Back to Baking Basics: My Story
I like taking my time. And sharing what brings a smile to my face.
I learned how to make bread fairly young– and by ‘learn’ I mean I was allowed to put my grubby little toddler hands in Auntie’s bread bowl, sit on the kitchen table up to my elbows in flour and water, and punch a mass of sticky dough in a bowl large enough to go sledding down a hill. Auntie would show me how she shaped buns, put loaves in the pans, and made cinnamon buns. The best part was all the leftover dough. This was for the pièce de résistance: fried dough coated in icing sugar.
When Auntie baked bread she found that word would get out to the rest of the family. Sure enough, people started ‘dropping by’ or ‘paying a visit’ in hopes of scoring some buns or fried dough. I’m sure she pursed her lips while handing over a plastic grocery bag full of just-cool-enough buns to that niece or nephew, but I think she was secretly thrilled to be doing so.
What started off as an intentional stock piling of bread, turned into having just enough to get us through the next couple of days. A whole day’s worth of kneading, waiting, and baking for those few gorging moments. Everyone went home full and happy.
Baking brings people together. Baking brings happiness.
I subconsciously held onto those morals Auntie taught me as I grew up. They started to come out again when I was about 17. From watching Laura Calder, Anna Olson, and Alton Brown on the Food Network I took an interest in food—whether it be new food, healthy food, or comfort food. I wanted to eat better, know what I was putting into my body, and learn where my food came from.
It took working at a grocery store in the baking department to spark my concern about what was in the frozen log of dough I was putting onto a pan. With an ingredient list a kilometre long and words I’ve never heard of before, I started to wonder how to bake these foods from scratch.
I started experimenting at home, reading food blogs, watching YouTube videos, looking up recipes, and reading books. My family and neighbours were my guinea pigs. My interest in baking was starting to integrate into my every thought. It was about time I looked into some professional training (not to mention my Mom was bugging me about going to school– but that’s beside the point.)
I enrolled in the Baking and Pastry Arts program at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology) in 2010. After going through an interview to get into the course, I knew I needed to work hard.
Those two years at SAIT blew me away. The chefs opened up my eyes to a completely new world I never knew existed. The amount of knowledge and care they had in their profession is what I respected the most. Their willingness to teach and challenge me is something I will never forget and always be thankful for. I loved it all. I loved learning about bread, how to mix it properly, and how to shape it. I never knew just how good a croissant or danish could taste. I had no idea that there was anything other than milk chocolate or that you can make a three-foot sculpture entirely out of sugar. I had no clue how much I would hate dipping petit fours in fondant, but I was surprisingly good at it.
After the first year of school I was required to complete a two-month apprenticeship. With the few shops in Calgary saturated with our students – and most going to pastry kitchens anyway – I decided I wanted to learn more about bread. My introduction to sourdough during a practicum at a fancy Belgian bread and pastry shop further fuelled my passion for the world of bread.
In hopes of expanding my knowledge about bread I looked for some bakeries and stumbled upon one here in Regina. Fellow “bread-head” Mark Dyck had recently opened Orange Boot Bakery. I found him on Twitter and decided to shoot him an email to ask if he’d take me on under his wing and teach me a few things. Thankfully, he said yes!
I had never been to Regina before, only driven through Saskatchewan. I had no connections or anything, I just wanted to bake bread.
Those two months were incredibly rewarding, I learned so so much. I still have a hard time believing it to this day. That summer I didn’t even care that I was standing in front of a 450 degree oven when it was 30 degrees outside! My shaping skills improved greatly. I learned how to use a levain, and I learned more about baker’s percentages and what a proper mix looked like. I had fresh bread that still makes my mouth water. We experimented and adapted recipes to our own production schedule.
Needless to say those two months were so much fun that I was offered to join Mark, Cindy and the gang again when I was finished school.
And so I did.
In October 2012 I moved to Regina to be a bread-baker, leaving everyone and everything I loved about Calgary behind. After a few years of convincing I think my friends and family have finally accepted it. I used bring home a duffle bag full of bread when I went to visit, just itching to talk about how we made it. I loved making my family stick their noses into a slice of bread and REALLY smell it, see them taste it, and watch some turn their noses up at it. At least I got through to a few people – my best friend still wishes she had another loaf of Birdseed bread.
Baking is hard work and very humbling. I like to think I made Auntie proud (even if she said I was just making fancy stuff). That dense white bread she made when I was a kid is something I still hold dear to my heart.
Teisha Huff is the School Coordinator at Schoolhaus Culinary Arts and instructs baking and pastry classes hosted at the school. Follow her on Instagram to see more of her baking journey.
In memory of Sharon Murray 1954-2015.