Tom Gumpel and Panera Bread Workshop

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a bread workshop given by the uber talented Tom Gumpel.  He is a bit of a rock star, having been recently recognized by Dessert Professional magazine as one of the country’s Top Ten Bread Bakers. Tom is a certified master baker and previously served as associate dean for curriculum and instruction for baking and pastry arts at the CIA. He also received international acclaim when he served as captain of the U.S. Baking Team that captured the grand prize at the prestigious Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (World Cup of Baking). His success in the competition was featured in People, USA Today, The New York Times and on ABC’s World News Tonight!  He also was a member of the 1992 Culinary Olympic team that won a bronze medal at the International Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany. So, yeah, he pretty much rocks when it comes to baking and I swooned in his presence. (Or it could have been because of  the hunger and wonderful smells emitting from the kitchen.)

While his resume teems with accolades, his most important function right now is serving as the Vice President of Bakery Development for Panera Bread.

As of August, 2010, Fortune magazine named Panera Bread as one of the 100 Fastest Growing Companies. Panera is one of only two restaurant concepts to make the 2010 list, a huge coupe for the company considering that they have been in business for over 20 years. (Beginning as Au Bon Pain Co, Inc. and now Panera Bread®, Saint Louis Bread Co.® and Paradise Bakery & Café®)

Panera has 1,399 bakery-cafes in 40 states right now and is still growing. Even though there is not yet one in Manhattan, they are looking to expand into the market within the next two years. This will be a welcome addition to lunch/dinner options that are casual, but strikingly good. So good in fact, that Zagat Survey®, the world’s leading provider of consumer survey-based leisure information, named Panera Bread as the Most Popular large restaurant chain in the U.S in its 2010 Zagat Fast-Food Survey. Panera Breadtopped the list of the 90 restaurants in this category (defined as chains with less than 5,000 locations). Panera Bread ranked first for its salads and their spaces (facilities, not restrooms!) and came in second for Healthy Options, Best Value and Best Breakfast Sandwich!

Needless to say, I love Panera Bread, and I am lucky enough to live within 15 minutes of one and frequent it often. So I was really thrilled when I was invited to this workshop and was eager to learn everything I could about the breads and their brand as a whole.

We were treated to an intimate instructional on how to make an Asiago Strata, a warm, eggy, cheesy and gooey bread pudding that just melted in your mouth. While this recipe is perfect in its own right, I think when I make it at home, the addition of tomatoes and possibly spinach with thyme or rosemary would just take it to the next level. Although I would be quite content to devour this just as it is!

Asiago Strata

Serves: 6-8 people

Assembly time: 10-15 minutes

Bake time: 35-45 minutes


2 tablespoons sweetened/salted butter (soft)

1-1/2 cup milk

1 cup cream

3 whole eggs

pinch of salt

pinch of cracked black pepper

1 loaf (18 ounces) Asiago bread

1 cup Asiago cheese, shredded (or other cheese shredded)


Preparation:Pre-heat oven to 325_F. Brush the sides and bottom of 8” baking dish or casserole dish with softened butter.

Custard:In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, salt and pepper and set aside.


Cut the Asiago bread across the loaf in thin, even slices, approximately ¼ “thick. Start assembly of the strata by placing bread slices on the bottom of the dish until bottom is completely covered. Sprinkle shredded Asiago cheese as necessary on the bread slices to cover completely. Cover with another layer of bread slices and sprinkle cheese on top, again covering bread slices completely. Continue to build the strata for as many layers as dish allows, then pour custard mixture over top of strata.

Cover the strata and refrigerate for 15 minutes, allowing the bread slices to soak in custard mixture.


Place the strata pan on a cookie sheet to catch any dripping of the custard. Set the strata in the center of the pre-heated oven and allow to bake for approximately 35- 45 minutes. The custard should gain a rich dark color and rise slightly from the pan (it will settle after removal from the oven). Carefully remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes before unmolding.


Carefully invert the strata by placing a 10” plate over the top of the pan and slowly flip the plate and pan over together. Place on the counter and allow the strata to fall from the pan onto the plate. If the strata does not release from the pan, cut around the sides of the pan and try to invert again.

Serve hot or warm as an accompaniment with meat and vegetables to fill out the meal.


Tom then made a Chocolate Pecan Babka. I began eating Babka when I first came to NY. It’s a cake. It’s a bread.  The identity isn’t exactly clear but it has a lot of chocolate in it, so what could be bad?

He began by making a filling of chocolate Grenache, which we tasted by the spoonfuls (no double dipping!).  The filling would make an indulgent center for truffles. While that bowl disappeared amongst the bloggers in attendance, Tom rolled out brioche dough that was made with a small percentage of Sourdough, adding a depth of flavor.  He then slathered on a generous layer of the Grenache, added some chopped pecans and rolled it into a perfect jellyroll shape. One of the tricks that we learned was to slice the rolled dough from one end to the other, leaving one end attached and twisting it to expose the chocolate center and then weaving the two sides together into a simple braid. This exposes the chocolate and cooks it a bit more than if it were just baked as a roll.  It looks very pretty this way, but it’s not quite as gooey as I am used to.

