Ah, baking. Is there anything in the kitchen that can be so rewarding… but also as frustrating? Cakes that don’t rise to the spongy goodness of the recipe books. Bread that ends up too doughy, heavy or yeasty. The list goes on.
Compared with a stir-fry or steak on the barbecue, baking requires finesse and is less forgiving for those who take a trial and error approach to their cooking.
Baking extraordinaire Dean Brettschneider understands the difficulties that novice bakers often face, and he wants to help. So in 2016, he set up Brettschneider’s Baking & Cooking School in Singapore to share knowledge on this culinary art form.
“Baking is a science and an art – you’re dealing with raw ingredients,” he says. “People find baking difficult because they are combining these raw ingredients and there are physical and chemical reactions … [and] you need to manage them at high heat, and you need to decorate the end result.
“In cooking, for instance, a fish – the fish has already been farmed and filetted. You need to just cook it,” he said.
Brettschneider knows what he’s talking about. Originally from New Zealand, he’s an internationally renowned chef, patissier and author. He’s presented and judged several television shows. On top of the baking and cooking school, he’s the founder of the Baker & Cook artisan bakery and Plank Sourdough Pizza. The two flagship outlets are located in the lush expat suburb of Bukit Timah. He has five other smaller outlets and kiosks across Singapore, located mainly in expat neighbourhoods.
Brettschneider has been honing his craft since he was a child, when his grandmother taught him how to bake. More than 40 years later he’s passing his baking skills on to the masses, infusing traditional recipes with modern flavour and and techniques.
Those who attend Brettschneider’s baking classes get to learn from the man himself. He spends 90 percent of his time in Singapore, overseeing his rapidly growing business and teaching at the cooking school. “My name is on the door so that is one reason why they come – to be taught and influenced by me.”
Learning the intricate art of baking
Although he teaches both at his school, Brettschneider is quick to make a distinction between baking and cooking. “People are baking at home as a lifestyle choice. Cooking is more of a necessity – often they don’t cook because they have a maid but if they do cook they do local and fast,” he says.
At his five-day baking course, participants get to learn basic bread-making by creating a range of breads from two simple doughs, as well as make healthier breads by baking with grains. They also learn how to make sweet breads like cinnamon and raisin bread, sourdough, pizza dough and Danish pastries.
Other workshops taught by carefully vetted baking experts cover topics like gluten-free bread, rich dessert cakes, eclairs, and gourmet pasties and pies.
“The school brings my cookbooks to life. We are talking the knowledge as to why you cook or bake, or use certain techniques,” he says.
The school is built on the successful Baker & Cook brand, the artisan bakery he set up in 2014. Brettschneider had recently visited a friend in Singapore and felt that the well-travelled Singaporean and expat communities were hungry for high-quality baked goods. “Six years ago, there wasn’t any great coffee or nice bakeries that gave an international experience,” he says. “The idea to open Baker & Cook came from just two guys having a beer and setting up a bakery around the corner. It was a rudimentary decision, more so than strategic.”
He advises beginners to get the baking basics right, and not to be tempted by social media feeds into baking something that is way above their ability. “Start with the basics – and I am talking things like basic cakes and a basic scone recipe. The problem is that everybody wants to be something they are not. It’s like trying to run before you walk,” he says. “Make a simple sponge cake three times, or five times, as every time you do it you get different results. The results may vary because of temperature, time or mood.”
Spreading the Baker & Cook philosophy
Baker & Cook has since expanded to three outlets in Manila, the Philippines, and the first outlet in Saudi Arabia will open at the end of May. A Kuala Lumpur branch shouldn’t be far around the corner.
Although he spends much of his time in Singapore, Brettschneider also travels a lot – particularly between Denmark, where his wife resides, and New Zealand, home to his 22-year-old son. This enables him to spot the latest trends in food and drink, and get new ideas to expand his business.
In six to eight weeks, he plans to open a burger joint alongside his flagship Baker & Cook locations in Bukit Timah. Brettschneider says it will serve “honest and clean” burgers, with a focus on a great hamburger bun.
“It’s the same as our pizzeria. The sourdough pizza base is what makes the pizza. We keep the topping simple and we don’t do crazy things. In terms of the burger joint, it is an extension of the brand. If the burger buns are amazing, then the fillings have to be just as amazing,” he said.
The burger restaurant will have Scandinavian design, with clean, utilitarian and understated lines that co-exist with the natural surroundings of the Hillcrest Road area. With a charming, wholesome menu and interiors, as well as a strong brand, he hopes the burger joint will attract a regular, sophisticated clientele.
“When you are running a restaurant in a neighbourhood, it has to be so much better than a restaurant in the central business district,” he says. “In the CBD, everyone is an opportunist and they are on a limited amount of time, you can have sushi one day and something else the next. They don’t care about food quality as much.”
Photos courtesy Baker & Cook