Calling all experienced pastry chefs! Please help!

Discussion in 'After Culinary School' started by rubbei merc, Jan 17, 2018.

  1. rubbei merc

    rubbei merc

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    Hi Chefs!

    I've been saving a lot of my wage for the last two years just to get to culinary school and get a pastry degree. However, due to financial problems. I've decided for now to start learning at home how to bake.

    I would like to ask some recommendations on what fundamentals do I need to learn and techniques I need to focus on baking? I want to create a simple topic module for my self to follow while practicing baking at home.

    Also, please feel free to suggest some baking books that will help me at baking.

    Thank you in advanced for all the help!

    PS - Sorry for my bad grammar, English is not my first language.
     
  2. The Pie Hole

    The Pie Hole

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    12 years professional baker

    I've been baking for years and have never been classically trained. I grew up baking with my mom and while I am limited in some techniques, the fundamentals are second nature to me and they really are important. Do you have ANY experience baking? Even at home?

    For me, I think the best way to learn is to DO IT. Find a recipe and make it. If you are unsure of a term (like creaming, folding, etc), look it up online to give you an idea of what you're after - there are also TONS of tutorials on youtube as well as the thousands of food blogs out there.
    I would recommend picking yourself up a copy of The Joy of Cooking. While it is a cookbook, there are many baking recipes to choose from and a lot of the recipes include more in-depth explanation of how the final product should turn out and why.
    I would also recommend Williams-Sonoma bakingbooks (but I would advise against using the weight measurements in their recipes and go by volume - the specified weight for one cup of flour in all of their recipes is drastically different than mine...different brands=different weights by volume). I really enjoy Williams-Sonoma because their books have beautiful photos of the finished product as well as informational pages that explain techniques such as whipping egg whites or the basics of sponge cakes.

    I hope this helps a little bit - like I said, just start baking! Give your friends cookies, your family muffins, and strangers cake - just ask for feedback in response. Once you have a basic foundation of what you know works and what doesn't it should better prepare you to begin to make more technique-intense baked goods. Knowing why things happen in your baked goods is also important, and the internet is a wonderful resource in looking for explanations.

    Feel free to contact me.
     
  3. harpua

    harpua

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    Professional Pastry Chef
    Are you able to get a job at a pastry shop or bakery?
     
  4. Pat Pat

    Pat Pat

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    If you are impatient and want to get right into baking and learn as you go along, get the book called "Baking" by James Peterson.

    If you want to learn methodically and have some serious knowledge, get the book called "Professional Baking" by Wayne Gisslen.

    In any case, don't give up your dream of going to school though. I can say that it helped me tremendously in becoming a pastry chef. I probably would have to spend a few more years as a pastry cook were I not had the knowledge I acquired in school.
     
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  5. Vjan

    Vjan

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    I am by far not a baker (I'm not a fan of measuring to start), but if you are good for "text book" learning, I would suggest finding a cookbook text book that colleges or universities use. You can find them used online for MUCH cheaper than new and you can learn so many technical tricks that will help give you the know how.
     
  6. chefross

    chefross

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    I made this point in another thread about pastry schools.
    What is it you want to do with your degree?
    As a former baker myself, I had experience while in college learning about baking, because I had an outside job in a small bakery. I actually learned more about practical knowledge than I did about reading it in a textbook or classroom presentations. While in class I was teamed up with 3 other people to bake something.....I thought....What the heck? It doesn't take 4 people to make a cake, but I learned where the bad habits and laziness came from by doing this.

    To the OP...baking at home will not give you the experience necessary to work in a retail bakery. I suggest you try to find an basic entry level "benchman" position. There you will learn about yeast, proofing, shaping and forming dough.
     
