Got an urge to express your creative impulses in the bakery? If you've been around professional kitchens long enough, you've probably got a pretty good handle on the basics of food science. But unlike stews and soups and other savory dishes, where a certain disregard for conventional food pairings may actually enhance a dish, baking is another matter. The complex chemical reactions of flour interacting with yeast or baking soda and other ingredients demand a strict adherence to principles of food science.
No one knows this better than food scientist and culinary expert Bonnie Gorder-Hinchey, Director of Culinary Services, Publicis Dialog, Seattle, WA. She consults to the Hazelnut Council, and in her 20 years experience as a food scientist, 17 were spent developing bakery products and recipes for upper-end, specialty niche markets. At Starbucks, for example, Gorder-Hinchey managed national product commercialization projects from idea, prototype creation and plant production through rollout for initiatives such as the Starbucks National Biscotti and National Bakery Programs.
So how does she go about creating a new recipe? "I start with brainstorming and generating concepts," says Gorder-Hinchey, "which works especially well if I'm working with a team. We'll determine a specific concept, such as biscotti. I also look through magazines or the Internet and visit trendy restaurants to see what's in vogue.
"Everyone wants that fresh-baked goodness and one of the biggest trends in bakery is the artisan move-ment—creating things by hand, with rustic edges and an imperfect appearance," says Gorder-Hinchey.
That artisan appeal is enhanced by more indulgent use of grains, fruits and nuts, such as hazelnuts, which Gorder-Hinchey praises for their upscale image, reasonable cost and versatility. "People will pay more for what they perceive as a handmade special item, especially in the bread category.
"You needn't be a food scientist to develop recipes," continues Gorder-Hinchey. "It helps to have that background if you're doing a lot of larger scale things, so you understand what's going on, but I know many fantastic bakers who don't."
Once a baker has an idea of the type of the product they'd like to create, it often helps to use an existing recipe or several recipes as a guide and start experimenting with variations, suggests Gorder-Hinchey. "For example, take a blueberry muffin recipe, look it over and decide what would work in your bakery. You may want to create an orange blueberry muffin with orange rind in it or a trendier lemon, crystal ginger muffin.
"Ingredients substitution is one way to be creative, by adding such items as cream, buttermilk, sour cream, cream cheese, different flours or sugars, etc. It may take several tries. Be careful when adding acids such as orange juice, as acid affects the leavening and will decrease volume. Particulates, such as chocolate chips, nuts and berries are generally added at 10 to 20 percent of the total ingredient weight."
Scaling up a recipe can be tricky, as bakers know, especially when incorporating leavening or spice ingredients. "Things rarely scale up one to one," says Gorder-Hinchey. "There's always something that needs to be tweaked or changed."
Although there are programs and resources available to help one make the adjustments, "a lot of it is trial and error and experience," she adds. "When formulating I do everything in percentages. So we start out with small batches, about five pounds, and scale it up."
During this development phase a baker might try five to seven variations on an item, and then have any decision makers come in for a tasting to approve the prototype. From the prototype one scales up the recipe to a pilot run, retaining the same characteristics of the approved prototype in the finished product.
"I encourage even small bakeries to set up some kind of specification sheet so they know what color, shape, weight and height has been determined, to retain consistency," says Gorder-Hinchey.
Finally, put some careful thought into naming the recipe as it's often key to hooking the customer. A creative or whimsical name can whet the appetite as much as the actual product. Who wouldn't be drawn to Death by Chocolate Flourless Cake or Hearty Hazelnut Harvest Bread?
For help with some of the more technical aspects of baking, Gorder-Hinsey recommends books written by food scientists. Check out Cookwise by Shirley Corriher, The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food, and Curious Cook and others by Howard McGee or LaRousse Gastronomique by Librarie Larousse.