a bakery shift

When I started working at Magpie, my expectations were low. I’d never worked in the food industry, so I didn’t know what it’d be like. Would I hate the repetition? Would the work be too tiring? Would I find the bakery’s vision compelling? Would I get bored? 

For the first few weeks I remained firmly on the fence. A newcomer, I was just learning the ropes, doing as I was told, and familiarizing myself with the bakery techniques. Also, I was learning a little about how the diner worked, and the Magpie enterprise as a whole (all three entities run by gifted and incredibly hardworking kickass women). 

But then something started to shift. I began to distinguish between failed pastry and okay pastry and holy-heck-this-is-awesome pastry. I learned how to rotate, double tray, and foil cover the morning buns to get their bottoms a “just right” caramelly golden brown. I learned to sheet pastry and work the computers and dock sourdough. I began to trust my instincts, and instead of just learning, I began to contribute

In recent weeks, I’ve been given opportunities to be a little more creative. I’ve played with the pastry scraps, added scones to the rotation, tested zucchini breads, and tweaked my peanut butter cream pie (which is on the diner menu this week!). 

pastry scraps #1: pie with plums and nectarines (or was it peaches?)

pastry scraps #2: feta and sausage cups

pastry scraps experiment #3: cream cheese and jam

testing, testing, one, two, three…

winner on the right: to be served in the diner sliced, grilled, and topped

with blueberry compote, whipped cream, and a sprig of fresh thyme

As a result, I starting returning home from work energized. Exhausted, yes (especially the day I got up at 3:45 and then pulled a 12-hour shift), but with my brain spinning with new ideas and far more plans than any sane person ought to have. In my spare time, I fiddle with the discard from the bakery starter, make shopping lists, daydream how to make the bakery more efficient, mess around with old recipe favorites and geek out over new ones. It’s glorious.

lavender blackberry scones, maybe?

peach hand pies?

I’ve always loved feeding people — and one of my biggest griefs is that my family fills up so terribly fast, thus limiting my baking opportunities — so having a steady stream of appreciative eaters is pretty much heaven.

nearly every weekend, five minutes before opening

I’m energized by the customers’ questions and comments, the high demand, and — best of all — watching their faces light up when they learn that yes, there is fresh sourdough available, or when I surprise someone with a sample from a test bake. (“It’s been a hard week, and this is the nicest thing that’s happened to me,” said one mother gratefully — she actaully sounded like she might have been on the verge of tears a toddler on her cocked hip.) 

They came to see me! (And to buy up all the vanilla braids.)

I even like the repetitive nature of many of the tasks (except for slicing sourdough, which fills me with rage, and pounding the butter blocks for pastry). The first several hours of the baking shift — the early morning one — is a marathon of hot ovens and pastry, sourdough, hand pies, scones, and cookies. 

browned butter chocolate chunk

rye shortbread

The pastry shift, which starts when the bakery opens, involves a couple hours of standing in the corner, zipping pastry back and forth through the sheeter to laminate it, and then a couple more hours of shaping. 

I find the rhythmic nature of the work soothing. I love being with the dough. The feel and smell of it. The tending of it. 

Now the bakery almost feels like a second home. Arriving in the early morning when it’s still dark outside, the hum of the refrigerators and the click of the ovens as they heat the only sounds, I transfer pastry from the fridge to the proofer, put away the last night’s dishes, and pull hand pies from the freezer.

While I mix the dough for the next day’s sourdough, eggwash the hand pies and sprinkle them with fresh thyme, and dry mise a batch of scones or cookies, I sip my coffee, the heat of the ovens warm on my back. Sometimes I even come in extra early so I can have more time alone in the night kitchen, just me and the ovens, and the pastry and bread.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.23.19), a bunch of things, grape pie, better than cake, test your movies, the run around, candid camera, when the relatives came, painting my belly.


  • esther

    Your post reminds me a lot of the book 'Kitchen Rhythm' by Frances Leech. It chronicles the author's time in a french bakery. She talks a lot about the rhythm and flow of the bakery, the sound of dough and whipped cream – it's a really lovely read! it's currently free on Kindle i believe. That being said, i really appreciate how you talk about the quiet of the bakery in the early hours – it sounds so very peaceful!

  • katie

    I feel the same way when my winter cafe job starts up. I love feeding people too and I get to do it, with care, and appreciation every weekend. And get paid?! It is heavenly. With you on the early shift work too.

  • beckster

    It's so nice that your pandemic year includes this positive life-changing experience. I wish I was close enough to come visit and sample your glorious wares!

  • Jenny

    It sounds heavenly. I'd love to be a taste tester.

    My dil is a baker & so I do get more than my fair share of test bakes. She sells at a local farmer's market & does special orders.

  • Mama Pea

    How much more perfect could this job be for you? I think you've found your calling. My crystal ball (hee-hee) sees a great future for you there.

Leave a Comment