In many homes, baking might be a lost art, but at these institutions, the full-service bakery is stronger than ever.
The full-service bakery in non-commercial foodservice appears to be making a comeback, fueled in large measure by operators wanting to satisfy customer demand for foods made with healthier ingredients, those culled from local and sustainable sources, and a growing demand for vegan and gluten-free options. Whether it’s done out of a dedicated bakery
or simply a reclaimed corner of the kitchen, baking has become important enough for institutions to turn out the bulk of their baked goods themselves.
Vegan variety: At the University of Maryland in College Park, Pastry Chef Jeff Russo oversees the baking needs of residence hall dining, cafés and convenience shops, catering, concessions and two full-service restaurants. His team, which includes pastry chefs from Washington, D.C.’s famed Watergate Hotel, handles virtually all baking except for breads and buns.
“We do a lot of pastries, from the high end to comfort foods like cupcakes and éclairs,” Russo says. One of the team’s specialties is a fresh apple tartlet, which is topped with a rosemary-apricot glaze.
“The rosemary gives a nice little perfume to the apple,” he explains. “I’ll take cranberry and orange juice and cook it down and make a jam and put it on the bottom.”
He also offers students “a lot of vegan desserts,” like his popular naked chocolate mousse. “It’s vegan-oriented, but students who aren’t vegan will eat it,” he says.
When Russo abstains from eggs for his vegan dishes he’ll often substitute concentrated pear or apple to give a little moisture to the grain of the product. “What you lose from the egg is the protein and yolk,” he notes.
Honey is sometimes used as well but can be too sweet for some dishes, he adds.
The local angle: At the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Bakery Manager Robert Min is procuring local foods for his baked goods through partnerships with local organic farms. UConn has a small organic farm run by student groups, and the foodservice department gets foods from there also.
“Sustainable and local is a big thing that we do,” says Min. The UConn bakery operates every day, employing 16 bakers and pastry chefs and up to 12 students on a part-time basis. The bakery supplies some $20,000 worth of baked goods per week to the campus’s seven dining halls and eight coffee shops, plus the food court in the student union and catering.
“We make organic hamburger rolls and hot dog rolls, fresh apple pies with apples from a local orchard and fresh pumpkin pies, with local pumpkins,” Min says. “We make some organic cakes. All are trans-fat free, so that goes over very well there.”
The bakery also produces a special kind of whole-wheat bread without corn syrup, per student requests.
“All of our cakes and cookies are trans-fat free; our icings also,” Min says. “We use whipped toppings with no trans-fat in them. It’s a little bit more expensive, but it’s well worth it.”
As for food costs, “Students realize that if you want a good product and you do all the things that they want, your costs are going to go up. We make sure that we don’t have outrageous costs.” Min ensures that partly by scaling portions. Instead of an eight-ounce dessert they will make it six ounces, both to keep costs down and to keep students from overeating.
The bakery currently is testing ways to make pizza healthier, he says. “They’re working on that and I presume by next semester we’ll be making a whole-wheat pizza,” Min explains. “One of the big things right now is granola; we make about 5,200 pounds of it a week. We use local maple syrup and local honey, if available. UConn has beehives in an orchard not too far from here; we use and promote that.”
A long tradition: At 16,500-student Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., there really was no return to baking, says Food Services Director Art Kessler. “We’re continuing on with something that we’ve been doing for years,” he says.
“We produce all our rolls for our subs, our demi rolls.” The bakery also provides fresh-baked rolls for other menu items on campus and catering. The bakeshop employs seven full-time bakers and several student shifts, and baked goods make up about 11% to 15% of the daily menu items.
“We probably bake 300 to 400 soft rolls a day, made from a mix,” says Bakeshop Supervisor Martha McGinnis. They also offer made-from-scratch cakes for holidays throughout the year, as well as wedding cakes.
The cake, brownie and pie business has become a huge sideline for Appalachian, which by law can only accept orders for customers affiliated with the university.
Student demands have the bakery looking to buy more ingredients locally, Kessler says. “Students are big on local; they want to sustain the local community,” he says.
Appalachian also is increasing the number of vegan and gluten-free baked goods it makes; McGinnis says vegan and gluten-free items “are the two biggest requests we have.”
Community service: At Kingman Regional Medical Center, in Kingman, Ariz., what started out as a way to provide patients with health-conscious, tasty desserts has blossomed into a revenue-generating opportunity for the hospital. Director of Nutrition Services Robin Rush says the transformation began two years ago when Rush hired Pastry Chef Victoria Pratt to overhaul the center’s bakery operation. Not only would Pratt create desserts for patients’ strict dietary needs—some are sugar free or gluten free; others are cardiac controlled or calorie and carb controlled—she would fill a major gap in the local community for custom-baked cakes.
From a tiny space carved out for her in the kitchen, Pratt developed all of KRMC’s patient desserts, many of which are made from scratch. The bakery also produces fresh dinner rolls and biscuits daily for patients.
“Patients like it, especially when you take that tray lid off and you see that ‘homemade’ dessert that looks attractive and tastes fabulous,” Rush says.
But Pratt’s forte is in creating personalized specialty cakes. Now the bakery, which does catering both on and off campus, has become part of the medical center’s community outreach as well as an in-house service and an income generator, Rush says. Monthly gross revenues from the bakery are now averaging more than $20,000, she adds. The medical center markets the bakery to the community via brochures and refrigerator magnets bearing the bakery’s phone number.
“That’s what’s great about being in a smaller area,” Rush says. “We saw a niche that was unfulfilled and the community has loved it.”
Measuring the competition: Numerous “great bakeries” around New Haven, Conn., have given Tom Tucker, director of retail development and operations for Yale University Dining Services, some great ideas.
“We measure our cookies, muffins and scones against the competition as to sizing and style,” Tucker says. “We’re using a lot of different kinds of toppings. Less sugary items too. Some of the things that were being done were extremely sugary. We’re trying to innovate the product in terms of the style of contemporary baking.”
Not all of Yale’s bakery traditions have changed. They still use a maple glaze on their scones, for instance, but have added more breads and non-sugary options.
“When I first came to Yale we focused on the range of doughs that got used,” Tucker says. “Multigrains are being used now. Whole-grain types of batters are being used now.”
Yale Dining has been focusing on creating an even stronger baking program and more hybrid kind of retail stores—those that have a made-to-order platform for hot foods combined with convenience items, Tucker notes.
“We’re getting ready to open a coffee/bakery concept that is a retail bakery,” Tucker says.
That will include whole-meal replacement items and retail cakes and pies.
“It really gets back to the old-style neighborhood bakery,” Tucker says. “That’s one of the neat things about this concept.”