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Vickroy: Wannabe bakers get much-kneaded experience

Abby Gabriel (center) other Girl Scouts learn how bake bread PanerBread OrlPark Thursday April 11 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

Abby Gabriel (center) and other Girl Scouts learn how to bake bread at Panera Bread in Orland Park Thursday, April 11, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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For more information on the Bakers-in-Training program, visit www.panerabread.com/about/bit/

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Updated: May 17, 2013 6:10AM



“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”

— Robert Browning.

Have most kids under the age of 12 heard of poet Robert Browning? Probably not.

But there’s no denying the appeal of fresh-baked bread transcends the ages.

Sometimes, so does baking it. Though a growing gluten-free movement coupled with the rise in popularity of the Atkins diet did much to damage the bread industry, some believe that baking, particularly artisan baking, may emerge even stronger.

Last week, a dozen junior Girl Scouts from St. Christina School in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community donned paper aprons and toques as they prepared to become artisan bakers at an Orland Park Panera Bread.

The cafe at 15845 S. Harlem Ave. is the busiest location for the St. Louis-based company’s Bakers-in-Training program, which offers kids ages 5 to 12 a glimpse into the world of a Panera baker.

For many of the 9- and 10-year-olds, this was not their first lap around the rolling pin.

“I baked soda bread before,” 9-year-old Sasha Anoshenko said. “It turned out good because I mixed it with my hands, like my great-grandma does.”

Twins Janey and Maggie Hynes also previously had mixed and kneaded both wheat and Italian bread.

“It turned out good,” Maggie said.

Later, though, as Janey struggled to free her loaf of sticky dough from the paper liner, someone said, “Hey, I thought you’d done this before.”

“I have,” she said, giggling. “But I never said I was good at it.”

The hour-and-a-half session was as much about fun as it was about imparting information.

As day baker Dyanna Kaduk was showing the girls how to score their individual loaves of sourdough bread, Nicole Wagner shouted, “She has a knife, don’t argue with her.”

Jillian Kaczynski tried to shape her loaf into a doughnut.

“It didn’t work. It got all fingerprinty and lumpy,” she said.

Abby Gabriel learned that putting shallow cuts in the top of the loaves enables the hot air to soak in and cook the bread’s interior.

After their bread was kneaded, stretched and scored, it was time to put the dough into the ovens. The girls followed Kaduk behind the counter into the Panera kitchen, where she placed the trays of bread into 440-degree ovens.

Nicole said, “This is so cool. They have a huge oven that looks like a shower.”

As the bread baked, the girls sat down to enjoy a snack of cookies and chocolate milk.

Beth Anoshenko said she and co-leader Margaret Insley had been looking for a cooking or baking opportunity in which the girls could participate.

“They love to cook, and thanks to the Food Network shows, they all think they’re chefs,” Insley said.

But there was more to learn on this day than just how to create bread from flour, water, salt and yeast. The girls also were told the importance of hand-washing and kitchen cleanliness.

“Adults really like for kids to see the craft,” Panera spokeswoman Mandy Burns said. “They want them to go behind the scenes and to learn how bread is made from four simple ingredients. It’s the artisan craft that people like so much.”

In an age filled with fast food and ready-made meals, Burns said, more than ever people appreciate good old-fashioned cooking and baking. The popularity of TV food programming bears this out.

After the snack, it was time to decorate giant sugar cookies. Jillian covered her cookie in bright blue frosting, then topped it with two yellow circles.

“Mine’s going to look like the guy from Blue Man Group,” she said.

Next to her, Natalie Wagner covered her cookie with as many M&M candies as it could hold.

She estimated that number to be “about a hundred.”

As kids have been known to do, some of the girls sang while they worked.

“We made up a song, sort of rap song,” Janey said. “It goes kind of like ‘Thriftshop’: ‘I’ve got hats on and some aprons, I’m, I’m, I’m a kneading this bread. This is pretty awesome.’ ”

As the girls were finishing up, Kaduk emerged from the kitchen wheeling a cart of trays filled with freshly baked bread. Each loaf was placed in a paper sleeve and handed to its creator.

“It’s really good,” Maggie said, biting off a piece.

Nicole agreed, saying, “It’s burning my hand but I have to eat it.”



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