I sampled a slice of Babka that had previously been made and found it to be delightfully lighter in texture than what I was used to from my bakery. This was more of a bread than a cake for certain. A really velvety chocolate bread at that.

The fillings could also be adjusted for this recipe. You could add a streusel to an apple butter filling, or make a paste of cinnamon and spices for an aromatic filling. The possibilities are really endless!

Chocolate Pecan Babka

Makes: 3-5 Babkas

Assembly time: Dough 20 minutes (not including rest times), fillings 15 minutes each

Final Babka: 15 minutes

Bake time: 25 -35 minutes

Dough Ingredients

5 oz unsalted butter (soft)

5 oz sugar

5 oz whole milk

5 oz water

5 oz whole eggs (About 3 large eggs)

1 lb 13 oz bread flour

1 tblsp dry instant yeast

¼ oz salt

Chocolate Ganache Filling

8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (finely chopped)

4 oz heavy cream

1 Tblsp corn syrup

Pecan Topping

1 lb pecans (coarsely chopped)

Egg Wash

1 egg

1Tbls milk

Pinch salt

Dough Instructions

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour with the instant dry yeast using a hand whisk.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all other ingredients. Place the flour mixture into bowl on top of other ingredients. Turn the mixer on low speed and blend for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, scrap sides and bottom of bowl and turn mixer on medium speed and continue to mix for 8-10 minutes or until a smooth, homogenous dough is achieved.

Remove the dough from the mixer and place on a lightly flour table or board. Cover the dough with a cloth to prevent gaining a skin. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, divide the dough into 3-5 equally sized pieces. Round them carefully and place in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap.

Ganache Instructions

Heat the heavy cream just until it reaches a boil. Shut off the heat and stir in the corn syrup.

Place the finely chopped chocolate in a bowl and pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate.

Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Allow to reach room temperature before using as a spread.


Remove the chilled dough pieces from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured table, pin out a piece of dough into a rectangle about the size of a note paper.

Spread about 4 T of chocolate ganache across the entire surface of the dough.

Take a handful of chopped pecans and cover the surface of the ganache evenly.

Starting from the top downward, begin rolling the babka piece into a cylinder –shape.

It should now be a cigar shape with the chocolate filling tucked inside.

Taking a sharp knife, cut down the middle of the cylinder pressing all the way to the table.

You will now have two halves of the cylinder separated.

Begin by twisting the two strands together into a simple braid.

Place babka onto a paper lined sheet pan.

Brush the babka carefully with egg wash and sprinkle pecans as a garnish.

Place in a warm area and allow to rise for two hours, brush again (carefully) with eggwash and place into a 350*F oven.

Bake for about 25-35 minutes or until evenly mahogany brown.

Serve warm or room temperature.


We ended our morning with a Q&A with Tom while sampling tasty treats from a Bread Bar, featuring perfect pairing suggestions for each of the different types of bread. “Whether entertaining guests or enjoying a nice meal at home with family, incorporating fresh bread is essential. In fact,like wine, bread can enhance the flavor of a meal.”  Tom says. “Certain types of bread work particularly well with various meats, spreads or cheeses,” notes Gumpel. “A high-quality bread can catapult any meal, from hors d’oeuvre to entrées, into an extraordinary one.”

Samples such as Tuscan Bread, which is made with very little salt and is really flat and bland on its own, sings when paired with olives and salty, cured foods such as prosciutto or gorgonzola.

One of my favorite samplings was a topping called Mustardo, which is essentially a fruit and mustard chutney. I love the combination of sweet with the bite of spice in the background. It paired very well with a lean dough bread.

I was very excited that Tom addressed my questions about types of flours (High Gluten, Bread Flours and All Purpose flours – another post!). And the key to baking success? A digital scale. He says to stop measuring and start weighing your ingredients. Baking really is a science.

Speaking of ingredients? “Splurge on ingredients. Spend $2 more on great flour. Buy quality sugar. Get premium butter. Never apply frugalness to ingredients,” he says. I think it’s always important to use the best chocolate you can afford when baking. It makes a world of difference in the finished product.

This weekend, I will be making and adapting these recipes and will let you know how they turn out!


Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way to write this post, however, I did receive a $25 gift card to Panera Bread while at the event. Plus, I ate a lot of bread that day!

P.S. When I went to Panera Bread with my gift card for lunch yesterday, I signed up for their new program, My Panera. It’s a card that rewards your Panera Bread purchases. Just by activating, you can earn a sweet treat for the next time you visit! How cool is that? Go, sign up. It’s worth it!

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