Quiet, tranquil, refreshing. Although, we're gearin' up again. We have an order for ninety five, gingerbread house kits for Evanston Golf Club, Sunday. Needless to say, we didn't/couldn't get anything done before the holiday for that. Yesterday, Arturo ran close to eighty sheet pans of gingerbread. Today we will cut them and put them together. I can remember, when my dad first bought he bakery. To roll the gingerbread sheets we would roll them by hand on a cloth flour sack. Roll the dough up on a broom handle and unroll it on the sheet pan. To do eighty sheets would have taken days. Yesterday, we filled our spiral mixer twice with gingerbread dough. Hundred pounds of flour and five gallons of honey per batch. We run the sheets thru our cookie machine. We can set it up so it deposits a continuous strip of dough, as wide as a sheet pan. It doesn't stop and start as the end of the pan, so they need to be trimmed, by hand as they come off the machine. We ran each batch in less than ten minutes. Ten minutes. Now, it took a little longer to get them all trimmed, and yes it took five guys, a matter of a couple hours they were all mixed, baked and they had started cutting them. Anybody tells me about the good ol' days, can kiss.....

Next week is the Christkindlmarket in Lincoln Park. Chef Martin is preparing brats and hot dogs. He owns a an artisan style sausage company here in Chicago. Martin and I go far back. He is from Krefeld, outside Dusseldorf. I met him when he first came to the states. He worked for Wolfgang Puck, here in Chicago. He has ordered two hundred fifty dozen brat buns and hundred fifty dozen "Wiener buns" as he calls them. There's really no end in sight here. My mother used to say "It'll keep ya outta the tavern".

Oh, Thanksgiving was spectacular. We well out did last year, customer count and product. The best news, we only had two orders that weren't picked up. Only bakers can relate to that. This was our second Thanksgiving, using our computerized, retail order system. It kept us very well organized(loose term), and it kept us from duplicating orders, etc. Back when we were rollin' those honey house sheets by hand, the day after Thanksgiving, we would have fifteen or twenty orders left.

Gotta get upstairs, once again, got a lot to do.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

eye of the storm

Upstairs, it's kinda indescribable, there is a hint of unsettling calm, before the doors open, then it will be up for grabs. A lot like riding "Shockwave", up at Six Flags. I'm gonna keep my eyes closed and hold on real, real tight, until it comes to a stop. We're an hour and forty minutes from opening.

I wish all bakers, everywhere, best of luck today. There isn't another group of professionals that is more deserving of their success, than us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

damn home gmes

I think they outta outlaw Northwestern Home football games, om critical holiday weekends. In fact I'm insisting on it! There were so many damn people around here over the weekend, we got nothin' started for Thanksgiving week. They played Wisconsin, who's idea was that. It's like a swarm of locust came thru here. They p[layed Penn State here, on Halloween. On a brighter note, we packed around seven hundred pounds of Christmas cookies, yesterday. Packing folks did a great job. First real chance to use our newly designed Bennison's ribbon.

Gotta get upstairs, it's off to the races. Pies and dinner rolls, pies and dinner rolls. Wednesday and Thursday, this week, will be somethin' to see.

In case I don't get a chance to write again before the holiday, Happy Thanksgiving to all. We'll be open from 8am to 3 pm Thanksgiving day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

gotta mention this honey

A few months back, baker friend, Ken Slove, Lovin' Oven Cakery in Round Lake Beach, mentioned he was selling honey in his store. Jars and bear shaped plastic containers. Said he was doing well with it. We always bought honey from a local honey farmer, Wallanches farm, over in a forgotten part of Illinois. They packed it in years ago, urban sprawl proved more financially advantageous, than spending your day getting stung by bees. He used to tell me "You get used to the stinging". What? Guess it's like gettin' used to oven burns. Anyway, they had nice honey. So I contacted this local farmer that Ken mentioned. His name is Robert Gaylor. He brought it a few hundred pounds of bulk honey, in five gallon pails. It's the most incredible honey I have ever seen. It is the colour of the apricot pancake syrup I used to see in an International House of Pancakes. And the flavour, just wonderful. The buckets come in marked "Gaylor honey". It's a little pricey, but worth every penny.

I gotta say, this year, we've had nicer pumpkin pies, than ever. Most bakers have issues with their pumpkin pies cracking. I can honestly say, in thirty five years, I haven't seen six cracked pies. But this year, they hold their shine longer than ever, they don't shrink at all. It's gotta be the honey. We baked pfeffernuss on Tuesday. Same thing, softer than ever. We baked them, cooled them overnight, coated them the next day, they are soft as cake. From our pfeffernuss dough we also make "Spitzkuchen". We roll the dough into long strings, bake 'em, and cool them overnight. The next day we cut them into trapezoids, and run them thru our chocolate enrober. One of my favorite Christmas cookies. C'mon, honey dough pieces, covered in chocolate. What could be better? Oh, our stollen.

Former queen of the Bennison croissant throne, Carla Hess, took a few of our new stollen to New Jersey, for the Thanksgiving holiday. Interested to hear what she has to say.

Gotta get upstairs, long day ahead of us. Gonna be non-stop from now until Thursday afternoon, 3pm.

