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request for help with fictional scenario about scaling up baking recipes

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

I’m writing a historical novel whose plot calls for a scene about scaling up recipes. I’d be very grateful if anyone with experience in a scenario of this kind, and/or a good imagination, would comment on the following scenario/take a stab at one or more of the following questions. Please feel free to brainstorm/invent freely . . . and to communicate with me via a private message if you prefer.


(If this isn’t an appropriate use of the forum, I apologize. I didn’t find any guidelines indicating that it isn’t appropriate so I decided to give it a try.)


The scenario:


In Oregon in 1914, a German immigrant businessman decides to change careers and open a retail bakery in a former downtown saloon. (Saloons are closing in anticipation of statewide Prohibition, a few years before nationwide Prohibition.) The kitchen will be in the basement of the former saloon. The bakery will produce German pastries and breads, using his wife’s treasured family recipes.


While the saloon is being renovated and outfitted, the owner hires a Russian immigrant baker with plenty of experience baking Eastern European breads—pumpernickel, rye, etc.—but none as a pastry chef.


The owner needs the baker but is somewhat condescending to him—as Germans were to eastern Europeans in general, and as better-established immigrants were to more recent immigrant—and won’t believe the baker can master German baking until the baker proves it.


The owner sets up a temporary test kitchen to scale up recipes. The baker scales up and tests the recipes in his free time while continuing to work at a bread bakery. At weekly sessions in the test kitchen, the owner and his wife critique the baker’s versions of stollen, kranzkuchen, napfkuchen, Karlsbad pudding, etc.


I want to describe an early tasting session. The scene should be antagonistic/ prickly, a bit confused and inconclusive, amusing without being out-and-out funny.


For instance, maybe the owner and the baker are essentially speaking different languages. Maybe the baker, in an effort to impress on the owner the technical difficulty of the scaling-up task, throws around technical terms (baker’s percentage? what else?) or stresses the difficult mathematics involved. Maybe the owner, preoccupied with capturing some evanescent magic in particular baked goods that have a lot of nostalgic resonance for him, gives uselessly vague feedback (e.g., “I don’t know, it just doesn’t quite capture—maybe more cinnamon?”)  Maybe the owner is also impatient and annoyed at the cost of the scaling-up process. Plausible?


Other questions:


Is it necessary to have full-blown practice runs in order to reliably scale up home recipes for commercial production? Would the baker be likely to make a full batch of dough (enough for 20 or 50 cakes, for instance) but only bake a few? Or would he bake up the whole batch of dough? What might be done with the extra product (f it isn't a complete failure)?


What would be a plausible multiple when transforming a home recipe into a commercial recipe? Twenty? Fifty?


What would be a plausible range of items to aim to sell when the bakery first opens for business? Five breads, five desserts, five coffee cakes?


What metric would the baker be aiming to use? Cups? Grams? Pounds?


A different kind of question: If the baker is angling for an ownership stake in the bakery, what would be a plausible arrangement for him to propose when they hammer out a contract? A 5-percent stake if the bakery brings in $X in profit in the first year, or something along those lines?


Anything else I should be thinking about?



Edited by anng - 11/23/12 at 11:55am
post #2 of 6

I don't think they'd be scaling up a recipe if they're testing them...... it's not until you have a formula that works that you're going to see how it scales up to know whether you can bake more. If they've set up a test kitchen, is it the same size as what they're doing that kind of huge volume in?  Plus in 1914, how are they getting ingredients for some of the more specialty items?  Maybe that's where the angst can come into play.  If the immigrant bakes bread, he knows how to do that so either he's using a successful formula or not. (is he taking the same formula as the one he's already using in the bread bakery he works for now?)  For the pastries, if he's using the wife's treasured family recipes, the wife should be the one teaching the baker how to make these unfamiliar items/recipes.

post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Hi, JCakes,


Thanks for critiquing my scenario so thoughtfully!


To answer your questions:


The test kitchen would be in the same space where the permanent kitchen will be, in the basement of the former saloon. What I’m picturing is that the owner has the minimally necessary equipment (oven, mixer, etc.) hooked up temporarily while the rest of the construction goes on nearby and upstairs. (I’m figuring inspection/licensing would be minimal or bribeable.)


These preparations take place before the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914, so the issue of imported ingredients isn’t in their minds yet—but thanks for the idea!


May I ask a couple of follow-up questions?


Did you mean that the same scaling-up formula would work for all kinds of recipes, from bread to cakes?


And suppose that initially the baker cooks up the original small-scale home recipes, and produces cakes, etc., that (with tweaking) satisfy the owner and his wife.


What would be the next steps to scale up the recipes?


Would the baker be aiming to scale up from, say, 3 cups of flour to an entire bag of flour? Would multiple attempts be necessary for each recipe even if the baker used a tried-and-true formula?



post #4 of 6

An immigrant trying to bake bread from an Old World recipe in the US would have a very difficult experience. Even today, folks in the US military are warned about the difference between US flour and flour in the rest of the world. Julia Child had a similar experience writing her first book in using French flour vs flour she could get in the commisary. More details are in her bio.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #5 of 6

Re imports, even before WWI, were specialty food ingredients from Europe widely available on the U.S. West coast?  It shouldn't be too hard to find out.


Anyway I think the two commenters so far are right.  The biggest issue is going to be sourcing things like spices, flavorings, and dried fruits, in good quality, reliably, and in commercial quantities.  Scaling is the least of your characters' worries.  


Part of the appeal of a lot of European baked delicacies, even (or especially) in Europe, was that they showcased faraway ingredients like spices from Southeast Asia and almonds and candied peel from the Mediterranean or Turkey.  We think of stollen as cozily and authentically German, but the whole point of this delicacy is that it's crammed with stuff that came from far outside Germany.  Anyway, the supply-line problem is going to be there.



(... This got me curious enough to look up the Wikpedia page on Stollen.  Yep, in the late Middle Ages it was penitentially plain and entirely local (oats, turnips, oil ... yum).  It then got ennobled and upscaled.) 

post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks--I ordered Julia Child's memoir from the library. . . .



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