A Day in the Life of a Head Baker

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
June 17, 2014

It’s 1:15am and your alarm goes off. No, you’re not about to drive to the airport to catch your plane to Bucharest; you’re baker Jonathan Eng, and your work day has just begun. You hit snooze for 15 minutes and then you’re out the door. “Especially on weekends, I’ll be leaving as my neighbors are coming home,” Eng told us. “They usually give me very strange looks.”

As head baker at Superba Food & Bread, Eng is in charge of all the bread served and sold at the warehouse-y Los Angeles space from its 7:00am to 10:00pm open hours. That means he’s halfway through the job when you’re pushing down the lid of your French press.   

“I love what I do,” he says.  “You’ve got to, if you have the schedule I have.” Here is that schedule, in detail. 

Photo credit: All, Jakob Layman

1 / 10
2:30 am: Arrive. “I get to the restaurant while the cleaning crew is there and start shaping breakfast rolls,” says Eng. He uses a scale to cut pain viennois dough, which has fermented overnight.

2 / 10
3:00 am: Assemble 24 quiches. The pastry team pre-bakes the 4” x 4” shells the night before, and Eng fills them. This one is filled with potato, piquillo peppers, oregano, and smoked paprika.

3 / 10
3:30 am: Make pain au levain. This means 90+ loaves, because while Eng removes 45 from the retarder they fermented in overnight and then bakes them off, his colleague mixes 45 more for the next day.

4 / 10
4:00 am: Straighten up: pull quiches from the oven, reorganize cooling racks, and clean wicker baskets (and their linen linings) used to ferment dough. Meanwhile, Eng's colleague mixes baguette dough.

5 / 10
4:30 am: Roman pizza dough is also retarded overnight, and Eng must shape all 9 kilos. 5:00 am: Shape baguettes. They’re in the oven by 6:15. Eng’s colleague mixes Italian and sprouted wheat dough.

6 / 10
6:30 am: Sprouted wheat bread. It has now fermented for a couple hours, so Eng puts it into pan loaves and proofs it for 2 hours. Eventually, he will bake it off for hot sandwiches.

7 / 10
7:00 am: Eng shapes Italian dough into 40 9-inch batards, “like little hoagie rolls,” and proofs them. 7:30 am: Then, 24 pane francese. “It’s basically like the Italians trying to copy a baguette."

8 / 10
8:15 am: “I relieve the oven guy so he can take his break,” says Eng. He bakes off all the breads and preps the tomorrow’s wicker baskets with rice flour, which prevents the dough from sticking.

9 / 10
10:00 am: Prep the pizzas. Shape tomorrow’s pain au levain, pain viennois, and Roman pizza dough and put them in the retarder. Pull anything from the oven that’s still baking.

10 / 10
10:45 Feed the cultures. Pre-scale dough for the next day. 11:45 am: Mic drop. Eng goes home, takes a nap, and tends to some work on the computer. By 5:00pm, it’s bedtime.