Series: Vocational Training in Europe
Early to bed and early to rise...
By Dörthe Schmidt Translation: Jon Henry
"Full power from the first moment on." That’s how Mike Hetfeld from Essen, Germany,describes his mornings in the bakery. Mike starts baking bread at 4 o’clock in the morning. "You can’t be a slow starter like you could in school," he says.
Mike is eighteen years old and in the second year of his apprenticeship. Mike never starts work later than 4 o’clock. On Fridays, he usually starts baking fresh rolls at 1:30 a.m. "It
doesn’t make any sense to go to bed," says Mike. Getting up early is part of the job.
Early mornings alone are not enough to make a good baker. Bakery customers in Germany demand more
variety than in any other country in the world. Kassler, Stuten, Pumpernickel, short bread, flaky pastries, are just a few examples of the more than 300 different types of bread and 1200 different cakes and pastries that are produced daily in German bakeries. Fortunately, the baker doesn’t need to know every recipe by heart. In vocational school, they study every step from the grain to the finished bread. Knowledge about the preparation and storage of the ingredients is as important as style and preparation of the fillings.
He starts with the grain and ends up with the loaf
"The touch," a feel for the right consistency in the dough is important, as well as a finely developed sense of taste. "You can taste every single element in the dough and tell if something is missing. You can also smell, for example, when the bread has been baked too long." The sense of touch is especially important with yeast because the optimal temperature for fermentation is around 35 degrees.
Strong mind rather than strong muscles
Over the last several years, mechanization has made much of the work in the bakery easier. Mike knows all about operating the mixing and forming machines as well as the ovens and the specialized equipment in the "Fat Room." Some of this equipment is computer controlled. Inspite of the mechanization, Mike estimates that eighty percent of the work remains manual. It is not, however, hard work. The machines have taken over the work that requires muscle. Because of this, more and more women are taking up baking as a profession. "The image of the baker has changed." Mike explains it simply and succinctly. "Many people imagine a baker carrying sacks of flour here and there. For that you only need muscle," he says as he flexes his biceps. Then, pointing to his head, he explains further. "In fact, the opposite is true. Reasoning and clear thinking are now more important. The dough is a living thing. It works and changes." A good baker must know when to proceed, when to wait, and when to throw the dough out and start over.
Mike attends the vocational school once a week for eight hours. There, he studies mathematics and the natural sciences. He explains, "You have to be a little intelligent and interested in biology and physics." The young apprentice thinks then suddenly asks, "What about the decomposition of enzymes in flour?" A baker must also be good in mathematics. He has to calculate the correct quantities of the ingredients in the dough. "That's why we practice mental arithmetic in school" he says
Looking forward to a masterly career as a Master
Mike has a clear picture of his future in mind. "I would like to become a master baker". With a master baker diploma,
he has many possibilities. He can start his own company, manage a bakery or become the leader of a large company. He can teach in a vocational school. If he enjoys the technical aspects of the profession, he can become a food service technician or technical advisor to a baking company. And, of course, he can always go back to school and become a food service engineer.
Mike is happy with his choice of professions. "I always enjoyed cooking and working with food. At home I will cook or bake nearly anything." And the hours? No problem, says Mike. "After work, I go home and sleep a couple of hours. Then I have my second wind and go out with my friends."