Growing Up A Baker

From the smell of freshly baked rolls and donuts frying, wafting through the air three blocks away, I know the direction of the bakery even on this dark and foggy morning. I am 11 years old, and I am off to work at my parents’ bakery. I have, of course, been here thousands of times since I was born. My grandparents owned the bakery before my mother and father purchased it from them. It’s definitely the family business. Apparently, I am the ninth Eggebrecht in a row to begin this trade. At eleven years old, all I want to do is watch cartoons on this Saturday morning.

Strolling into the bakery at 5 am, I am met with the rhythmic sounds of dough being kneaded, and other blurry-eyed bakers. Many of the bakers are relatives or neighbors, and most of them have known me since birth. Most remember my tragic accident six years earlier that almost claimed my life right in this very bakery. Right now, it’s time to hang up my coat and start glazing donuts. It’s Saturday morning in December 1985, and there will be at least 100 dozen donuts sold today.

My earliest memories are set against the backdrop of our family bakery. The bakery dictated our family’s whole existence. Both my mother and father worked long hours and slept very little. My father would often nap during the day to offset a partial night’s sleep, requiring peace and quiet in the house, which I often disturbed as a child.

The one feeling that I had as a child was that the bakery was a living, breathing part of our family; it was our family, whether we liked it or not. It needed to be cared for like an elderly member of the family. It was cranky sometimes, sometimes it was our friend, and other times I felt like it hated us. It was demanding of our time and effort. It gave jobs to any person willing to work hard and was also a punishment for us kids who got in trouble and needed to be disciplined. We rarely got spanked, but we often were required to work more if we started going astray in our behavior.

The bakery dictated days off, vacations, dinner time, the time we wake up, how much money the family had, how we dressed, and the cars my parents purchased. At eleven years old, it dictates how much I can see my mom and dad, and ultimately it will dictate my whole life and career.

Right now, with the world outside still cloaked in darkness, it’s time to join my father in the warm, bustling kitchen. The bakery is a place of magic and wonder, where simple ingredients like flour, water, and yeast transform into golden finger rolls and delicate pastries. It’s going to be a long, hard day, yet enjoyable to be part of the rhythm.

The mornings were filled with a flurry of activity. I watched in awe as my father could hear the whine of the old mixer and know when the dough was finished without even looking at it, how he rolled and cut the dough with a precision that came from years of practice. He moved with a fluid grace, his hands working in perfect harmony with the tools of the trade. It was in those early hours that I learned the value of hard work, dedication, and the pursuit of perfection.

Learning the Craft

As I grew older, my responsibilities in the bakery increased. What started as simple tasks—sweeping the floors, washing dishes, glazing donuts, and serving customers—evolved into more complex duties. My father taught me how to measure ingredients accurately, mix dough and cake batter to the right consistency, and monitor the proofing and baking process to ensure each pastry was perfect.

During this time, I did not realize that I was learning a craft, business management, and how to foster relationships with coworkers and customers. I did not yet know why we spun the round cake pans before we put them in the oven. I did not know why we saved leftover dough from yesterday to add to today’s fresh donut mix. Why do we add salt at the end of the mix on some items and at the beginning on others? These questions sometimes crossed my mind, but mostly I did what I was told. When I did, the results produced beautiful pastries, and when I was careless, it not only affected the outcome of the products but also the mood of the bakery.

The Science and Art of Baking

Baking is both a science and an art. It requires a deep understanding of ingredients and techniques, as well as a creative touch. My father often spoke of the “feel” of the dough, an intuitive sense that guided his hands as he worked. This instinct is something that cannot be taught; it must be developed through years of experience. My father often said it would take six years of mixing dough before someone had the feel of when the dough was perfectly developed. That seemed crazy at the time, but now that years have passed, I truly believe he was correct.

I learned that the quality of our products depended on our attention to detail. Every variable—temperature, humidity, fermentation time—could affect the final outcome. Through trial and error, I developed my own style and techniques, always striving to improve and innovate.

My First Bakery

At the age of 21, in 1995, I took the opportunity to open my own bakery in Bingen, Washington with my good friend Todd Andrews. It was a bold move for us young kids, but I was driven by a deep passion for baking and a desire to continue my family’s legacy. Setting up the bakery was a monumental task, involving countless hours of planning, cleaning, and fine-tuning recipes. I knew very little about artisan bread at the time, but I was hungry to learn. Scouring any book I could find, I would happily attempt different products, trying to master sourdough baking.

“Long days and little sleep” would be the name of that first year in business. Many times, the hours between days were so few we slept in the back room of the bakery only to rise again in a few short hours and begin a new day. Bagels, pastries, and bread were the main items we produced in that small bakery/coffeehouse known as Loafer’s Old World Bakery.

Running my own bakery brought new challenges and responsibilities. I was now in charge of every aspect of the business, from managing finances to ensuring the quality of every loaf, bagel, and pastry. The experience taught me invaluable lessons in leadership, resilience, and the importance of maintaining high standards. It was also a reminder of how difficult my mother and father must have had it when running their bakery all those years.

Passing on the Legacy

Today, as I run my own consulting business, Artisan Baking Resources, and represent Empire Bakery Equipment on the West Coast, I carry forward the lessons and values instilled in me by my family. I am passionate about sharing my knowledge and expertise with other bakers, helping them achieve their own success. Baking has turned out to be a wonderful career, taking me around the world consulting and teaching, baking with other passionate bakers in many corners of the world.

Growing up as a baker taught me more than just the technical skills of the trade. It instilled in me a deep respect for tradition, a relentless pursuit of excellence, and a love for the craft that continues to inspire me every day. I am proud to be part of a legacy that spans generations, and I look forward to continuing this journey, one loaf at a time.

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