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18,000 spoonfuls of sugar: the Bowdoin Bake Shop’s sweet and secret operations

September 15, 2023

Kristen Kinzler
DOUGHING ME AND DOUGHING YOU: The Bowdoin Bake Shop goes through 1,000 pounds of flour in a week to bring freshly-baked homemade breads and pastries to students each day.

At 4:30 a.m. each morning, the Bake Shop above Thorne Hall begins filling muffin tins with homemade batter. 2,000 muffins are baked each week, but the Bake Shop’s operations do not stop there. From homemade breads to pastries to pies and cakes, Bowdoin’s Dining Service relies upon its baking staff for sweets at every meal of the day.

The Bake Shop welcomed many new faces to the staff this year, with new Head Baker Sarah Coppola replacing Joanne Adams, who had been at the College for over two decades, and the addition of two new baking assistants. However, despite a change in leadership within the kitchen, much of the Bake Shop’s production remains the same, and the year has started out strong.

“During the first four weeks, we go through a lot of food. Like—a lot of food,” Jesse Jones, sourcing manager said. Jones handles ingredient orders for all of Dining Service and even tracks students’ favorite desserts. After each meal, Dining Service adjusts the quantities of supplies ordered for the next time, pulling from a master list of over 7,000 recipes. The Krispie Rice Treats and berry crisps are always among the most popular desserts, Jones noted.

Each week, the Bake Shop goes through about 1,000 pounds of flour and 500 pounds of sugar. The staff makes 2,400 cookies, bars and brownies and 1,200 bulkie rolls per week. For the majority of the year, the Bake Shop operates six or seven days a week and is open from 4:30 a.m. to well into the evening.

In addition to making desserts and pastries for Thorne and Moulton Halls, the Bake Shop crafts bread for Jack Magee’s Grill and treats for the Café. It also caters Bowdoin events and must work those requests into its daily production routine.

“No two days are the same. This Monday is not going to be the same as next Monday, and I think the biggest wild card there is the catering,” Executive Director of Dining Ryan Miller said.

Coppola is at the Bake Shop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week. In her first few months, she has been busy learning all of Bowdoin’s recipes, which she said include many more vegan desserts than her previous job. Coppola is particularly excited to bake honey cake for Rosh Hashanah this weekend and to eventually make her first legendary Bowdoin Log.

Miller emphasized how special this chocolate cookie crumb-covered ice cream treat is to those who work in the Bake Shop.

“I would say the Bowdoin Log is still the number one dessert in the Bake Shop,” Miller said.

The biggest change to the Bake Shop this year is the uptick in freshly baked bread. Miller noted that Dining Service produces bread in-house on a massive scale. On Wednesday, over sixty loaves were baked for the dining halls’ lunch and dinner menus, including French bread, bulkie rolls, sourdough and focaccia. Assistant Baker Chunyang Li bakes the majority of the sourdough bread, and long-time Bowdoin Baker Dan Williams handles the bulkie rolls.

“[Bread] is definitely the biggest change, and I think it’s one of the biggest differences between Bowdoin’s Bake Shop and so many other colleges out there,” Miller said. “On a very bread-heavy day, sometimes we need to be thinking about what desserts we’re offering, so we’re offering something that is less labor intensive.”

Miller, Coppola and Jones all cited the freshly-baked focaccia bread—which Li brought as a new regular addition to the menu this year—as their favorite baked good.

The Bake Shop also employs students, such as Meadow Jennings ’26, who began working there this semester. She was surprised to learn just how much prep work baking on such a massive scale requires. Some of her three-hour shifts entail simply zesting lemons or sorting blueberries. The attention to detail required of her has grown her admiration for the Bake Shop’s staff and their work.

“Especially for people who have been up since 5 a.m., they’re super welcoming and excited to take you in and show you the ropes,” Jennings said. “Sarah is super excited to incorporate new recipes into the bakery. Today, she was making crème brûlée, and then she started on a chocolate mousse.”

Claire Wyman ’25 worked in the Bake Shop for three semesters and appreciated making cookies and coffee cake in a calm environment.

“It was quiet compared to downstairs in Thorne, which I really enjoyed,” Wyman said. “And it was crazy to think ‘Oh my gosh, we bake for so many people!’”

Miller emphasized that the Bake Shop is a key community in dining’s operations, but because it’s tucked away above the kitchen in Thorne, it can often go overlooked.

“It’s really easy to just see the muffins and cookies and scones and just take for granted that they magically appeared there,” Miller said. “But they didn’t magically appear, they appeared because these people are here making them.”


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