A Look Behind the Loaf
“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feast “- James Beard
My name is Maham R. Qureshi and I work as a Lead Bread Baker for Tiny Boxwoods Production in Houston, Texas.
Named after the tiny potted trees planted all around the first restaurant, Tiny Boxwoods has seen immense growth over the past 10 years. What was initially just one restaurant has now grown into Tiny’s No. 5 and Tiny’s Milk & Cookies, with locations in Houston and Austin. As we welcome 2021 we are further welcoming two more Milk & Cookies locations this year. It has been admirable to see the company grow over the past year that I have been working with them.
I am initially from Pakistan, where I attended SCAFA- School of Culinary and Finishing Arts. SCAFA was my first introduction to the professional food industry and I graduated with a Diploma in Pastry Arts and a Diploma in Culinary Arts in 2016.
After moving to the US in 2017 I attended The Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio where I decided to pursue an Associate’s Degree in Pastry Arts and this is how I found Tiny Boxwoods. However due to the current world situation and uncertainty I was unable to go back to school to finish my associates and decided to work on my own personal business and make my way up in the company.
Early January, 2020 is when I started at the Tiny’s Commissary as an Extern. My program started with me being on the pastry team and then making my way to the Ice Cream Program. Before I could be moved to the early morning crew I was quickly switched to the bread team as they had lost a team member and needed help. Little was I aware of what I was walking into. I had always thought of myself as a person who loved decorating cakes and making desserts but never as a bread baker and I was about to be proved wrong.
Over the past year my love for bread has immensely grown and I have made my way up from being an extern to a full time bread baker and now the bread lead. I currently lead two teams – the Bread Team and the Viennoisserie Team. Each consisting of two employees each and we are in the process of hiring more with the two new locations opening up. Both teams have their individual set tasks that they perform each day, seven days a week.
The Bread team is in charge of shaping and baking burger buns for both the restaurants. They also mix, divide and shape pizza dough and flatbread which is also sent to the restaurants. They are also responsible for making multiple doughs such as croissant dough, Danish dough, Kouign Amann dough and cinnamon roll dough as well.
The bread team has exciting things coming their way as we are currently expanding our bread program under the Executive Pastry Chef, Christina Villarreal and the Assistant Pastry Chef, Lindsey McCloskey to include more sourdough breads and loaves. For the bread program we plan on sending out artisan breads first to all the Milk & Cookies locations and then eventually to the restaurants. We have been testing out all sorts of sourdoughs like chocolate & cherry, rosemary and garlic and seeded rye. Furthermore we are also working on our own baguettes and focaccia.
On the other hand Viennoisserie Team is responsible for laminations and shaping all the laminated products. On a daily basis we laminate and shape classic croissants, Pain au Chocolat, almond croissants, ham & cheese croissants, mix-berry morning buns, cream cheese danishes, kouign amann and cinnamon rolls. We shape and freeze all the products. They are later taken out by the pastry team and set on trays, ready to be proofed, baked and finished in the morning by the bake off crew.
As a Bread Lead I am responsible for managing a smooth production for both the teams, ensuring we meet our pars in the most effective and efficient way possible. One of my favorite things about my position is the ability to troubleshoot and problem solve, because there’s a fundamental difference between knowing “how to” and understanding “why?” After all culinary professionals are just scientists trying to make the world’s taste buds happy!
As much as I enjoy figuring out why the darn croissants are acting up, curating new products is a beautiful process. From the light bulb moment of conception to seeing it on the menu is lovely! But where the real beauty shows is the countless hours of discussing and collaborating with my colleagues, learning from them, bouncing ideas, the how-tos, whys and why nots. In the past year I have worked on perfecting a Danish recipe for the company as well as a Kouign Amann recipe. Both had their fair share of being the focal points of our family meal conversations. We are also going seasonal this year which means we have more things to experiment with. I regularly hold meetings with my team to keep the creativity flowing and fortifying the understanding of the process.
Besides working for Tiny’s, I also run my own personal business under the name The Awkward Giraffe. I use different social media platforms, especially Instagram, to help with my own portfolio. I have been working on my croissant recipes and sourdoughs. One of the things I love creating the most are custom croissants. I make all sorts of croissants ranging from red bean croissants, to matcha and Biscoff-filled croissant. I also enjoy making sourdoughs and Turmeric Swirled Sourdough is one of my favorites.
2020 has been a year of many hardships but it has also been a year of great personal growth. I don’t believe I would have discovered my fascination with bread if this wasn’t the case. Every day we have come up with new and creative ways to keep ourselves afloat like take home pizza kits and cinnamon roll kits for our guests. As a company we’ve been challenged like any other year, but this year it has also meant we have remained strong and persevered through. It has only strengthened my faith in the food industry. We are essential and we will continue to be essential for as long as we exist.