Bakers Journal

Cookies and the Guitar Store

December 4, 2007
By Chase Stackhouse

Bakery owner Chase Stackhouse follows a different tune when it comes to equipment repairs.

20What on earth do guitar stores have to do with bakeries, you might ask? Well read on and you’ll find out.

The majority of the cookies we produce at my bakery are still hand-rolled and cut. It’s a skill that is acquired with time and practice, but to see an expert cookie roller and cutter in action is often a rare thing in most bakeries. Keeping the rolled dough consistent in thickness while cutting the cookies with your right hand and flipping them into your left, all the while doing this at a reasonable speed, requires much dexterity. I am not sure the trade schools can teach the skill in the short period students stay with them. Many are likely unaware of the craft learned from the old timers and handed down from generation to generation. I worked with my father for many years, learning the trade – most of the skills I learned are not written in a textbook. Perhaps one day I will be able to pass on the skills I was taught to my own children.

A number of years ago, our bakery acquired a wire-cut cookie machine. It does not take the place of our hand-rolled cookies, for which some of the recipes go back at least 100 years. It does, however, do a wonderful job with our all-butter shortbread, something that we make only in the month of December or by special order. When the dough is just right, the machine works ever so slickly!

Bakers familiar with these machines are also aware of the frustration that a broken wire can cause. It happens without warning and production comes to a grinding halt. Generally speaking, this occurs a few weeks before Christmas, when many of us in the business work 13-hour days. In a perfect world, a spare wire would be kept on hand, but to have a spare part on hand for every possible breakdown of equipment seems impossible. The local hardware store sometimes can be of help with a short-term fix. But as for the broken wire, after contacting our local distributor and being outraged at the cost of a replacement wire, my father (with 50 years in the business and a willingness to attempt any task, a trait I’m convinced he learned while in the Canadian Air Force) came up with the solution: the local music store. You know, the kind with Jimi Hendrix blasting out of the overhead speakers and a salesperson with fingers and eyes that show his chosen career.

“Yes I would like three new #17 guitar strings.”

You can just imagine the puzzled look on the music store clerk’s face with this unusual request.

“How many?”

“Three please. I want some spares.”

“Hey man I think you must be over-tightening them if you are going through that many.”

“Well they are not for a guitar but a cookie machine.”

I am sure at this stage in the conversation this chap was wondering what planet my father had descended from.

Next time you have a break down, think out of the box. Guitar strings have kept our cookie machine going for years and at a fraction of the cost.

Chase Stackhouse is the pen name for a New Brunswick-based bakery owner. If you have any comments or questions for Mr. Stackhouse, please send them to the editor:

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