Friday, February 22, 2013

The Bakery Chronicles

Gingerbread Lite

A few weeks ago, I officially became a Baker. As in, my official title is now "Baker," rather than the somewhat long-winded and ambiguous "Bakery Team Member". And I have to tell you, it feels good. I don't think anyone at work besides my boss knows of the change, but there's a little more spring in my step (despite my shoes that desperately need replacing).
Aside from sometimes starting very early in the morning, the longer I do it, the more parallels I find with my old ballerina life, strangely enough. Baking is like ballet, you ask skeptically? Yep, and here's how:
  1. It's physical work. In ballet, it's pretty fine-tuned. You work for years to gain control over all your muscles (facial expressions included) so that when you're on stage, you are in charge, not your nerves or the weird lighting or the ill-fitting costume or the kids giggling in the 4th row when they see guys.wearing.tights. Baking is less about finesse and more about...ooomph. It's about hoisting a 60 quart mixing bowl filled with batter (with help). My fellow baker is a solid 10 inches (at least?) taller than me, so when he grabs the other side of the bowl he pretty much just stands up. I have to use my legs and my arms and sometimes even my well-developed releve to transfer that heavy bowl from the mixer to the table. 
  2. It's the same but different every day. If you've ever taken a ballet class, or watched Center Stage, you know that every class follows the same basic pattern, starting at the barre and progressing to the center of the room, starting with small, gentle movements and graduating to the large, dramatic ones. The combinations change daily, but they're composed of the same basic steps. At the bakery, every day I peruse the shelves to see what we need and make my to-do list for the day. Inevitably, I need to make cookies, but it's always a slightly different combination of numbers and flavors. I usually need to complete one larger project, whether it be a batch of biscuits or thumbprint cookies or banana bread. Finally, I clean up and set up bread for the next day. The same but different. 
  3. It takes more brainpower than you might think. "Dumb ballerina" is a stereotype barely rooted in reality. Dancers are some of the smartest people I know. It takes brains to remember choreography and changes and corrections. It takes brains to train your body and learn how to self-correct. Baking requires math skills, not only in terms of doubling or halving recipes, but also in changing between cups and ounces and pounds or figuring out how many loaves of garlic bread are selling or spoiling. Bakers also have to gauge the relative importance of baking pies before lemon bars or whether making the batter for coffee cake can wait until tomorrow. That's sometimes harder than it seems at first glance. 
  4. It's an art. So, ballet as a performing art is a pretty obvious categorization. But baking as an art may not be as intuitive. Yes, it's a science: measured ingredients produce predictable results. But what about the days when your oven seems to burn muffins more quickly than others? Or you decide to make mini cookies instead of full sized ones? Or you're tweaking a recipe's ingredients? Making substitutions? Or the cinnamon buns got left out of the freezer all night? For all those instances, a little bit of finesse, finagling, guesswork, and, yes, art come into play. There's an art to deciding whether the pound cake is browning too quickly and whether or not to turn down the oven. There's an art in noticing when the top tray of chocolate cake cooks more quickly than the bottom tray. There's even an art to getting the raspberry jam into the thumbprint neatly. It's an art because not only do my goodies have to taste good, they have to look good too. 
So there you have it. The parallels between ballet and baking. What unexpected parallels are you finding these days?


  1. Love this post! And while I felt supremely more virtuous watching you on stage than I do trying to finagle an extra scoop of peach crisp, my life has been enlivened by both your arts. Glad to hear that lifting large batches of batter will still be working those buns ;)

    1. thanks, friend :) You're welcome to an extra scoop any time!


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