November 29, 2008
This week marked the beginning of the holiday season. A time to celebrate, have fun and spend time with family and friends. At the bakery, the holidays for me mean a little more baking, maybe a longer day at work and spending lots of extra time with my great staff.
Along with enjoying the holiday season together, we always make sure to take the time to celebrate our birthdays. It is always great to gather around, sing happy birthday as loud as we can and cut a delicious cake. What can be better than a slice of cake and a delicious cup of our Illy coffee in the middle of the afternoon?
This past week, one of the newest members of our staff, Holly, celebrated her birthday. Unaware of our birthday rituals, she quietly mentioned to me that it was her birthday. It took about an hour of preparation, but soon enough, out came the cake covered in candles. As the staff sang happy birthday, she seemed to be a bit overwhelmed but happy.
It was official …..She was part of our great team.
November 27, 2008
November 24, 2008
Why we do what we do. Everyone is here because they love baking. A question we often get asked, is what do we like most about the bakery besides baking. One of the best parts of what we do is seeing everyone’s excitement as they come in the door. Ninty-nine percent of the time people are smiling and excited to be here. Things smell good, you can see production in progress and we are happy to see you. It is so much fun to speak with all of our customers. Thirteen years ago, when we were thinking about how to design our space, we knew that we wanted an open kitchen; so that there would be no mystery about what we do. And, it would be obvious that everything was freshly made, on the premises, daily.
It was also very important to us to be a neighborhood place and to contribute in some way to the local community and society. We have gotten to know so many people who live on our block or nearby and feel so lucky to have had this opportunity. We look forward to seeing all of our “regulars” everyday. We have watched babies grow up and met so many wonderful, interesting people. At the end of each day we donate any leftovers to City Harvest where they are then distributed to people in need.
There are also so many people who come from all over the country, and the world, to eat our cookies, and it is amazing to meet each and every one of them. We love speaking with everyone and hearing about what brings them to NYC and to our bakery. So many people take photos of their visits that we recently installed a webcam in our shops, so that you can take a photo of yourself visiting the bakery, eating a cookie, and email it home, which is really fun.
We also believe that although work is work, we can enjoy what we do most of the time, and have fun with each other, and our customers, while doing our work. After all, food is a nurturing necessity to daily life so you might as well enjoy what you are eating and where you are eating, while you are eating.
November 22, 2008
My name is Gina and I am the manager at Levain Bakery. Like you, I am a Levain Bakery lover. How did I get to this magical place? Well, after working a few years in the beauty industry at some lush stores such as Barneys NY, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman, I decided to follow my passion for being around yummy, delicious goodies. With much encouragement from close friends and family, I enrolled in a pastry arts program here in NYC.
After 8 months of intense schooling, I entered the door at Levain asking if I could fulfill my internship obligation.
As soon as I walked into the bakery and had the chance to meet Connie and Pam (my great bosses), I knew this was the right place for me. It was perfect but certainly very different from what I was used to. As excited as I was, I caught myself thinking, “how would I look in that bandana?”, “what does the uniform look like?” and other crazy questions that I thought had nothing to do with being at a bakery. Very quickly I realized that the appearance and quality of everything in the bakery mattered just as much as the appearance of products I had worked with in the past.
After a few months, the internship lead into a part time position which eventually turned into my current position ……and here I am, loving everyday of work. Yes it’s very hard work but how could I not love it? Delicious baked goods, a great staff, wonderful customers and just a great overall environment to be in.
So yes, I’ve had to give up a few perks from my past work life; makeovers, free products, and even facials but being at Levain has certainly made up for all of that. One thing that has stayed consistent with my past life in the beauty industry is to have my best face on everyday. So, come see me! I might be covered in flour and cocoa powder, but I promise I will have my best face on when you walk in ….. hope to see you soon!
November 20, 2008
If I were a gambler, I would bet heavily that Billy Joel never baked a loaf of bread. However, one of his most famous lyric is one of my favorite dough mixing montras, “Get it right the first, that’s the main thing. Get it right the next time..”.
Whenever I am teaching new employees, or refining my own dough mixing techniques, I am constantly trying to make them, or myself, aware of the measurements. Whether it is the amount of flour or the water, pay attention. Dough, like most of us, does not like to be tortured; it likes to get to its preferred consistently immediately. It does not like to be too wet, then have flour added to make it too dry and then have water added, and so on.
In an effort to develop, or hone, this skill, I think it is a really good idea to start off with a very simple bread recipe. Devote all attention to how much of each ingredient you are using. When adding liquid, do so all at once, with the confidence of a seasoned dough mixer. If the dough is not the desired consistency, (for a light, crispy baguette, I really like a very soft, although, not wet dough) add either flour or water to get the consistency that you want. However, take note on the adjustments that you made, so that the next time, or the time after that, you get it right the first time!
November 17, 2008
Connie and I frequently get asked how we began baking. My mother is a fabulous cook and baker, and I have always had a huge sweet-tooth, preferring desserts to main courses. Cakes or pies are an ideal breakfast for me.
I remember beginning to bake sometime when I was around 8 years old; with not always the most fabulous results. One of my first attempts at baking a pie ended up feeding some raccoons! To this day, my cousin and I are teased about a tiered birthday cake that we baked, and then iced using granulated sugar because we ran out of confectioners sugar, which it turns out, is about as delicious as eating a cake iced with butter and sand. Most of the time though, my baking attempts were delicious.
My biggest issue was, and still is, not eating all of everything I bake! Just knowing it is around is always a temptation. Moderation does not come easily; and to this day, with no help, I can consume a layer cake, sliver by sliver, in two days easily.
The first bread I remember baking was a “Sally Lunn Yeast Bread”. Like Connie, I find something so peaceful and satisfying about making and baking bread. All of the things that we bake for Levain are created from recipes developed by both Connie and me. Unfortunately for me, one of us has to pay attention to the things that keep the bakery running, in addition to the actual baking, and it turns out that it works better for us to have me do most of those things.
Although I never imagined I would co-own a bakery, it works out well since I love delicious baked goods and have open access all the time!
November 13, 2008
This is the first of what will be my weekly blog post It is truly a new frontier for me. I left the corporate world before the birth of Windows, laptops, Blackberries and Google and after years of standing in front of baking tables instead of a keyboard, I am just now trying to master emailing; blogging is, I hope, not totally out of my league!
I was never much of a baker before I went to cooking school, as a matter of fact I really steered clear of it. While at school, I was finally exposed to bread baking for the first time, I fell in love with the sheer beauty of it all. From the deep, dark, blistered crust to the intoxicating aroma, I was an instant bread devotee. There are few things more satisfying to me than creating a beautiful loaf of bread, from mixing to shaping, from proofing to scoring, to finally baking the loaf. Hearing the crackle of a perfectly baked boule as it comes out of the oven, as though it were applauding, is enough to hook one for life.
In the course of my postings I hope to encourage the timid (it is not nearly as complicated as you may think) and share ideas with the pros at home about our experiences with the dough.
Until next week….