In-house bread baking can enhance a dining experience—but pastry teams must rise to the occasion.
Bread, fresh from the oven, is undeniably seductive. But the process of making bread from scratch can be time-consuming and finicky—especially in a busy club kitchen.
For most, it’s not practical or even possible to scratch-make every single bread product served at the club. But it is possible to create a limited menu of signature breads that can be used to add that special something to formal dining, wine dinners or VIP events.
At Chevy Chase (Md.) Club, Executive Pastry Chef Tracy Hoffer, CWPC, and her team produce all of the breads for the club’s formal dining room, which averages 30 covers nightly during the week. Here, Hoffer and her team produce two types of breads each day, plus the club’s signature lavish crackers.
“We do a French-style service, where runners present bread soon after members are seated,” says Hoffer, who has been with Chevy Chase for more than five years.
According to Hoffer, it’s not possible, even with a three-person bake shop, to extend bread baking beyond formal dining to all parts of the clubhouse.
“In the winter, we could do up to 300 for dinner service in one night,” she says. “To produce bread for that many covers would be a huge waste of labor and product—not to mention that we simply don’t have the space to properly bake that much bread.”
Instead, the club relies on quality bakeries to supplement Hoffer’ scratch-made items.
By keeping bread service limited to just three to four dozen loaves of each type, each day, Hoffer and her team can be more adventurous with the breads prepared for formal dining.
“Every day we do a different style of ciabatta,” says Hoffer. “Then, for the second bread, I leave it up to the pastry cooks to choose. It might be potato, brioche, sourdough or something else entirely.”
Success comes with practice and planning.
“We have it down to a science at this point,” says Hoffer, who will often use Chevy Chase’s process of bread baking to teach stages on how bread gets baked “in the real world.”
“When you learn bread baking in school, it’s all very precise,” she says. “On paper, it seems simple: Combine flour, water, salt, yeast, and add some time. There are nuances to master, but it’s achievable.
“But this isn’t a bakery, and we don’t have access to the same controls or equipment,” she adds. “We also don’t have as much time to focus on bread alone.”
At Chevy Chase, whichever cook is making bread that day will also produce desserts for banquet, plate for a la carte, or run the line.
“We like to show our stages how to master breads that tastes great and don’t take forever to make,” says Hoffer.
Equipment plays an important role, too. Chevy Chase’s pastry team relies on deck ovens with a steam function, to help achieve that beautiful, artisan crust. Hoffer also favors perforated sheet pans, to ensure a nicer, more uniform crust on the bottom.
“In-house bread baking is definitely possible, as long as you know your capabilities,” says Hoffer, whose favorite bread is Chevy Chase’s milk bread.