Jory Downer, a 2005 winning team member at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, known as the World Cup of Baking, is adept at turning sheets of laminated dough into sweet bites of deliciousness.
The owner of North Shore landmark Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston, Illinois, which will celebrate its 80th anniversary next year, recently demonstrated a variety of pastries that he produced during the first-ever Assembly of Extraordinary Bakers held at Chicago’s Kendall College.
Downer made chocolate babka, rugelach, lemon florentine croissants, and hand-cut cake donuts during the April 22-23 event.
“When you cut it, you start with a nice rectangular piece, so it will stay the shape you need,” he told fellow bakers while preparing the dough to make rugelach. This dough is made with 2 pounds, 10 ounces each of three ingredients: butter, cream cheese, and King Arthur Sir Galahad flour.
“This piece is 18 inches wide, which is cut in three strips,” he continues. Once the cinnamon sugar ingredients are mixed together, he sheets the dough and spreads with apricot jam, walnuts (finely ground), and the cinnamon sugar mixture. “Then we roll them up, push together, cut them and put directly in the oven. This is one of the best things we make.”
Chocolate babka is another favorite, and Chicago’s North Side where the family-owned bakery operates is surrounded by a diverse number of ethnic groups. That’s why it is so important they know how to make Greek pastries, Swedish pastries, French pastries, Polish pastries and more. And make them well.
There are not many Certified Master Bakers in the country, but Downer is one of them. His father, Guy, bought Bennison’s in 1967 and Jory joined the business in 1975. Today, Jory’s son, Guy, and daughter, Jordana, work for the bakery, making it three generations.
Jory Downer credits his father for teaching him how to persevere and “don’t ask anybody to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.” He learned the art of fermentation from Didier Rosada and studied lamination techniques with Philippe Le Corre.
“I try to assure our customers that what they purchase here is the best quality baked goods they can find,” Downer says. “I am very critical about the flour we use. I expect it to be from a particular mill, with very specific mill dates. We still make our own puff pastry dough that is laminated with only butter.”
Versatility is one of his true talents. He is as proficient baking artisan breads as he is perfecting pastries. He can read batters and doughs like few others, and knows when it’s ready.
That matters because he is able to create a loaf of bread with the desired qualities he is after (open grain, tight grain) and use different fermentation methods to get different aromas in the finished loaf. “Being able to troubleshoot when there is a problem is important,” he says.