The case for "Bake–Off"

By Paul Catterall - 27 April 2011

Baking is seen as a traditional industry and its detractors say that anything that is not 'traditional' is therefore 'not good'. Bake–off is not seen as 'traditional' and is therefore 'not good'. They conveniently forget that the industry has evolved to meet consumers demands. The consumer wants fresh products, variety, good quality and value for money, and the bake–off process is a way of meeting these demands in a cost effective way.

Bake–off is a term given to products that are partially baked in a bakery, packed, stored (either ambient, chilled or frozen) and then delivered to store, where they are put in an oven to finish them off, a process known as 'refreshing'. Bake-off is also termed 'par-bake', 'part-bake' or, in the catering industry, 'brown and serve'.

Baking is both a science and an art. The art is seen in many creative and practical skills of the baker, but the science must not be overlooked and if the bake–off process is not carried out correctly, then the finished products can be dire.

All bakery products will start to stale as soon as they leave the oven. Staling is seen as a firming of the crumb – caused by moisture loss and starch retrogradation. Moisture loss can be controlled by correct packaging, but the changes to the starch are more difficult to control. The easiest way is by reheating the product, which re–melts the starch. This makes the bread taste and eat like fresh bread. This forms the basis of the bake–off process, but it is important to reach the correct temperature in the centre of the product and as a general rule this should be around 60°C.

Some bake–off products are available to the general public. A good example of this is the gas packed petit pain seen in most major retailers. These are very pale in colour, only having had a light first bake. The consumer adds the crust colour in their own oven and the finished product is just like fresh bread.

Some commercial bake–off products have too much colour from the first bake. This can mean that the final baking off is insufficient for the centre of the product to reach a high enough temperature to refresh it. The products will be stale.

So, to prevent this type of problem and get the best from bake-off we need to follow a few basic rules:

When done correctly, bake–off products can be as good as anything else in the baker's shop, helping efficient production of good quality product that meets consumer demand. And the sale of par–baked product direct to consumers also brings consumer benefits in terms of convenience, quality, and probably reduced product wastage.

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