Wednesday, December 23, 2009

twenty five hours til we close

every once ina while my wife says "It's been a rough day at sea". Thinking of her now. Also thinking of Tom Hanks character "John Miller" in "Saving Private Ryan". If your a fan you'll know what I'm referring to, every time the phone rings I feel further from home.

To my baker buds, Godspeed, we're almost home.

Friday, December 18, 2009

we'll see

My gang is starting to find their way out of here for the day. I told them all, get to bed early. Tomorrow we will find out just how much we can get done here, in a day. I guess people who have a life, attend things like Christmas parties. Evidently there are a lot of 'em.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

thinkin' 'bout what's next

Just waiting. Lots of large orders forthcoming, and we kinda need to get them out of here before we can go forward. We finished packing cookies yesterday. We did lot more than last year. Hope the snow Gods are with us. Eight more days. I think we are all getting tired of looking at, and producing the same stuff, over and over. I got an email yesterday, turns out the Green City Market application is available on line, and due by February 25th. The older I get, the faster it goes.

We ordered our king cake boxes yesterday. That whole episode begins on January 6th. We will do loads of Pithivier, for that day. We had lady call from New Jersey, she ordered six to be delivered on the 5th of January. Lots of folks ask me about the significance of January 6th. I guess with benefit from the bakery life, I understand the "Tweleve days of Christmas". The sixth of January is the twelfth day after Christmas. The day the wise men arrived in Bethelhem. They saw the star, and their camels only had one speed. Evidently, Amtrack didn't run between wherever they were, and Bethlehem. Wonderin', were they together when they saw the star? Why would three kings be together in the first place? Pitihivier, is the king cake, sold in France. The Celebration of the Epiphany, is much larger is other cultures. In France each Pithivier has the "Feve"(bean) in it. They are all sold with a gold paper crown as well. Whomever gets the piece with the feve, is the "Roi"(king), and earns the crown.
Pithivier is a very delicious puff pastry cake filled with a thick layer of almond cream. I have a baker buddy, Laurent LeDaniel, has a bakery in Reims, already got a freezer full of 'em. He makes chocolate ones as well.

We will be doing our January "White Sale" the week of the 17th. We will offer white bread, white pound cake, coconut macaroons, cheese coffee cake, etc at very reduced prices. We will also start hot cross buns at the same time. Soon after that, Paczki.

First things first, got a load of macaroons to get out for an order today. Gingerbread macaroons, very tasty. We flavour the shells with a little spice, and molasses, and fill 'em with a blend of white chocolate gancahe, cream cheese and a little more spice. Probably wouldn't go over in France.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

subdivision after subdivision

Christmas, or I guess aromas anytime of year, in the bakery are simply tantalizing. I just crossed thirty feet of path upstairs, I passed the main bench, where Arturo V. and Camillo are making cinnamon bread. We roll out a rich yeasted dough, brush it with melted butter, and cover it with a cinnamon sugar blend and they also shake straight cinnamon on it. A few feet further and Filemon was pulling a rack of gingerbread men from the oven. On the table by the back door, Joe is covering his Konig Aman pastries with vanilla sugar. Very aromatic stuff. It's really pretty incredible how much flavour and aroma we can get out of a vanilla pod. Truthfully, the pods that we use for vanilla sugar, have been scraped, and cooked, rinsed and added to the bucket. Once the ratio of pods to sugar is right, we add a bunch of sugar and run it thru our food processor. We sift out the pod pieces and use the sugar. When we are finished using the sugar, the pods get added back to the sugar and stored away until needed again.

Work is piling up. Real estate business is good. We have seventy four houses going out tomorrow, and another hundred next Saturday. These are, of course, on top of the store orders, which are running well ahead of last year. Six here, thirteen there, it's been a great house year. Hate to beat a dead horse, but anyayou bakers makin' lots of houses, it'd pay to talk to the guys at Practical Baker about a machine to produce the house sheets. Arturo O. ran forty six sheets yesterday, nine minutes. He "fit them in before he left". Years ago, that'd been a few days work.

Yesterday, we finished our stollen. I really mean, found the finish, we needed. Patti found the perfect pine bow decorations, I was looking for. The green paired with our red ribbon, really makes a nice finish. I sought what we have for many, many years. Next year, printed stollen boxes.

