Assembly of Extraordinary Bakers brings together a world of innovative product ideas

Francois Wolfisberg works on braided brioche, as Nicky Giusto looks on.
 
They came from faraway lands like Senegal and Switzerland to share their favorite breads and pastries that are typical to the region they live. Haif Hakim from Senegal made pain de mie with moringa, a nutrient-rich green powder extracted from the African Moringa tree. Deborah Ott from France crafted a colorful mandarin and raspberry feuilleté, using croissant dough. François Brandt from Netherlands presented brioche vendéenne’ with lime and raspberry filling, as well as beer bread made with a Chicago beer and oven-roasted potatoes.
 
The setting was Kendall College in Chicago, and the April 22-23 gathering was the inaugural event of the Intergalactic Bakers Federation (IBF), co-founded by Pierre Zimmerman, owner of La Fournette Bakery & Cafe in Chicago, and Solveig Tofte, founder and head baker at Sun Street Breads in Minneapolis.
 
Eight bakers from around the world participated in highly intensive product demonstrations at the event billed as the Assembly of Extraordinary Bakers. They delivered a smorgasbord of new ideas that bakers can bring home to their own shops.  
 
“It is beneficial to bring a level of complexity to your products — to excite your customers,” says Zimmerman. “In my opinion, I am very open to (nontraditional) products.”

Bakers donated their time and travel to attend the event, which proved to be a highly successful exchange of ideas and product innovation.
 
“We are a benevolent organization seeking to bring bakers together to do good work, share knowledge, and have a little fun along the way,” the IBF founders share. “Our plans for 2017 and 2018 include this assembly in Chicago, a program with After School Matters (also in Chicago), and a partnership with the American Refugee Committee to coordinate job-training trips to refugee camps in Asia and Africa.”
 
Representing the United States at the Assembly of Extraordinary Bakers were Jory Downer, who is the second of three generations running Bennison’s in Evanston, Illinois and a winning member of the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in 2005, and Nicky Giusto, a fourth-generation miller and baker at Central Milling in Petaluma, California, and a member of the 2016 Team USA at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie.
 
Downer demonstrated a variety of techniques and skills in the making of chocolate babka, rugelach, lemon florentine croissant, and hand-cut cake donuts. When frying donuts, for instance, he suggested the importance of slowly lowering the donuts into the frying grease and not flipping the dough pieces in the oil. “If they turn over, the grease is too deep,” he says. In another demonstration with laminated dough, Downer shared a valuable tip when laminating the dough with butter. When incorporating the butter, “to me, it’s a greater sin to have butter with no dough then dough with no butter.”

Nicky Giusto places loaves of Vollkorn Dinkelbröt for display after baking.
 
Giusto presented purple piñon bread (made with purple barley, mesquite, and pine nut), in addition to whole grain cornbread, Moroccan spiced flatbread, apricot Khorasan bread, and Vollkorn Dinkelbröt.

“From this long autolyse, basically we have some development in the dough. It’s come together quite a bit, and we also have a lot of activity,” Giusto explained to the crowd during one demonstration. “At first I’m going to incorporate a small amount of yeast into the dough and then I’m going to stir in the salt in the water, just enough to dissolve the salt. I’m not mixing this a lot, and I want to make sure the salt is incorporated well.”
  
Ott, who won a gold medal at the IBA Cup 2009 ( Bread Bakers European Cup) and a bronze medalist at the 2016 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, made a variety of pastries including a “crispy/fondant” apple-rhubarb Danish, a traditional bread with Flax Seeds, and a lemon cookie called Bredele d’Alsace.

Deborah Ott shapes Bredele d'Alsace, a sweet French biscuit.
 
In making “flower” macarons, she also demonstrated a near flawless approach to making a white chocolate cream filling, using heavy cream, white chocolate and cornstarch. First boil the cream, and melt the white chocolate and reserve. Then mix half of the hot cream into the cornstarch, and strain back into the remaining hot cream and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the white chocolate and cook for another 2 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly. Refrigerate for 2 hours and then beat with a whip for a smooth and creamy consistency.

“What is very important in the macaron,” Zimmerman says of the classic French dessert, “is the first bite is the key. The classic shell is meringue, which is very neutral. So there has to be a real explosion of flavor because there are only two bites. The key is to lower the sugar in the macaron filling, so the filling is not too sweet.”
     
Other presenters made the following:
 
François Brandt, Netherlands
Founder and instructor at the Bakery Institute in Zaandam, winner of the Masters de la Boulangerie 2010, jury member at the Louis Lesaffre Cup 2015, and member of the Elite de la Boulangerie Internationale.
  • Brioche vendéenne with lime and raspberry filling
  • Beer bread made with a Chicago beer and Oven Roasted Potatoes
  • Speculos Cookies
  • ‘Fries Suiker Brood’ (an enriched bread with sugar nibs and cinnamon)
 
Haif Hakim, Senegal
Owner of Patisserie aux Fins Palais in Dakar, coach for Senegal at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie 2012, and jury member at the Louis Lesaffre Cup 2015 and the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie 2016, as well as member of the Elite de la Boulangerie Internationale.
  • Sourdough bread with sesame seeds and artisan cheese
  • Savory muffin with a thyme filling
  • Moringa bread
  • Thyme crackers for appetizers
 
Francois Wolfisberg, Switzerland
Second generation owner of Boulangerie-Patisserie Wolfisberg in Geneva, and president of the Richemont Club Switzerland, as well as jury member at the Louis Lesaffre Cup 2015 and the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in 2016. Member of the Elite de la Boulangerie Internationale.
  • Saint-Gallois Bread
  • World-famous “Animal Breads” made of a country dough
  • Braided Brioche

Pablo Carmona Valverde, Costa Rica
Candidate at the Louis Lesaffre Cup 2015 who works at his family’s bakery, Villapastel in San Jose.
  • Several decorative doughs to build an artistic showpiece throughout the weekend
  • Created an Intergalactic Bakers Federation sculpture incorporating elements from each of our presenters’ countries, and will demonstrate different techniques for components and assembly
 
As a special guest to the Chicago event, the IBF invited Syrian immigrant Molhem Tayara, who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he works at The Victorian Bakery. Maria Brennan, co-owner of The Victorian Bakery in Kalamazoo, who also attended the event, first met Tayara a year ago after being introduced by a neighbor who works for the immigrant center in Michigan.
 
Tayara, who is just 21 years old, started making Fatayer at Victorian Bakery starting in October 2016, and now works at the bakery every Saturday, in addition to going to school and working evenings at a restaurant. Fatayer is a fast food well known in the Middle East.
 
In Chicago, he presented two savory pastries: Fatayer (filled with spinach and cheese), and Zatayer (a flat pastry topped with herbs).

“I start baking when I was 16 years old in Syria,” says Tayara, who lives in Kalamazoo with his parents and four brothers. “Our family moved to Jordan, and I worked for Syrian bakeries there. I put in my mind that I wanted to learn. I usually make dough with meat on it. I like special meats and cooking with vegetables.”
 
“We’ve been very fortunate because people in Kalamazoo have been amazing,” Brennan says. “They are so welcoming to Molhem and his family. It is such an honor to be invited to work with these bakers (at the Chicago event). The bakers here are so generous with their time. It’s such an incredible opportunity that he got here today.”
 
Tayara said he greatly enjoyed the experience of working with some of the world’s greatest bakers. “I learned a lot from other bakers, from different countries. Someday, I hope to open a good Syrian bakery in America.”