I’ve been doing a lot of baking lately. And I’m not talking about the usual holiday-season baking or muffin baking I do regularly. No, I’ve become a real, professional baker.
I wake up at 4am. I’m in the kitchen by 5. Croissants are proofing by 6, and all of the morning’s baked goods are ready by 7.
I’m not going to lie. It is excruciatingly hard to wake up so early and get working. But it is a labor of love. A laborious, labor-intensive labor of love. And why would I put myself through this? Well, I happen to be a big fan of the Market on Holly in Pasadena (if you haven’t checked out this lovely cafe it should be on your list of things to do). I also happen to think that their croissants are some of the best in the city. And I love their wonder bars and cinnamon rolls and lemon cakes. So when I was given the opportunity to bake there for the month my answer was, of course, yes!
So my last few weeks have been filled with intensively learning everything from their pastry chef. She is now away for the holidays and I am taking everything she has taught me and baking for the Market on Holly until the new year. Here are a few things I’ve learned from baking in a commercial kitchen…
1. Making croissants from scratch is no joke! I mean seriously. Rolling Danish dough, incorporating the butter then rolling it again the next morning to make croissants is hard. It is hard to get right and it is just downright hard to do. I have had bruises up and down my forearms from rolling this dough each day. But the rewards are priceless. There is nothing like a freshly baked croissant with fluffy sweet layers and folds, especially if it is filled with almond paste. And while I now know the exact quantity of butter that goes into those folds, I still love croissants – butter be damned!
2. Space is key. Baking at home is not half as fun as baking in a commerical kitchen. There is actually space to roll out dough, to line up large baking sheets, to have your ingredients on the table with you as you work. And having the space to move around makes baking so much more enjoyable and inspiring. This is somehow a blessing and a curse. I’m going to love this month of baking professionally, but when I have to get back into my own kitchen I’m going to long for the counter space I once had.
3. Everything is better in muffin form. One of the things I love about the baked goods at the Market on Holly is their cute and compact individual nature. Pull-apart breads are baked in muffin trays creating a wonderfully sized individual serving. Sweet pumpkin rolls and cinnamon rolls are thrown into muffin tins creating perfectly circular and compact treats. The possibilities are endless. Creating desserts in individual portions by baking them off in muffin trays is just pure genius!
This week at the Market on Holly I am getting creative with holiday cookies. My favorite of which are these thumbprint cookies. What sets these a cut above your average thumbprint cookies is the jam. I used Sqirl‘s Mcgrath Farm raspberry and fresh lavendar jam. Sqirl is a local artisan jam and preserve company owned by the lovely Jessica Koslow. All of her jams are made with produce from family-owned farms that practice sustainable, certified organic methods that are in close proximity to her kitchen in Los Angeles. You can really taste the fruit in each jam – they are not masked by artifical flavors and sweeteners. The flavor combinations add a subtle depth to each jam. Tomorrow I’m making thumbprints with Santa Rosa plum with Shear Rock flowering thyme. I can’t wait!
Thumbprint Cookies w/ Sqirl Jam
yields about 2 dozen
recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, separated
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cookies: Whisk together flour, cornmeal, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter, vanilla extract and 1/4 cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add orange zest and egg yolk, and mix well. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.
- Lightly whisk egg white. Scoop 2 teaspoons dough, and roll into a ball. Dip into egg white, and roll in remaining 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar. Repeat with remaining dough; transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart, as you work. Gently press center of each ball with your thumb. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until pale golden, 15 to 17 minutes. Gently indent each cookie again using the handle end of a wooden spoon. Transfer sheets to wire racks, and let cool. (Cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 week.)
- Spoon a small amount of your favorite Sqirl jam into each cookie indentation.
banana wonderDecember 25, 2011
wow! this is so impressive. i had no idea you were baking like this. i will have to pay holly a visit. i have yet to grow the cajones to make croissant myself, just from talking to bakers in my almond croissant pdx research and i heard all about the crazy efforts to make these buttery joys. thanks for the muffin form hot tip as well… they are all purpose, that’s for sure!
NancyJanuary 5, 2012
I would love to meet with you and pick your brain about your experiences within the food industry. I am trying to get into the industry, hopefully baking, but I am open to anything. Please let me know if you would like to chat over coffee or just converse through emails. I live in the LA area.
Here’s some info about me:
I have extensive background in education, administration, and customer service. I did go through a non-traditional cooking school and did their pro I baking series. I love food. I love to cook and bake. And of course, I’m a foodie. I’ve been thinking of finding a pastry cook position or starting a food truck, but I don’t have any experience in the field so I would like to learn more and hope that you can provide me some knowledge and advice.