Solveig Tofte is training at least 25 hours a week to win the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. That's the World Cup of baking, and it will be held in Paris this March.
"I've been getting ready for this since last summer. It's a big blur of bread," Tofte said.
Tofte typically arrives at Turtle Bread in Minneapolis by 4:30 a.m. and gets to work. She practices her kneading, shaping, baking and mixing. She also spends time trying to make her dough in various conditions and temperatures.
Once the dough is ready she fires up an oven that can hold 150 baguettes.
"It really is everything. I dream about it. If I wake up in the morning and I start thinking about it. 'Oh I need a different shape for this!' And I go through things and I figure it out," said Tofte. "I have my little notepad by the bed and I write down what I'm thinking. Then I come in here and hit the ground running. It's so good to be able to get that involved in something."
Turtle Bread owner Harvey McLain is giving Tofte time in her work schedule to practice. McLain says Tofte's combination of brains and personality have made one of the best bread bakers in the country.
“It's a very humbling process to be a baker.”Solveig Tofte
"She's rather humble, and in that sense she's willing to be open to other people's suggestions," McLain said. "And I think very often when you have a position as high as hers in an organization, they lose that humility. And when the wall goes up and you don't have any humility you don't absorb very much. The other thing is she just works damn hard."
Tofte's training sessions are not just limited to her solo practice at Turtle Bread. There are two other bakers on Team U.S.A. About once a month the team flies to a location for a group practice.
The team member from Chicago is responsible for the pastry entry. The other, from Maine, is competing in artistic bread sculpting.
Tofte and her two team members brainstorm ideas, rate each others' work and share tips. They're getting ready to face 12 international teams from places like China, Turkey, Russia and France.
The rules for the World Cup competition in Paris are very specific. Tofte has to make six types of breads. These include the traditional baguettes and a white sandwich bread. The other four types are at the baker's discretion.
Tofte says she feels confident that her breads taste good and have a nice texture. She says she knows what areas need improvement.
"I need a lot of help on the appearance of my breads. I have good hand skills and I can shape things well, but there's little finesse points on how to make your breads look beautiful. I don't know what points matter," Tofte said.
The average person probably doesn't realize that making a perfect loaf of bread is part art and part science. There is the yeast, the temperatures and various chemical reactions -- that is the science. Then there's the feel of the dough and the precise choreography, as the baker moves from mixer to kneading board to oven.
Tofte says even though she has been crowned one of the best bread bakers in America, she is far from mastering it.
"It's a very humbling process to be a baker. I mean, some days I have disasters. Everything I make is horrible. Then the next day everything I make is really great. I can never have this sense that I know everything, because I never will," Tofte said.
But she will have to strive for perfection on competition day in March. The 50 baguettes she is required to bake must weigh exactly 250 grams, and be exactly 55 to 60 centimeters long at judging. If she wins she will return home to Minnesota as the world's greatest bread baker.