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  • Writer's pictureJerry

Better Batch Brownie

I once worked at a summer camp where my job was running four convection ovens and we fed 700 people, three meals per day. The bulk of the food came out of my station, and this included the desserts. I made batches of 768 brownies on a regular basis. They were made from an institutional "just add water" mix and one box made one full sheet pan of 96 brownies. I couldn't really improve the brownies, but I did find a way to streamline production.

The method I was shown was the obvious one using a 60 quart stand mixer with the whip attachment. The procedure was to add the boxes of brownie mix plus water to the mixer, beat until smooth, and then divide the batter evenly onto eight full sheet pans and then bake. It was pretty straight forward and the hardest parts were evenly distributing the batter on the pans, and of course the dishwashers had to clean the heavy mixer bowl, whip, and the large measuring cup used to portion the batter. My method was quicker, more consistent and made less work for the dishwashers.

Instead of combining the eight boxes of mix into the heavy stand mixer bowl, I would add a single box to a regular stainless mixing bowl, add the water, beat the mixture with a hand whisk until smooth (about 30 seconds), and then use a bowl scraper to move the batter directly to a prepared sheet pan. After repeating this for all the pans I would take the bowl, hand whisk and the bowl scraper to the dish washers. They appreciated not having to clean the very heavy stand mixer bowl, and the eight pans of batter were evenly portioned quickly and with little effort. It was faster and the product was more uniform.

I also found a better method for making 768 cupcakes.

The setup for making cupcakes was different because the mix used for them came in large, bulk bags. The existing method used the stand mixer again, and in this case I did the same. After mixing the batter it would be scooped out with a large measuring cup and portioned into the prepared muffin pans. This was a messy, time consuming process and it was very challenging to fill each cupcake with the correct portion of batter. The simple solution was in plain sight, on the shelf below the griddle. They had a pancake batter dispenser! After determining the optimal portion it was a simple matter to dispense the cupcake batter quickly and evenly in about half the time. The most time consuming part of this procedure was refilling the batter dispenser, but it was still much better.

Speaking of pancakes...

This same summer camp had a great crew of college students from abroad and working under J-1 visas. Most had little or no cooking experience. On pancake day I observed the griddle cook as she made pancakes on the 60 inch griddle. She was using half of the griddle and she would dispense about 18 (3X6) pancakes at a time, wait for them to cook, and then flip them and wait until they were ready. Half of her time was spent watching and waiting. I showed her a way to double her output without rushing at all. Instead of stopping at six rows of three, I showed her that if you dispensed twelve rows that by the time you dropped the 36th pancake, it was time to turn the first one. And then, by the time you flipped the last pancake, it was time to remove the first. There was no rushing involved, just constant but easy movement. After my demonstration she chose to continue with the slower method, but that was fine, they were just college kids and they were paid very little. Still a fun exercise for me though.

Okay, just one more...

On cheeseburger day I would cook 600 burgers in the convection ovens on sheet pans. I could fit half of the burgers in the four ovens, and after a pan finished cooking I would reuse that pan for the second batch. When the cooking was finished I was left with 16 sheet pans with a lot of fat and juice on them, on a bun rack. I would roll the rack of pans to the dish washing area, and I observed the dishwashers stacking the dirty pans on top of each other. When stacked in this manner, the bottom of each pan would sit down in the fat and juice on the pan below it. I pointed out that by stacking them, they were basically doubling their work load since both the tops and bottoms of the sheet pans were then covered in greasy liquid. I showed them that they could still stack the pans, but by rotating each successive pan 90 degrees the bottoms wouldn't get greasy. I love teaching people techniques that make their tasks easier.

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