It’s bright, it’s light, and there’s an energy. A steady thrum of conversation and the ever-present soundtrack of ovens opening and closing, knives chopping, dough mixing, and jams bubbling–the new Bake from Scratch test kitchen is a dream turned reality. And located on one of the main thoroughfares of downtown Birmingham, Alabama—2nd Avenue North—that vibrant energy and innovation fits right in. The 21,000-square-foot building, previously home to a law firm, was stripped to the studs for a total internal renovation before Hoffman Media moved in. A true labor of love, editor-in-chief Brian Hart Hoffman and the team spent more than a year working with designers, architects, and construction crews at Robins & Morton and Williams Blackstock Architects, ensuring that no detail was overlooked. Today, that vision and meticulousness has transformed that dark and drab law office into Hoffman Media’s bright and inviting new headquarters. Lovingly dubbed the “Hoffice on 2nd,” the two-story space promises plenty of room for a new wave of growth for Bake from Scratch and for Hoffman Media as a whole. Naturally, the test kitchen sits at the center of the action at the Hoffice on 2nd.
With 12 state-of-the-art kitchen workstations plus two additional kitchens—one suited for photo shoots and demonstrations and another outfitted with technology for video production—the space truly is a baker’s wonderland. Every studio and workstation is outfitted with Silestone countertops by Cosentino, a hybrid quartz surface that’s as durable as it is beautiful, giving each kitchen a sharp, clean look. Then there are the ovens. On top of the individual LG ovens found at each workstation, the space also features an entire wall of 14 additional LG ovens, allowing each recipe developer the ability to test multiple recipes simultaneously.
The demonstration and video production kitchens also feature stunning Signature Kitchen Suite ovens. Eight commercial refrigerators, four commercial freezers, and a pair of commercial dishwashers ensure that even the most basic aspects of day-to-day operations run smoothly. The open-concept design and kitchen layout provide the perfect space for hosting events like baking retreats and hands-on classes. Bakers who attended the 2022 Holiday Baking Retreat with Bake from Scratch marveled at the space’s seamless connection between the comfort of a home kitchen and the convenience of a professional one. Every day was interspersed with live baking demonstrations by Brian and then bakers would be sent to their stations to recreate that same baking magic. At their stations, every baker had access to their own oven and rollable 21-gallon bins of both all-purpose flour and granulated sugar, but no tool, dish, or appliance was anything outside of what they might have in their kitchens at home.
Recognizing that baking is just as much about the experience as the outcome, it was important to Brian that every bake made during a retreat at the Hoffice on 2nd be replicable even once bakers had returned home. It comes as no surprise that by the end of the retreat, every attendee had not only made amazing connections but had also baked camera-ready cakes, rolls, and muffins. When the space isn’t being used for retreats and events, photography sets are also set up adjacent to the kitchen workstations, meaning bakes travel only a few feet from oven to set, giving photographers and stylists a chance to capture each cookie, cake, and bread at its freshest and finest. From the breathtaking natural light in the space to the expansive prop closet that contains every dish, utensil, and stylized prop you could imagine, each recipe receives special attention to ensure that it’s looking its absolute best come shoot day.
In fact, stylists plan photo shoots days and sometimes weeks in advance. Meetings with the stylists, photographer, editorial team, and art director take place before each shoot to discuss the look of each feature, from surface and background colors that will best complement the bakes featured to photo angles, bakeware, props, and garnishes. Rest assured, every swoop of buttercream and sprinkle of flour on the pages of Bake from Scratch is a purposeful addition. And with two prop storage rooms that house thousands of items from floor to ceiling, there are limitless possibilities. One of the rooms is dedicated entirely to props for our food-focused publications, with every item organized by color so that stylists can quickly pull props, even on the fly, to nail the look for each shoot.
But before a recipe is shot, there are months of planning and preparation that must occur first. Concept development for each issue begins as early as a year in advance, starting with a team-wide multiday meeting once a year to brainstorm and map out all the features and themes for the year. Ideas can range from something as broad as “spring cakes” to direct requests for specific recipes or ingredients to be featured. From there, as the print date for each issue approaches, a more specific development stage begins. The editors begin to research and pull together a more detailed lineup of recipes for our editor-in-chief, Brian, to review.
Once recipes are selected and concepts are approved, the test kitchen steps in to make each recipe reality. With recipes that require seasonal ingredients, like fresh figs in fall (our “Big on Fig” feature in September/October 2022 being one of many examples), prior planning is essential. As test kitchen director Laura Crandall explains, “Some recipes are shot in season a year in advance, and other times, we are working four to six months ahead of the magazine’s publication date.” Likewise, recipes for our Holiday Cookies special issue are being tested and developed in the heat of Birmingham summers, and summery spreads are a bright highlight in the winter. During this stage of development, a recipe will be tested and undergo tastings with the test kitchen and editorial team until it reaches perfection. Sometimes a recipe shines on the first try, and other times, a bake will undergo numerous iterations, each time being tweaked and fine-tuned until the recipe and editorial vision align.
Once recipes receive approval from both the editorial and test kitchen teams, food stylists are responsible for baking picture-perfect versions of the finalized recipes for photo shoots, working together with photo stylists and photographers to create the images that bring the recipes and features of Bake from Scratch to life. After a recipe has been shot, only then is the recipe forwarded along to the editorial team for all written copy, like recipe headnotes and stories, to be added in. From there, the editorial team and copy editor both have an opportunity to input edits before copy and images come together with the art director. Responsible for laying out the magazine, creating a fluid and cohesive structure throughout, the art director gets to look at everything on a greater scale, focusing on the bigger picture. After everything’s been laid out, everyone involved receives a digital or print binder. Binders are the final review copy of the magazine, where all the features and photography come together as one cohesive issue for the editing team to look through. This is the last look, when all edits are finalized before being shipped off to the printer. Then, a few weeks later, the issue is printed and ready for distribution.
As Bake from Scratch celebrates its eighth year of publication, that process continues to evolve, but the brand-new space in downtown Birmingham promises many more years of beautiful baking and innovation to come.