4B: Commercial Baking

Commercial baking is baking for a bakery or other large-scale operation rather than for a restaurant. In this class we made things that can be sold as individual servings, and we finished up our cake and tarts from the last class.

Commercial bakeries use formulas rather than recipes, and they weigh everything because weights are more accurate than volume measurements. (I’m already on that page; at home I’ve been using the scale for everything, including water.) In a small operation, inaccurate measurement might not have a noticeable effect; accuracy is more important in large amounts than in a small home environment or even in a restaurant where you might be making two of something for the dessert menu. If you’re making 500 loaves of bread, a small mistake suddenly becomes a big one. (Now that line from Depeche Mode is stuck in my brain: “Everything counts in large amounts.”)

Chef Sharon told us all about staling. I’ve thought it’s just the bread (or whatever) losing moisture, but that’s only part of it. There are also chemical changes in the starch structure. Products made from high-protein flour (e.g., bread flour) don’t stale as rapidly as products made from low-protein flour (e.g., cake flour). Staling begins as soon as the bread leaves the oven. Freezing stops the staling process, but refrigeration enhances it, so it’s fine to freeze bread but you should never refrigerate it.

We also learned more than most people want to know about shortening. Shortening is oil that’s heated and injected with hydrogen gas (hydrogenated) to make it solid at room temperature. (Hydrogenated shortening is okay; it’s partially hydrogenated shortening that’s bad for you.) The method of hydrogenation determines the properties of the shortening, and there are different types that are used in different applications.

Shortening actually has some good points. It increases moisture retention and keeps the product from staling as quickly. It’s more stable than butter when it’s creamed with sugar. The melting point of shortening is higher than the melting point of butter, so baked goods made with shortening have a softer mouth feel. (This feature backfires in frosting; frosting made with shortening tends to feel like it’s coating your mouth because it doesn’t melt at body temperature.) Strangely enough, puff pastry made with shortening puffs more than puff pastry made with butter because of the higher melting point. Butter, on the other hand, is delicious, but shortening doesn’t have any flavor.

Then we moved into the kitchen, where we did not use any shortening but we used plenty of butter. First we made up a batch of blitz puff pastry (like flaky pie dough, but with bigger chunks of butter), did the folds, and put the dough in the refrigerator. Then we got our Mogador cakes out of the freezer, and Chef Sharon showed us how to spread raspberry glaze on top.

Glazing hte Mogador cake

Glazing the Mogador cake

It’s harder to do than it looks, but I definitely feel that this just takes a little practice. We got them glazed and then they went back in the freezer. Then we filled tartlet shells with blueberry filling and topped them with streusel; we didn’t have time to finish these in the previous class. Those looked very nice when they came out of the oven.

Blueberry tartlets with streusel topping

Blueberry tartlets with streusel topping

We also finished the tourtes (tartlets with fruit custard). Those got a top crust, which needed cutouts so steam could escape. We used aspic cutters to make that pretty.

Pear custard tourtes

Pear custard tourtes

With the last night’s baking out of the way, we got back to commercial baking. A lot of the things we made were large pastries destined to be cut into individual portions. Having done some work on the religieuses (nuns) the previous week, I couldn’t resist choosing to make Jesuites, puff pastry filled with pastry cream and iced with royal icing. I’ve never made royal icing, and there’s more than one kind. The decorations on the little cake-style petits fours and on wedding cakes tend to be done with one kind; the one for the Jesuites is pourable. I started out by brushing it on the pastry, and Chef Sharon came by, took the saucepan out of my hand, and just poured it over, which is much more efficient. The big pastry then had to chill in the fridge for a little while so the icing could develop a crust; then the whole thing got cut into individual portions and baked.

Jesuites out of the oven

Jesuites out of the oven

We also made some coconut cookies. First comes the cookie base, which is pâte sucrée. We cut that into triangles and baked them for a few minutes to set the dough, then we topped them with finely grated coconut mixed with sugar and egg and baked them some more. When they were done, we dipped the corners into melted chocolate.

Coconut triangles

Coconut triangles

They look nice, but the sizes are all different. I think if I did these on my own I might make them different shapes and drizzle the chocolate over them.

One of the students made Napoleons, and Chef Sharon showed us how to decorate them. Chef Sharon makes it look easy, but I could do it with practice. You drizzle chocolate back and forth across the top, then you run the tip of your knife up and down across the drizzles.

Napoleons, decorated and ready to slice

Napoleons, decorated and ready to slice

Finally it was time to decorate the Mogador cakes. I think my design was a little too ambitious; something larger and simpler would have been easier and prettier. Mine ended up looking like mehendi, and amateur mehendi, at that. Chef Sharon recommends making up royal icing and practicing on a dinner plate; you practice awhile, wipe it off, and practice some more. I’ll be doing that.

Unadorned Mogador cake out of the cake ring

Unadorned Mogador cake out of the cake ring

Decorated Mogador cake

Decorated Mogador cake

Mogador cake: the crumb view

Mogador cake: the crumb view

Other students made other things with their blitz puff pastry.

Napoleons, sliced and ready to serve

Napoleons, sliced and ready to serve

Puits d'amour

Puits d'amour

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About linguina

For most of my life I've loved to read and to make stuff. My mother says I taught myself to read when I was 4, and I never looked back. I also liked fooling around in the kitchen, but my mother wasn't really into cooking, so I learned a lot of that on my own, too. My sister and I had the Betty Crocker New Boys and Girls Cookbook (1965), and naturally I had to make the Enchanted Castle Cake. I learned how to bake bread when I was 14, and I bought a copy of the Joy of Cooking when I was 17. My aunt and uncle gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my 19th birthday, and the first thing I made was soufflé. I've always been more of a baker than a cook, though. When our niece used to visit us during her breaks from college, she'd get me to show her some cooking things (including soufflé, of course!), but I kept having to tell her, "This is just how I do it. I have no idea if it's the right way." Finally, I took a basic cooking class, and that changed my life. After that class, I signed up for a 4-day baking class at King Arthur Flour. That's when I knew I was really a baker. Now I'm taking the professional pastry program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. With this training, I'll become a pastry chef.
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