I've had my fair share of failures in the kitchen. I've over seasoned. I've made dinner rolls that didn't rise and turned out like heavy little rocks. I've had egg whites that wouldn't whip into peaks. I've had pie crusts that were too sticky and crusts that were too dry and crusts that shrank in the oven. But all of these were failures in my own kitchen in which the only people that suffered the end product were myself and a significant other or friend. Now I was baking for hundreds and my failures would be suffered by strangers that were not afraid to post their dismay on the internet.
Cue day two at the Farmhouse.
I arrived mid-afternoon, ready for baking a full recipe of bread. Louie greeted me in the kitchen this time - there was no hunting him down. We were already off to a good start.
He handed me a printout of the recipes - one white bread and one wheat. "How about you try to make one batch of each?"
I quickly realized I wasn't going to have my hand held through this. He obviously didn't have the time and must have had the confidence in me, so I got to work.
Everything was going smoothly until I came to the mixing part. I transferred the dough to the big standing mixer so it could be kneaded with a dough hook for 26 minutes. As I was questioning what sounded like a ridiculously long time for kneading (most recipes I had worked with were 10 to 15 minutes at the most), I was also battling with the mixer. First, I couldn't get the bowl to fit on the stand right. Then it wouldn't turn on - there was a wire cage that fit around the top that had to be locked in place as a safety precaution.
"Because don't you just want to stick your hand in there while it's running?" Brian the line cook joked.
Then the metal cage fell off. Luckily, Brian and Javier were there to help me through all of this and get it put back together.
Finally, with the wheat dough kneading, I started on the white so that by the time the wheat was finished, the white could go in the mixer. Before I knew it, 52 minutes had passed and both doughs were rising nicely. I cleaned up my area and gave the mixer a good scrub down. It was caked with bread dough and other assorted crusty things. And when I wiped the counters down, it left a brownish residue on the dish rags. Ugh! This was definitely a man's kitchen.
It came time to shape the loaves, and I pulled out a hunk of whole wheat dough and started to shape it in my hands. When I tried to pinch the seam together at the bottom of the loaf, it wouldn't hold. The dough was too dry! I realized much later that I had missed a step in the recipe. After mixing all of the ingredients together, there was a very vague line that said, "Add enough water to make a moist dough". Well, this dough was most certainly not moist.
I tried different tactics to get the loaves formed and eventually I decided to roll them out flat, then roll them up like big cinnamon rolls and pinch the seams shut. But alas, the seams would not be pinched. Exasperated, I ran my hands under running water, doused the dough lightly and somewhat closed the seams. This was a disaster. I had never been fired from a job before and suddenly that was a real possibility. This was definitely not how I wanted to start this job.
By the time I finished getting the whole wheat shaped, the white bread dough was overflowing from its bowl. I rushed to get it shaped and into pans. Even though I had missed the extra water step on this batch too, it was not as dry and the loaves shaped much easier. All was not lost completely I hoped.
In the meantime while I had been struggling with dry dough, Brian had left early, Javier had finished his shift and Louie had gone to work the dinner theater. That left Alonso alone on the line. And it had started to get busy. Open tickets lined the counter. The wait staff was coming in at regular intervals to ask him where their food was. I watched from the sidelines wishing I knew how to be a line cook. I could tell Alonso was not happy and I felt incredibly guilty standing by while everyone else was frantically working.
At some point I decided to make myself look useful and get the wheat bread in the ovens. There were three of them on the line to work with. The recipe said to bake the bread for 20 minutes at 450 and then another 25 minutes at 350. I decided to start in the two ovens at the end of the line and then move to a cooler oven in the middle. That way while the wheat was finishing, I could get the white in. It seemed like the perfect plan.
As I carried the pans over to the line, it occurred to me how heavy four 2.5 pound loaves in a heavy cast iron pan were. I had four of these pans to deal with since each batch made approximately eight loaves. And the ovens were blazing hot. Louie had mentioned beforehand that the oven in the middle did not go any lower than 450 degrees. I had a pair of thin dishtowels to maneuver these huge, awkward, incredibly hot pans with. Hadn't anyone there heard of oven mitts? Then there was the factor of missing shelves in the ovens. To make due, they had large metal sheet pans to slide in. But oddly enough, they didn't fit. They were just a hair too small. Bump them the wrong way, and they'd tip and fall. Plus, if the loaves had risen high enough, the trays did not provide enough space between the top of the oven and the top of the loaves. What kind of mad man had decided this was a good kitchen for baking bread?
I started one pan in the oven at the end of the line and the other pan in the second oven that apparently would not turn down lower than 450 degrees. 25 minutes later and I shifted both pans to the third oven, one precariously situated on top of a sheet pan. Then, with the white bread starting to tower out of its pans, I placed each of them in the ovens set to 450. Squatting, lifting, standing, squatting, reaching... Quietly pleading with myself not to touch the sides of the oven. One of the loaves of wheat finished on time so that I could put one of the white loaves in its place. However, the other wheat was taking much longer. I needed the space for the second pan of white bread, but I couldn't take out loaves that weren't finished. Since there was nowhere to move this last pan of white bread, I turned its oven down to 350.
At some point during all of this, Louie had come back to help Alonso on the line. When he saw me turn the oven down, he piped up, "You know, that one doesn't go any lower than 450."
WHAT?? The realization flooded over me. There were two ovens that didn't get any cooler than 450 degrees and the reasonable 350 degree oven was full. That left one pan of white bread in a 450 degree oven with nowhere to go. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I left it in for another five to 10 minutes and then took it out looking blackened and not especially appetizing. I think I hung my head in dismay.
I left that night wondering how much, if any of the bread I had made was even edible. Sunday would be a busy day with the brunch crowd. What would Louie do if he didn't have bread? I knew I had let him down.
I boarded a train home, my stomach churning with nerves. Why did I think I could get a job working in a kitchen baking bread when I had zero experience and training? What kind of fool did something like that? Was this something that I really wanted to do, or was I just being a coward, looking for a way out because I'd gone through some rough times at my regular job recently?
Unfortunately I had no answers and I was plagued by these questions for the next two days until I went back to the Farmhouse. Only time would tell.