Local Hartford baker gives tips and tricks to take your baking skills to the next level

·3 min read

There’s no better time than on National Baker Day to learn how to cook up a fresh loaf of bread or batch of delicious cookies.

While baking can seem daunting, the reward of making something with your own two hands is worth it. You’ll be the talk of any party or get-together when you swing by with a charcuterie board complimented by your own, handmade bread.

Thankfully, Richard Winalski of Elmwood Pastry Shop in Hartford has all the tips and tricks you need to get into baking.

Winalski has been baking for over 60 years. It runs in his family who own the business, which has been a Hartford staple for 74 years.

Avoid these common mistakes

Like any new skill, it’s common to make mistakes. Unfortunately, one of the biggest Winalski has seen is inaccurate measurements.

“Your measurements have to be extremely careful; it’s like chemistry,” he said. “One ounce of baking soda can ruin 100 pounds of cake, for instance.”

Before you can even start in the kitchen, make sure to preheat the oven to the exact degree the recipe needs.

“They have to know their temperature in the oven because five or ten degrees makes a huge difference,” Winalski said.

The most common mistake he sees is the wrong portion size. It affects the entire baking experience if the portions are different.

“Inconsistency of size is a big thing,” Winalski said. “Sometimes when you are making two or three things, those things can’t be baked on the same pan because the density and the time it takes is all changed by the size. You want everything to be exact the same for consistency otherwise you can’t make the perfect product.”

Finally, even the weather can play a factor in baking.

“Summer, for instance, I have to make my bread in ice water and in winter I have to use warm water,” Winalski said. “If the dough ever gets too hot, it won’t develop and tear.”

Start small and build upwards

One of the biggest pieces of advice Winalski is to start with easier food items first.

“I would stick with bread and rolls for somebody starting out,” he said. “It’s a lot simpler to make bread. Otherwise, you have to involve making layers, folding them together and making sure it rises very slowly so it doesn’t fall on you.”

It’s easy to be discouraged early on when baking as things may not come out perfect, but at the end of the day, it’s all about putting in an effort to get better.

“There is no substitute for the experience, especially with all the variables changing over time,” Winalski said. “It’s always good to get new ideas from other bakers, different techniques that are developed in other parts of the world and tricks to making things.

“We used to have a large baker organization here in central Connecticut and used to trade secrets all the time. Teach each other how to make better treats and make things more efficiently.”

The hard work is worth the reward

Like any new hobby, baking will take time for anybody to get good at, but ultimately at the end of the day, Winalski feels the effort is worth it.

“It takes a lot of attention and focus to achieve perfect results,” he said. “It seems easy after you master it, but before you master it seems impossible.

“It is extremely rewarding because of the ability to churn simple ingredients into a beautiful work of art and often in a short period of time,” he said. “When you achieve the result it’s not comparable to anything you might buy because of the freshness.”