One of the most important things that was instilled in my brain while in Culinary School is how different large scale and production scale baking is from baking at home. Everything is at laser speed, there is obviously more pressure, and simple steps become vital to overall success. The list of techniques, tips, and general ideas I learned while in school is so long and ongoing, I am actually going to dedicate a whole post to it soon. What I have come to realize while baking at home is that these experiences literally changed the way I move in my own kitchen. I want to take the time to share a few things that stand out to me even now, while I am out of school, so that maybe I can help you become more efficient in your home efforts. Whether it is just a hobby of yours or you’re thinking of taking this into a professional environment, I suggest you read and take away whatever you can. I know without these general ideas and concepts I would be much less organized and consistent.
Get cozy in the kitchen with me!
1. Mise En Place
So the actual translation of this French saying is “everything in it’s place”. While in school this phrase was spoken (…and sometimes screamed) by a chef every single day, multiple times a day. I’ve seen people literally get kicked out because they didn’t have their mise en place in order.
This phrase quite literally means what it means. Everything should be where it is supposed to be. For example, lets say you’re making chocolate chip cookies. What do you think you should do first? The first step is to brief yourself on the recipe and ingredients, and this obviously applies to every recipe. Get comfortable with what you’re making! If you know what your game plan is before you start, you’ll be more confident leading you to a much more successful outcome. This is something I came to learn quite often, especially during our practical exams. Once you’ve read your ingredients and recipe, make sure you have every thing you need, then think about what needs to be done first. Typically, most times when you’re baking, room temperature ingredients are key (with exceptions, of coarse). For cookies (as an example), take out your butter and eggs at least 30 mins before you use them! Make sure your oven is on and calibrated to the correct temperature, and prepare whatever you’re baking the cookies on. Measure or scale out everything else and set it up in the order it will be used. Specific set up of the cookie example: butter (room temp) in your mixing bowl, scaled/measured with sugar. Have your eggs and vanilla ready to be added, then behind those ingredients have all the dries scaled and sifted (if necessary). It is quite simple if you think about it. I used the cookies as an example but this system, or set up, relates to everything you want to make. When I was younger I would measure as I went, leaving me frazzled and vulnerable to simple mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times people (including myself) have messed up so badly in school because they were too focused on getting something done and off their mind, rather than the process of actually how to get it done. If there is one thing I know it is that being organized, especially in a kitchen, creates a better mental position and workspace! If you want more tips on this topic specifically, let me know!
2. Care About Your Ingredients
This is so important to me, and completely reflects in my style of cooking and baking. Since most home bakers are baking for themselves or family and friends, they seem to buy whatever is accessible and call it a day. However for me, baking for myself, family, friends (and anyone else really) is an open invitation to show off and give someone the best version of whatever they’re eating. You’re taking the time and effort to make something, so shouldn’t it be the best you can possibly make it? There are a few specific ingredients I can think of that I believe should always be “splurged” on or catered to:
- Vanilla (extract and all other forms)
- Spices (This goes for any kind. Buy organic and please don’t use them if they are a million years old!)
- Leaveners (If your baking soda or baking powder is as old as you are, you probably shouldn’t use it? But in all seriousness it has a shelf life of about 6 months, be sure to test it if you are questioning it’s potency. Don’t forget about yeast as well.)
- Produce (Always organic and shoot for seasonal *or even locally farmed* options as much as possible.)
- Wine and Spirits (Just like cooking, use what you would drink.)
- Tea and Coffee (Just like wine and spirits, however what you drink sometimes might not be the best. I encourage you to search for local or specialty roasters *you can maybe order online too*. It will make your morning cup of joe that much more enjoyable. I am going to make a post on coffee at some point in the future. Obviously it goes the same for tea as well. Harney and Sons makes excellent teas!)
- If you are a non vegan baker: investing in organic and humanely (i.e.: local farm where you know how the animals are treated) sourced butter, eggs, and dairy products.
Obviously there are so many more things to buy selectively but I think those are most of the general and commonly used ingredients. Please consider what you’re using, because ultimately it is going into your body. I will most likely update this list on a separate post and elaborate on why this is important! There are many vegan ingredients, fair trade, organic, kosher, etc. that you can purchase for whatever you are making! Choose wisely!
3. Love and Find Interest in What You Are Doing
If you don’t care about what you’re doing (and you’re not Meryl Streep so you can’t act your way out of it) it shows. When something that starts out as just a hobby becomes serious, meticulous, and mechanical the one thing that can ultimately help you achieve any kind of success is passion. That is the reason most of us graduated and followed through. No one said it was going to be easy, and it certainly wasn’t. However, the one thing that was never hard was caring about what I was doing. If you go into anything with motivation and a lot of interest, you’re going to succeed. So if it is something as simple as baking cookies, cupcakes, or a cake for yourself or anyone from your own kitchen, don’t be afraid to put a little love in it. It will take you so much further, I promise!
And that is it! Just three simple and easy steps that are sure to make you much more comfortable attacking any baking project you embark on! Hopefully this will help you guys out!