The Proof Is in the Pastry
Chef Joe Frackleton bakes sweets| From BU Today | By Amy Laskowski | Video by Joe Chan
In the video above, Joe Frackleton gives a tour of the bakeshop in the GSU kitchen. Photos by Cydney Scott
Hidden behind the Charles River Bread Company and Bowls & Rolls in the George Sherman Union, a team of workers arrives at the bakeshop kitchen each morning—sometimes as early as 3 a.m.—to begin baking the thousands of bagels, croissants, bread, and desserts needed to feed the University’s students, faculty, and staff.
Overseeing all the mixing, chopping, whipping, and baking is Joe Frackleton, BU’s executive pastry chef.
“We make hundreds of muffins and cookies every day during the school year, as well as plated desserts and even the occasional fancy wedding cake,” says Frackleton. “We really don’t say no to our customers. Our kitchen is like semicontrolled chaos.”
Wearing black pants, a white chef’s coat, and a tall chef’s hat, Frackleton is like a conductor leading an orchestra through a complicated piece of music. His staff consists of just three full-time chefs and a handful of student employees—remarkable considering the volume of baked goods they produce each day. About half of their orders come in two weeks prior to a scheduled event, but many last-minute requests have Frackleton and his staff scrambling.
On a Friday shortly before Commencement, bakeshop workers began their day mixing and baking the daily allotment of cookies and focaccia bread for the GSU before turning their attention to preparing baked goods for some 60 events happening around campus that day—ranging from a party at the School of Management to lunches for Catering on the Charles to a plated dinner at President Robert A. Brown’s house. Residence halls have their own bakeries.
Frackleton and his staff take up only a small fraction of the GSU kitchen, a massive room that is a constant swirl of activity, buzzing with noise. Timers and phones ring constantly, industrial stoves and freezers beep, pots and pans bang together, and a steady stream of workers rolls large carts filled 10 trays high with food back and forth across the room. Sudden bursts of warm or frozen air are released as oven and freezer doors are opened and closed.
Wonder what it’s like to have to increase a brownie recipe a hundredfold? It requires the precision of a chemist. “Baking is like a science because all of the recipes are formulas,” says Frackleton, his voice rising to be heard above the roar of the kitchen. “There are exact measurements for flour, sugar, baking soda, and everything should be followed as precisely as possible.”
No easy task when you look at the volume of ingredients Frackleton and his staff need. He estimates that the bakeshop used 10,500 pounds of butter, 9,500 pounds of sugar, 16,000 pounds of flour, 3,000 pounds of chocolate chips, 5,800 pounds of brown sugar, and 500 pounds of cocoa in just the last year. They make 12,000 pounds (6 tons) of chocolate chip cookie dough annually. For Commencement, they baked 30,000 cookies. The annual BU Holiday staff party requires approximately 10,000 pastries. And everything is made from scratch whenever possible, something that Frackleton insists on.
Stacked on a shelf above a bakeshop sink are three fat three-ring binders, which Frackleton affectionately refers to as his “bibles.” The creased pages contain a treasure trove of recipes: éclairs, cream puffs, key lime and fruit tarts, cheesecake squares, chocolate mousse cups, whoopie pies, a chocolate strawberry shortcake, and more.
“This book started before I got here, and I’ve been adding to it ever since,” he says. “I might take the best of what I like out of two or three recipes and combine them for the taste and appearance I’m looking for. Red velvet cupcakes are very popular right now, so we’ve been playing around with those.”
Frackleton came to BU six years ago. The 52-year-old has been a baker for more than two decades, after making a fairly dramatic career change. He was working at a General Electric jet engine factory in Lynn, Mass., when he realized he needed to do something else. “I finally decided to do something I enjoyed,” he says. “I always enjoyed cooking and baking, so I started to go to culinary school at night and quit my day job. I worked my way up as a pastry chef in several hotels, restaurants, and small bakeries all around the North Shore area.”
Part of Frackleton’s job is to teach up-and-coming pastry chefs. “The training process to get someone new in here is long and frustrating, because there are several ways to screw up cookie dough, believe it or not,” he says as he removes a tray of seemingly perfect sugar cookies from the seven-foot-tall Revent stainless steel oven he and his staff use for much of their baking.
Students load up their plates with treats from Frackleton's bakeshop during a reception at the Towers dining hall.
“Mostly I can tell how a cookie came out just by the way it looks,” he says. “If it doesn’t look right, I taste it, and I can make adjustments. It happens every once a while.” On a Tuesday near the end of spring semester, the bakeshop was finishing a feverishly busy two-day stint preparing an impressive array of desserts for a reception at Towers. The event was commemorating the closing of the Shelton Hall, Myles Standish Hall, and Towers dining halls (a new dining facility is being built in the Center for Student Services at 100 Bay State Road, scheduled to open this September).
At approximately 9 p.m., with trays of mini-cheesecakes and fruit tarts everywhere and a giant chocolate fondue fountain, with pineapple, strawberries, and shortbread for dipping, over in a corner, hoards of students began arriving. Taking plates, they started loading up on the sweets lining the room. “My favorite are the carnival M&M cookies,” said Lincoln Hill (CAS’13), as he munched away, balancing two small plates of desserts. “They can make a bad day good,” added Marissa Petersile (ENG’15), who said her favorite dessert of the night was the cheesecake with the cherry on top. But, she admitted, “I haven’t really met a dessert I didn’t like.”
That is the kind of praise that Frackleton loves to hear. “When someone gives you a compliment for your dessert, it’s all worth while,” he says. “When you’re walking around a party and seeing everyone eating what you’ve made, and they smile and go back for more, it’s a compliment. It’s a compliment when they run out of things, although if we do our job right, that never happens!”