Although, got some huge orders for next weekend. Loads o' gingerbread houses. Oh well, we are closed Christmas day and the 26th. We'll get a break then.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

game on

The holiday bake officially began yesterday. We baked our first fruit cake yesterday, and Arturo made Christmas cookies all day long. He'll be at it for the next three days and on Sunday, a herd of folks will be in to pack them. We'll put up one pound boxes, and two and three pound trays. During the year, one can purchase "loose" tea cookies, by however many you'd like. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, all of our cookies are packed. If we allowed customers to pick out their cookies, one by one, we'd need another store person,or two, and another scale. I remember the first year we did that(only offered packed cookies), my mother had a fit, "They want to pick out their cookies", she said. She got over it quick. I think around Halloween the next year she was asking "When do start packing cookies"? We sell a lot more as well. There are more people that can't wait for cookies to be weighed, than those who want to pick out their cookies. Plus they look nice, all the trays get tied with Bennison's ribbon.

Yesterday we baked fruitcake. Something new this year. We baked them in beautiful, bakeable, wooden forms, from France. They really look nice. I must say, this batch was really done well. Baked nice, not to dark.

I had a remarkable experience yesterday. We baked our second batch of stollen. While I was in Germany, I bought molds, specially made for stollen. You can't get them in this country. I didn't think I would get them this soon. They arrived on Tuesday. I bought two different sizes. They size them by stollen weight. I bought molds for 500g and one kilo stollen. The smaller mold has six in a frame and the larger one, four. Yesterday we guessed at the weight on dough, we felt was needed to fill these molds. We tried to outsmart 'em. We scaled the dough heavier than they suggested. I dropped 500g of dough in a mold and I was sure, it was to light, so we kicked it up to 560g. We scaled the larger mold at 1020g. So we shaped, proofed and baked 'em. I was pleased with them when I took them from the oven. They actually bake upside down, in a unique shaped mold with a lid. The colour was nice. Turns out, we scaled them to heavy. I guess we should have taken into account the marzipan we put inside each stollen. Ya gotta understand, I've been wanting these molds for years and years. I allowed them to cool to the point that we could handle them without hotpads. I carried one over to the table, grabbed a clean sheet pan, and in one motion I flipped the mold over. The stollen fell out. When I lifted the mold off, angels sang. Everybody is the shop was watching. In unison, they all gasped. You know that little drawn breath you make thru your mouth. They are gorgeous. A little tear formed in my right eye. The sixth most beautiful thing I ever seen, holding each of my three kids for the first time, seeing my baking team picture on the cover of the French bakers magazine,(holding the World cup), seeing the Stanley cup, live, in '92, now Bennison's stollen. They are a minimum three inches tall. Symmetrically shaped, no burned raisins, perfect. Besides, baking them in a mold, they don't loose much moisture in the oven. Jennifer smothered 'em in melted butter, and covered them with vanilla sugar. This morning we cut one, I'm struggling here, I guess, moist yellow cake, loaded with white raisins, orange peel, whole almonds and a nice layer of rum flavoued marzipan. Beyond words.

Gotta get upstairs, today is the first day of a very long string of seven days. Gonna be night and day, until 3 pm, next Thursday. Not complaining. I guess the easiest way to avoid it, is to stop looking for ways to improve our goods.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

damn Schwabians

So much has happened since the last time I posted. We received our cream whipping machine from Germany. Really cool, we've whipped a few batches of cream in it, still learning. Cream is delicious, as expected.

Marc Levy,CB, asked his father, Dan, to build us a pretzel rack to use in our store. He dropped it off on Saturday. Awsesome, just awesome. He did an amazing job. It looks like an American girl doll coat rack. It works too. We sold all of our pretzels, sehr schnell. Whole batch Saturday afternoon. We plan to build a three sided Plexiglas wall around it and set it on top of our counter. Evanston, get ready.

The trouble with makin' pretzels is dipping 'em in the caustic soda bath. I may have mentioned that, when I was in Germany, I went there lookin' for three things. One being a pretzel dipping apparatus. At the IBA trade fair, I found two companies that sell such a thing. One is Reid and the other is Riehle. Reid had just what I wanted, the one from Riehle would get me by, but would be my second choice. Downside, Reid doesn't sell to the states or Canada at all. Riehle, sells here, but only big industrial types units. So back to Reid. I pleaded and pleaded. They told me that if I found a German baker to purchase the unit, he could ship it to me. Awhile back I mentioned Hans, the guy who likes his rye bread "Mit der bugs", caraway seed. Funny thing, he has a sister that lives in Germany. She has daughter, Yvonne, Han's niece. She knows a baker there, he can order the unit for me. The unit is about $800US. FedEx is the only one they could find to ship the unit, another $800US. So the folks at Reid suggested that they send the unit in two pieces and we have a welder here, put it together. That is where it stands now. I'm not to familiar with German geography, but one of the last comments by Hans was "Damn Schwabians". I said "What"? He said "Dem German hillbillies". Not sure what all that meant.

Our Thanksgiving website went up yesterday. Brochures are going in the store today. Here we go. I just mentioned to the guys upstairs, "Won't be long, we'll be working like men again". Lots of dirty looks. Not sure how much busier we can get. We've been very fortunate here. We are running well ahead of last year, with no end in sight. This week we are going to start making stollen and gingerbread houses. My favorite time of year in the bakery. Come the 24th of December, I'll be damn near death, but I wouldn't trade it for love or money. Bakery smells so nice this time of year.

I also ordered Christstollen forms from Germany. There, they bake their stollen in a mold, with a cover. They are baked upside down. They loose very little moisture during the bake. Now after thirty four years, I finally got 'em. They leave Germany this week. Gonna be straight up, bad ass.