Posts Tagged 'Connie'




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Connie is one of the owners here at the bakery. She gives us all great direction and fine tunes all of our skills when it comes to baking. Besides being lots of fun having around, she is always available to offer advice to what are the best methods and techniques to use to make our baking more productive. She also loves to pump up the iPod and get us all going on a busy Saturday!!



Name:  Connie        


What’s your sign?   Sagittarius


Where did you grow up?   Upstate New York, Latham


How long have you lived in New York City?   Since 1983-26 years! Ouch!


How long have you been working at Levain Bakery?   14 Years!


What’s your favorite color?    Right now, orange.


What’s your favorite thing at the bakery?    Charlie and the espresso machine


Cat or Dog?   Cat!


If you could be a cookie package, where would you want to be shipped?  Anywhere in Italy


What smells the best when it’s in the oven? Scones, Ciabatta


Chocolate Chip Walnut or Chocolate Chocolate Chip?   CCC


What’s your favorite song played at the bakery?  Lay Low – My Morning Jacket


What’s your least favorite song played at the bakery?   Anything by Graham Parker


If you could be one thing in the bakery, what would you be and why?    Charlie’s Bed


Make a statement that best defines you:   You can teach a person almost anything, but you can’t teach someone how to be nice.






Fresh Yeast

Recently, I have had two conversations, with two different bakers, about yeast.  Dry, fast acting yeast.  yeast2


Both bakers were voicing their dissatisfaction with the results they were attaining.  One with foccacia and the other with a pain de mie.  I asked them what type of yeast they were using and both replied, dry fast-acting.  Well, I said, that is probably the source of your problem, and began to extol the virtues of fresh yeast.  Yes, it is hard to find, but not impossible.  I suggest finding a restaurant supply company, or wholesaler, close to where you live.  Or far, depending on how devoted you are.  These wholesalers almost always have fresh yeast and almost always welcome a person walking in to purchase with cash.


This yeast is generally sold in one or two pound blocks, which for a commercial bakery is perfect; not necessarily the case for a home baker.  I suggest weighing one ounce portions, wrapping them in plastic wrap, putting that in a freezer bag and then in the freezer.  Then, you have your one, two or three etc., ounce portion ready when you are.  Just combine with the warm water at the beginning of your mixing process.


Generally, one to two ounces is sufficient for most recipes.  


This yeast is also not the fast acting type.  It will take some time for your dough to rise.  But I am a firm believer that the most important ingredient in bread is time.  


So, go fresh and be patient! 


(In New York City a great place to find fresh yeast is at the few remaining restaurant supply wholesalers in the meat packing district.  One-Stop Restaurant Supply and Woolco.)

Starter: Lesson 1

bread-scapeYou have begun a starter, or levain, and have been living with it for a week, it is time to put it to work. 
 A starter can be used in any bread recipe, adding a small amount, perhaps 1/2 cup for a recipe that would yield two loaves.  The starter is somewhat liquid, so take that into consideration when adding additional water.  
If you do not have a basic bread recipe that you like, go the Levain Bakery website,, click on recipes and there you will find a delicious formula for a crispy french baguette, to which the 1/2 cup of the starter can be added with the warm water.  A french baguette is traditionally very light and crispy, the addition of the starter will add a bit more density to the loaf as well as a different dimension in flavor.  Both the french and sourdough baguette ane wonderful, just different.  
After using starter you can continue to “feed” it with flour and water and keep covered and it will grow and live for years!  
Next week, naming your starter!

Fresh Start(er)

While the nation and pratically the world is basking in the glow of the inauguration of a new President and the opportunity for a fresh start, my mind wanders to a fresh start of a different kind.  Rather, a starter to be exact.   And, I wonder how many of you have not only baked with and maintained a starter, but actually started one.
By definition a starter is a natural leavener developed by capturing wild yeasts in a dough or batter simply consisting of flour and water.  Starters can be made from so many things, I think the one with which I had the most fun I used apples and raisins.  As a matter of fact, we find starters so facinating, we went so far as to name our beloved bakery after the french word for a starter, Levain.
A starter can be used to totally leaven a bread or in conjunction with a fresh yeast, which can give a baker more control over the rising process.  A starter, or levain, if well maintained and fresh, will not only add a different dimension of flavor to your bread, but also to the crumb and crust of loaf.  Beginning a starter is not difficult and really fun.  Here’s how:
 No real measuring needed (love that):
 In a plastic or stainless bowl combine flour and water to make what should resemble a thick paste.
 Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for several days. 
 Continue to observe the mixture as it begins to breakdown, become a bit watery and bubble.   That bubbling is mixture becoming a starter!  It is eating (so to speak), digesting and giving off gases; thereby growing.  You can maintain the starter by “feeding it” flour and water, stirring and recovering.
 Next week, what to do with your new pet!

Singing the praises of Foccacia

Foccacia is one of my favorite breads for several reasons.  Firstly, it was the first bread that I made on my own because of its simplicity.  At the time of my maiden bread baking voyage, I was still not the most accomplished of shapers, so foccacia offered an easy, yet beautiful alternative to the shaped loaf.  Secondly, I love that although the basic recipe and procedure for foccacia can remain the same, the possibilities as to what you can create from that core recipe are only limited by your imagination.


So, here is a good basic foccacia recipe:


2C warm water

1 package dry active (or 2oz. fresh yeast if you can find)

1/2C extra virgin olive oil

4C all purpose flour

1T salt (kosher, the coarseness of this salt is much more flavorful)


Combine water, yeast and oil, mix for a moment.  Add Flour and salt.


This should be a very wet dough.  It should not form a ball or pull away from sides of bowl.


Work the dough for about 5 minutes in mixer.  Turn dough out onto a half sheet pan that has been greased and lined with wax paper or parchment.  Let rest for about 1/2 hour then add a drizzle or two more oil and begin to spread the dough to fill the pan.  Use fingertips to maneuver the dough and more oil if needed.  The fat in the oil will loosen the strands of gluten and make it easier to work.  


Now your creativity can really takeover!  I have used toppings that are as simple as garlic and black pepper to caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan and so many more.  Whatever you do choose to use, don’t forget to include a little more kosher salt. 


So try to make a foccacia dough to practice your bread mixing techniques, then go wild with the toppings!  Make it savory, make it sweet….just make it!


I would love to read about your topping ideas.  Have fun!

Dough Mixing 101


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!

Connie’s Brave New World



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….

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