  7. jcakes

    jcakes

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    I have some experience in this sort of thing. I was a career-changer after 20 years in high tech. During that time, I was constantly baking, making desserts (I would work my way through Maida Heatter's books; I baked my way through The Cake Bible when it came out) and once the internet dawned, I became friends with a woman who owned a bakery in CA and would go out there occasionally to "help". When I finally changed careers, I took classes (mostly weekend classes which are not the same as culinary school) and rented space in a big place that had a restaurant and banquet facilities; I made their wedding cakes. Baking at home is never the same as baking commercially and it does not prepare you for a professional environment. Get a part time job at a bakery - even as a weekend dishwasher, you will observe the work flow, what the chefs are doing and have the opportunity to absorb so much. What you can do at home, though, is to perfect making pastry cream, pate a choux, experiment with different doughs (how pate sucree differs from pate brisee), making creme anglais without curdling it or french macaron. At home you will have the luxury of experimenting, failing, trying again without being under a time clock or wasting ingredients and time at a restaurant or bakery (your failures are wasting ingredients but it's your own). So do both: get a job at a bakery and practice the essentials at home.
     
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  8. panini

    panini

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    Just me personally, before I start working my way through cookbooks, I would gather all the information I could find on NUMBERS. By that, I mean weights, measures, and percentages. Step 1. Learn how to convert all cup/tblsp. recipes to oz. and lbs. More than likely you will find that any professional kitchen will scale all their formulas by weight. Keep a running diary of what ingredients in cups/tsp. equates to weight. All ingredients are not the same. Think about what a cup of Styrofoam would weigh VS a cup of sand.
    Step 2. Percentages. Example: what percentage of water, is needed to make a 100 percent sour dough recipe. I'm older so I'm not even sure if this book is around. It's one of Joe Amendola's first books on Understanding Baking. If you google it and nothing comes up, let me know, and I'll either send you an extra or somehow get it copied off.
    It's like anything else you self learn properly, the fun stuff come later. Same as starting as a plounger at a restaurant.
    Just some thoughts. As with anything that has to be learned over time, when you start in the middle or the top, it's becomes difficult to go back and retrain your mind.
     
  9. Pat Pat

    Pat Pat

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    This is a total opposite of my own experience.

    For me, the luxury lies within the restaurant. When experimenting at work, I can make five different batches of something in a day without worries; and I can get rid of the finished products by throwing or giving it away in an instant.

    At home, I can only afford to experiment once a week. And if the resulting product is less than good, I still had to live with it by eating it all so not to feel like wasting money.
     
  10. jcakes

    jcakes

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    I think it depends on your perspective and position in the restaurant. Making something three or four times in a row is definitely useful learning (especially if you are the kind of cook who takes notes about what you are doing); I wish schools would do this more frequently. If you make pate a choux over and over in a day, you're hopefully going to learn something each time until you master it.

    For me, as the bakery owner, I am not going to let an inexperienced cook make a batch of something and ruin it; I am willing to teach someone and have them do it under supervision but I don't have the margins to absorb costly mistakes. I once had a culinary school graduate mess up dacquoise THREE TIMES IN A ROW because she wouldn't listen to my direction to not turn on the robot coupe and walk away while the nuts were being ground, and she also wouldn't pulse them first - just dumped the nuts and sugar in then turned it on and walked away. Even after I showed her. At $15/# for hazelnuts (at the time); her mistakes cost just under $100 that day, and I got to pay her while she screwed up. (she lasted about a month if you are wondering). Burning caramel or messing up beating egg whites for meringue isn't as expensive as making hazelnut goo so it's all relative.
     
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  11. Pat Pat

    Pat Pat

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    You must be a very kind owner to let someone get away with insubordination. I would have terminated the individual after 3 consecutive write-ups for defying your direction.
     
  12. jcakes

    jcakes

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    All three attempts were on the same day! The first time she did it while I was out of the bakery and the dacquoise was flat and runny so it had to be made again; she had already seen me make it the week before so I didn't micromanage the second attempt; but .... same outcome. It was the third time that I realized the robot coupe was running and she was on the other side of the bakery that I realized what she was doing. This is someone who had graduated from a pastry program and should have known better; as I mentioned, she didn't last 4 weeks.

    This brings me to another point that will hopefully get us back on topic... READ THE RECIPE! The entire thing from the ingredients to the end. Some professional recipes will presume knowledge (e.g., temper the yolks, rather than a longer explanation of how to temper them) so if it feels like you are reading shorthand, you are. See the recommendations Pat Pat made above for baking books; Gisslen's Professional Baking is a comprehensive textbook so is very informative but you might need to research some terminology and techniques.