Muffin Making 101

The Bread Project makes bakers (and gifts).

The Bread Project’s first Oakland class is two weeks away from graduating, and most of the students are practicing their icing skills. Around tables in the St. Vincent de Paul commercial kitchens on San Pablo and 23rd Street, roughly a dozen students in hair nets and white aprons spin frosting roses and write “Congratulations” and “Happy Birthday” in white buttercream. They scrape the phrases off their wax paper and start over.

The four-year-old Bread Project teaches economically disadvantaged people how to bake, then helps them find jobs in bakeries around the Bay Area. “Cake decorating is a skill very much needed at supermarkets,” says instructor John McKee, a 28-year veteran of restaurants and commercial bakeries. McKee also teaches basic skills like measuring ingredients and scaling recipes, as well as how to make everything from sugar cookies to tarts, bread, and even croissants.

Susan Phillips and Lucie Buchbinder founded the Bread Project in 2000. Students can quickly gain marketable skills over the course of a nine- or twelve-week program, and the food-service industry is a ready employer of bakers without advanced education or even English skills.

According to Lily Divito, the acting executive director, the Bread Project has a enviable success rate: 77 percent of the students find work after they graduate. The program doesn’t just teach students job-finding and job-retaining skills, it helps them for a year after graduation. At the end of the year, 87 percent of those who have found jobs continue to hold them. Many of the grads end up in the bakeries of supermarkets such as Andronico’s, Safeway, or Whole Foods. Some work in restaurants.

Sixty percent of the Bread Project’s funding comes from corporations, foundations, and private individuals. The Berkeley and Oakland Adult Schools provide another $120,000 in the form of in-kind donations — classroom space and instructors. But grant money doesn’t last forever, and good butter ain’t cheap.

So the bake shop at the Berkeley Adult School (1222 University Ave.) now sells muffins, cookies, cakes, croissants, pizzas, and sweet and savory turnovers. The Oakland Adult School shop (655 International Blvd.) is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students also have begun baking and decorating sheet cakes to order for special events.

For the holidays, students will be assembling $25 gift baskets stuffed with a mix of their cookies, along with teas or coffees. To order gift baskets or find out more about Bread Project’s baked goods, contact Divito at 510-644-4575 or [email protected].

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