Editor’s Note: From being a novice baker barely four years ago, Doreen Kong today is an expert who runs a baking workshop as a social enterprise. In this article, she describes her baking journey till date, and the satisfaction that the activity brings her.
My First Encounter with Baking
I was first exposed to bread baking about four years ago. On the recommendation of a friend, I took some basic bread courses at ABC Cooking Studio, where I learnt the fundamentals of simple home baking. After taking several basic lessons, I realised I had a great deal of interest in baking. As a result, right after completing all the 24 classes for the basic course, I took the riche course and the master course there, and obtained the bread licence at the studio. Although the classes in the studio were more at a “hobby” level, they showed me how baking can bring joy and satisfaction to one’s life.
Like other skills, baking needs constant practice. Whenever I learnt a new bread recipe at the studio, I would practise the same for the next few days, sometimes with modifications. Since then, I bake at least three to four times a week and dedicate my weekends to experimenting with different recipes. Some of my fellow lawyers may have seen me carrying big boxes of freshly-baked bread in Central early in the morning. My colleagues are at all times my loyal fans and tasters.
Me and my first sourdough.
Obtaining my baking licence at ABC Cooking Studio was only the beginning of my baking journey. I was further captivated by the craft of baking later, when I took a seven-week baking course in Bangkok at Le Cordon Bleu. During those seven weeks, I flew to Bangkok every Friday after work and attended whole-day classes on the weekends. I usually took the last flight on Friday. On many occasions, I arrived when the immigration counters at Bangkok Airport were busy. As a result, I only managed to arrive at my hotel around 2 a.m. and get a small amount of sleep before the class on Saturday. After each class, I transported all my baked items to Hong Kong in boxes. Sometimes there were too many items, and I would share them with the hotel staff and air crews.
At the Bangkok Le Cordon Bleu, I got more comprehensive and professional training from a number of French chefs on fundamental techniques. I learnt different types of European breads and pastries. I particularly loved the way they taught us to make baguettes and croissants.
French chefs are particularly strict and precise. Whenever we made mistakes, either in kneading or shaping, the chefs would shout and ask us to stop. The training at Le Cordon Bleu confirmed my belief that baking requires perfection and dedication. Like legal work, baking is about accuracy and judgement. A slight deviation due to bad judgement can ruin several hours of baking effort.
Apart from learning from the French, I also travelled to Singapore and San Francisco to take baking courses to enhance my techniques and experience. In Singapore, I was lucky to meet the renowned Dutch baker Dean Brettschneider and the pastry chef Jenna White. From them, I was became familiar with sourdough bread and the use of superfoods (like nuts and grains) in making bread. Since then, I developed my own sourdough starter at home.
My learning journey does not end here. In the coming years, I will combine my travel plans with baking courses and continue to enrich my baking knowledge. Different countries have their own bread traditions, culture and techniques. I hope that I can get more inspiration from different chefs, and share the secrets that I learnt with my friends.
Baking requires precision.
Baking requires time and patience. Without passion, one will definitely give up easily. For bread, apart from kneading, fermentation is a very crucial step. Most bread goes through two times of fermentation; each may take at least an hour. If I would like to bake fresh bread for the morning, I would have to make the dough in the evening before and wake up early for the baking. As making bread takes time, bakers tend to have a highly erratic sleep schedule. For me, I usually start making dough after dinner and let the fermentation finish by midnight. Depending on the type of bread, I may even need to sleep briefly and wake up in the middle of the night to carry out some additional steps.
One of the reasons why I dedicate so much time and effort to baking is my love for sharing with others. Like drinking wine, baking involves sharing. The second reason is my wish to promote real bread. From the courses I took at one of the baking institutes, I found that the use of chemicals, emulsifiers and artificial flavourings is still common in Hong Kong. I believe that with the resources available in Hong Kong, the market should be encouraged to use more natural and quality ingredients. Bread is no longer only a staple. It has moved from a basic fuel to an aspect of the modern lifestyle. With this fundamental belief, most of my baking incorporates organic and top quality ingredients, and they make a big difference.
It had always been a dream to combine my baking passion with my wish to do more for society. Starting last year, I planned to run a social enterprise by setting up a baking workshop that provided baking classes and team-building workshops. My dream finally came true in June this year. I partnered with Caritas Tin Wan Centre on recruitment. With their recommendations, I recruited some young mothers as my teammates. At Bread Lab, basic training and part-time work opportunities are offered to those young mothers. After several months of training at the lab, they have developed a sense of teamwork and can create several products with confidence. Seeing them smile and work with confidence is the biggest driving force for me.
Joy to share.
Baking and Legal Work
“How can you handle baking and a legal career at the same time?” My friends always have this question on their mind. I must admit that it is not easy. I need to sacrifice some of the time meant for leisure and sleep. During weekends, I usually spend most of my time reading cookbooks, shopping for ingredients, creating new bread recipes, conducting workshops and in-house training, and experimenting with different recipes. The driving force behind all this is definitely my passion. I believe when you really like doing something, you will be able to set aside some time for it.
Legal work and baking share some similarities. That’s why a lawyer should be able to become a good baker. From my experience, both require precision, good judgement and organisation skills. I used to lack patience, and baking in fact has helped me a lot in this respect. Especially when it comes to baking bread, time is the most important factor. As the Dutch chef Dean once told me, the two most essential ingredients for bread are time and passion.
Being able to share is a blessing. In the years to come, I will continue to explore healthy baking ideas and get more extensive training from renowned chefs. I will share the techniques that I learn and use my baking hobby as a tool to give joy and confidence to others. I hope that I can inspire more people to make nourishing real bread at home, and that they will get the confidence to adapt the recipes to suit their own tastes.
So next time when you see me walking in Central with boxes of bags with bread, please come and say hello to me, and I will be pleased to share my baked items with you.