Well gotta get this day started, kinda funny, I've been here four hours already. Better said, gotta get the day work started. We're packin' cookies again tomorrow. Gonna have a long day today, home for a nap, back to bake thru the nite, pack cookies tomorrow, employee Christmas party Sunday afternoon. Cristmas song on the radio says "The most wonderful time of the year". Bet the song writer didn't grow up in a bakery. If he did, he'd be writing "Secretary's Day" songs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

the four try rule

We produced enough yesterday, I gotta spend some time in the office today. Days are gonna start runnin' into nights, very soon here.

Last week I found some clear, soft plastic, candy "Tubes". Today we are going to pack four macaroons, in a tube. Gonna make a smokin' hot, affordable, delicious gift. We will be selling them for $5.29. One each gingerbread, chocolate, strawberry and pistachio macaroon, is how we will be filling them. The dilemma is how to finish 'em. They need a bow, or something. I'm sure the girls will come up with something.

We are baking a batch of stollen everyday now. I mentioned it before, but now, this stollen is "Spot on". We got 'er figured out. It took us four tries. Wise baker friend John Roeser learnt me that long ago. "When you start something new, it takes a minimum of four tries before you get it dialed in". He was "Spot on", as well. On our first try, I looked at our new stollen molds, small ones rated at 500g, and large 1 kilo. I said "No way will that much mass fill these molds". My bad, I questioned German molds makers, as to how much stollen dough will fill their pans. Funny, they were right. We scaled 'em to heavy. They baked up over the edge of the mold. Second try, we reduced the weight, and baked them a little to dark. We baked them in our rotating oven, just setting the mold on the oven shelf. Third try, we baked them by setting the stollen mold on a sheet pan, trying to protect the bottom. I under baked 'em. Fourth try, on sheet pans, longer, hotter bake time. Yahtzee! We cut one yesterday. Aged folk will remember, the Imperial margarine commercial, on black and white television. A guy spreads Imperial margarine on a slice of toast and trumpets sound, and a crown appears on his head. "Flavour fit for a king"! Very appropriate.

Late yesterday afternoon, myself, my dad and my son finished some more gingerbread houses. One of them Christmas moments in the bakery, you'll never forget.

First time, I don't have to get upstairs. I gotta get to the other office where the checkbook is. The checkbook, flour bills, gas and phone bills and a couple of bank statements to balance.

Monday, December 7, 2009

just another event

What a weekend! I guess it all started Friday, when we were to deliver 1500 brat buns and 500 hot dog buns to the Christkindl Markt on Lincoln avenue, in Chicago. We got that done. Chef Martin called late Friday and wanted another 500 brat buns for Saturday, no problem. Friday afternoon, Patti and I went down to the new "French market", in the Ogilvie train station. We sell to Pastoral Artisan Cheese shops, they have a beautiful spot in the market. They ask that we go and do a tasting kinda thing. We took a loaf of miche and ten or twelve loaves of bread. Plan was to sample bread and talk about it from 3:30 to 5:30, right during the Friday afternoon rush. The market opened on Thursday, Pastoral sold out of bread in an hour or two. They tripled their order for Friday. For Friday, I think they got around a hundred fifty or sixty loaves. They were down to a handful of loaves when Patti and I got there. They were gone within thirty minutes of our arrival. So we were sampling bread, but had nothing to sell. We ended up selling a few of the loaves we brought with us. They called over to their Broadway store and made arrangements for more bread to be sent over. It showed up around 5pm. Patti and I were bagging and another person was on the register. The bread vaporized. Customers acted like it was free. Another event to support my beliefs, the world is starving for baked goods. Real baked goods.

I hopped in the van Saturday morning around 2:30, powered up my cell phone. I had a message, it was night baker Cornell,"Some Martin guy called from some grindel market, says he needs another 1500 hot dog buns". Wow, didn't expect that. I knew he would need them by noon. Kudos to my night guys, they stayed and ran two big bun doughs. We finished with another half batch. We delivered by noon. Gotta say, pretty cool, we divide our buns on a 2pocket, "Roll divider". It is a hopper fed machine. Large chunks of dough get dropped in the top and they come out round dough balls at the bottom. We were scaling the pieces at 70g. The batch made 588 pieces. In just under thirteen minutes they had the dough divided and rounded. Typical scenario would be to divide the dough into 2500g pieces, round them into a big ball and put them into a divider that would cut that piece into 36, 70g pieces. Without the machine we have, we'd still be here dividing and rounding.

