The Proof Is in the Pastry
Life is sweet for chef Joe Frackleton
Chances are that by week’s end you’ll have bitten into at least one moist chocolate chip cookie at an Orientation event or sampled a bagel or a lemon square in a dining hall during mealtime. What you probably don’t know is what goes into producing baked goods for a community of 40,000 people. Each morning, a team of workers arrives at the bakeshop kitchen in the George Sherman Union—sometimes as early as 3 a.m.—to begin baking the thousands of desserts, bagels, croissants, and bread 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.”
Move-in week is one of the busiest times of the year for Frackleton and his staff. For Sunday’s matriculation reception, they’ll bake 6,500 desserts. Next month they expect to provide baked goods for some 175 events, with approximately 29,000 guests, in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities.
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.
When BU Today caught up with Frackleton last spring just before Commencement, bakeshop workers had already begun their morning mixing and baking for 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.
The pastry section takes up only a small fraction of the GSU kitchen, a massive area tucked behind the Charles River Bread Company and Bowls and Rolls 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 open and close.
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 needed by the bakers. 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 the head pastry chef 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 perfect-looking sugar cookies from the seven-foot-tall Revent stainless steel oven he and his staff use for much of their baking.
“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.”
All of the hard work pays off when Frackleton hears from his fans.
“My favorite are the carnival M&M cookies,” said Lincoln Hill (CAS’13) as he attended a party at Towers residence hall this past spring. “They can make a bad day good,” added Marissa Petersile (ENG’15). But, she admitted, “I haven’t really met a dessert I didn’t like.”
“When someone gives you a compliment for your dessert, it’s all worth while,” Frackleton 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!”3 Comments