Breaking bread

What makes a true baker?

Light bread (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Light bread
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
You could say that I’m not your typical baker. When not researching, developing new formulas, writing, teaching and lecturing about baking, I do manage to get a little actual baking done in between. Which brings me to the main question of this article: What is a baker? A true baker? I often tackle this question when interviewing young people who want to study in our professional baking apprenticeship course. The opening question I ask them is “Why do you want to be a baker?” Why would anyone want to embark on a life of backbreaking hard work, ungodly hours, sleep deprivation and have only pennies to show for it? (I have yet to meet the baker equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg.) The usual replies are “I have always loved to bake”; “I want to be able to understand the chemistry of baking”; “I enjoy creating things with my hands” and numerous other responses in the same vein.
I must admit that my question is a little misleading because very rarely do I get the response I am looking for. And when I do, I know I have encountered a true baker, one who will go on to spend the rest of his/her life fulfilling his/her destiny.
You see, it is not enough to “love” baking.
It is not enough to be amazingly creative. It is not even enough to be a consummate professional and a perfectionist. While all these are qualities that make a fine baker, unless you have one quality above all others, you will never be a true baker.
Baking is not about chemistry (actually it is, but not the kind you are thinking about).
It is not about perfect technique, knowledge or talent. It is about people. Baking is all about people; and if you are not a people person, you can never be a true baker.
Why do we bake a loaf of bread? To ooh and aah over how well shaped it looks, the amazing hue of its crust, the texture of its crumb, the flavor and aroma, how healthy it is? All these are secondary reasons. The primary reason to bake a loaf of bread is to break bread with another person! It’s all about people and bringing people together.
Think about good bakers you know – perhaps your mother, grandmother, father. Do they bake something and then squirrel themselves away in some corner to eat what they have baked by themselves, alone? On the contrary. Baking involves people. Sometimes the actual baking process itself, but certainly the eating part. The more people, the better! Whether it is a simple weekday meal, a festive family meal or a celebration, baking brings people together.
Contrary to my previous life as a computer professional, where I spent most of my time bent over a solitary desk punching keys, when I became a professional baker I was reintroduced to humanity.
Despite my talent at crunching algorithms, I discovered that my true calling was being with and helping people. That is the basis for a true baker. Afterwards came the cereal chemistry, perfecting the hand techniques, the creativity.
My life is now enriched with the people I encounter in all spheres of my work – my family, suppliers, customers, students, readers.
It is not the kind of wealth that impresses bank managers, but it is irreplaceable.
Breaking bread with people – that’s what it’s all about. Since the dawn of time and until the world ends, that is the calling of a true baker.
Delicious when dunked in soup.
✔ 7 cups white flour
✔ 1 cup whole grain flour
✔ 3 cups water
✔ 2 Tbsp. instant powdered yeast
✔1½ Tbsp. salt
✔1 cup sweet potatoes, mashed
Mix all ingredients until incorporated.
Knead for 15 minutes until dough is smooth. Leave to rise covered for 1½ hours or until doubled in size. Punch down and knead for another 5 minutes. Shape into a ball and place on a flat tray. Leave to rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 200° for 75 minutes.
Master baker Les Saidel is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.