It was not all roses on Saturday though. Just the kinda stuff they don't show you on the Food Network. I baked a sheet of pumpkin slices, and a few pumpkin pies. Didn't quite look right comin' from the oven. It cooled, we tasted it, sure enough, sugar free. Once again, folks never come in looking for the sugar free items when we have them. Kinda like the mini donut customers. I'm often asked "Do you make mini donuts"?, I reply, "Sometimes, but never when you're looking for 'em". I tried a new stollen formula on Saturday, failed. I ran out of time, rushed it to the oven. A young baker person, related to me, dropped six beautifully glazed chocolate mousse cakes on Saturday. So, goes to show ya, not every day can be a good day.

In light of all that, it was an incredible weekend business wise. We are running way ahead of the first six days of last December. Don't know if it's weather related. We sold a lot of cookies Saturday and Sunday. Got lots of gingerbread houses on order.

Gotta run, the basement office is just about under the store door. I can hear 'em comin' in now, stompin' the snow off their feet. In my mind, Christmas really begins today, December 7th. Gonna start workin' like men for the next 18 days. Night and day.

My dad says sixty eight years ago today, he was playing sandlot football. Somebody told him Pearl Harbor was attacked, he said "Where the hell is Pearl Harbor"? He hasn't forgotten that moment, neither should we.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

wonderin' why it takes so long

Well we got the oven to turn off. Turns out the switch is a little "Soft". Probably need to replace that soon. Seems that portion of the bakery is back in order.

Things seem to be moving along with our plans to take over part of the old print shop next door. I heard a long time ago, "If the rest of the world operated like the bakery business, the world would be a better place". people call the bakery at 3pm Tuesday and order a birthday cake to be picked up Wednesday at 9am. They come in, it's ready. I drop off a motor at the motor repair shop, 3pm Tuesday. The guy says "I'll get on it right away. Give me a call at the end of the week". WHAT???? My dad worked for Standard Brands for twenty five years, before he bought the bakery. He sold ingredients to bakeries and restaurants. In 1967, Chicago experienced a record setting snow storm. I remember he got home late that night. In the morning the car was half in the driveway. He couldn't pull it all the way in. Anyway, the city was shut down. No freight in or out of the city for days. When things started to loosen up, Standard Brands, sent a salesman to Joliet, Illinois with a brief case full of yeast. The guy grabbed a cab and spent the day, going from bakery to bakery, dropping off yeast.

I guess I'm telling you this because, the city of Evanston is emptying out. More and more business leaving every week. Mostly on the east side of the tracks. I've been trying to get things worked out with the property management people for months, on the space next door. I call them, they get back to me right away, a week later. If only they worked like bakers.........

This afternoon I'm attending a monthly bakers meeting. It'll be back to the bakery Thursday morning and off to the races for the next twenty two days. Orders are piling up, gonna be a big weekend. We're baking for a few ethnic Christmas type events. This weekend, the Swedes and the Germans.

I told Mark I'd help with a big dough he has on the table. I told him I'd be there right away. That was twenty minutes ago.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

long day, lots of miles

It was 12:30am when I stepped thru my back door, into the kitchen at home, this morning. Oven was firing. Acting like it should. The down side, as of right now, we can't switch the fan motor off. I'll figure that out today. As I told Patti last night, "We didn't bake much Monday, gonna be a long time before we need to turn it off anyway". It doesn't have much down time as it is. Most days, we turn off the oven between 4 and 6pm. It really never cools down, bricks stay hot a long time.

My son Guy left for Cleveland, Twinsburg actually, around 8:15, Monday morning. We were here waiting last night, around 8:30 for his return. Kinda cool, like a herd of doctors waiting for a donated kidney. I think he said it was just shy of seven hundred miles. I left late afternoon yesterday and he called me when he hit the skyway. I arrived back at the bakery around 8pm. Made coffee and waited. As soon as he arrived, Ken and I, started twistin' wrenches. About 11:15, we turned it on. What a beautiful sound. Like summer sunrise and birds chirpin'. As soon as the temperature started to climb, Arturo started the mixer.

Another thing happened yesterday. We opened a bag of pretzel salt. Since we started making pretzels, we've been using coarse, kosher salt. Salesman was in a few weeks back and I spotted pretzel salt in his sales book. I ordered one. A hundred pounds of pretzel salt. What a difference! The stuff is white, white, not clearish like kosher salt. It really stands out on the darker skin of a pretzel. Looks just like the pretzels in Germany. I never researched it because I assumed salt like that, wasn't available here. Who knew?

Gotta get upstairs. We're a day behind. We'll never make it up. I've been here since 3am. No need to worry about repairin' that "Off" switch on the oven. My baby's gonna be tired. Just so she doesn't get cranky. In twenty four days and we'll shut'r off.