Frozen bakery products and Par-baked goods – The way of the future?
Today’s consumers are increasingly discerning and demanding when it comes to the availability and choice of sweet and savoury baked products.
To align with these consumer trends, there is a growing demand among retailers for quality frozen and par-baked products that can be presented to customers fresh out of the oven 24/7.
The large scale production of frozen and par-baked baked goods is a fairly recent development given the age-old tradition of baking. However, it is certainly growing rapidly in popularity thanks to technological innovations on every front – from ingredient innovation and state-of-the-art freezing technology, to effective temperature-controlled distribution and custom-designed bake-off equipment.
These advancements are allowing bakers to meet the growing demands among consumers for freshly baked high quality sweet and savoury goods available around the clock, part of the ever-greater demand for more convenience and more choice. And this demand for greater choice includes not only more premium and interesting options, but also healthier choices such as baked products with less salt, no allergens and no preservatives – a tall order for bakeries faced with rising costs and a critical skills crisis.
Using frozen and par-baked goods saves time and money – and builds customer loyalty – in a number of ways. Since bakers can simply move the exact amount required of the chosen products straight from the cold storage into the oven, the preparation time is slashed to zero and the labour requirement is reduced to a bare minimum. A range of baked products of the highest quality – from bread and rolls to sweet and savoury pies, as well as high value treats such as croissants and Danish pastries – can be produced in a fraction of the time by frontline staff that require minimal training compared to the artisan training and years of experience that would be required to produce such quality and ranges from scratch.
In addition, bakers can tap into the latest global food technology, allowing them to offer customers healthier options – from lower fat and salt to higher fibre and all natural ingredients – without the time, investment and waste often required to perfect scratch recipes. Since the exact amount of baked goods required for a specific time of day can be baked in minutes in custom-designed ovens that reduce energy consumption and ensure the best results, wastage is reduced and customers can expect absolute consistency as well as freshly baked goods, regardless of the day or hour.
Of course, harnessing all these benefits depends on selecting the right supplier of frozen and par-baked goods. Since the bakery has no control whatsoever over the production of these goods prior to bake-off, choosing a reputable, trustworthy supplier is absolutely critical to ensure quality and consistency.
While the components in the dough used for frozen and par-baked goods are essentially the same as for fresh dough, the ratio of the main components – flour, water and yeast – differs from normal dough. The right type of flour must be used to achieve good results and, often, this means a good quality flour with a high protein level. This is because the structure of the product is built up by elastic dough strings or gluten, formed from the proteins in the flour. During freezing, the ice crystals are formed and these can destroy parts of the gluten strings. Slow freezing creates large ice crystals which cause more damage, while fast freezing results in smaller ice crystals and a better dough structure.
While some astounding freezing technology has been created for the baking industry, things are just not as simple as just freezing the dough or par-baked goods as fast as possible. Some goods may require cooling before being frozen. Cooling the products before freezing influences many variables, such as the yeast development, the size of the products and the final appearance, since goods that are frozen too fast from high temperatures could crack, blister or flake, or the crust may separate from the inside.
The survival of the yeast is a particularly important issue, since yeast is, in fact, living substances and must be handled with care. When the yeast is added to a dough mixture, it is activated and undergoes a range of biological and chemical changes. This activity is suspended by freezing and the yeast cell is solidly frozen at -33°C to -35°C.
Whether or not the yeast survives the freezing process depends on the freezing speed, the lowest temperature during the freezing process and storage. If freezing takes place too fast, too many intracellular ice crystals will form and damage the yeast cells. If the freezing takes place slowly, or if the period before freezing is too long and not at a low enough temperature, a host of other problems arise. Of course, the freezing conditions must be absolutely uniform throughout the freezer, to ensure a uniform bake-off result.
One of the more recent innovations in this regard is specifically formulated frozen dough yeast, which, among other benefits, prolongs the storage time of the frozen dough. This yeast is stronger than normal dry yeast because it has a lower water content and when the yeast is frozen, no ice crystals form inside the cells where it can cause damage. Yeast for frozen dough applications is specifically selected for its ability to survive extremely low temperatures which allows it to display properties similar to that of compressed yeast.
Another fairly recent innovation is bread improvers formulated for frozen and par-baked goods that reduce bake-off times to as little as two minutes without any need for steam, while also improving appearance, eating quality and shelf-life.
New freezing techniques, combining formulation and processing, as well as yeast and other ingredient enhancements are reducing the final stage in the bake-off process even further, without compromising on dough stability, tolerance or oven spring in the finished baked product.
The yeast cells are reactivated when the dough or par-baked goods are thawed. But, since most frozen and par-baked goods are baked from frozen, the reactivation of the yeast must be carefully managed and a good supplier will also be able to provide very specific instructions regarding the optimal temperature and time – and even equipment – for baking these products to perfection, given the specific conditions and requirements within the individual bakery.
Of course, there is little point in producing superior frozen and par-baked goods if these do not reach bakery customers in perfect condition. This highlights the importance of choosing a supplier that understands the necessity of effective temperature-controlled distribution.
From the freezing equipment and the storage freezers to the fleet of trucks used to deliver the goods, maintaining the cold chain is crucial, particularly in light of the new Consumer Protection Act, which may require a company to prove temperature traceability of products in the event of a dispute.
Some of the state-of-the-art cooling systems provide live up-to-date temperature readings as well as historical reports for freezers and temperature-controlled vehicles, which suppliers can provide to their customers to ensure peace of mind that the cold chain has not been broken and that the products are safe for consumption. An added benefit is SMS alerts that inform the responsible parties any time of day or night of any change in temperature as an early warning system, so that the product integrity can be maintained at all times. These advanced systems can even assist in managing delivery staff by monitoring the use of a vehicle’s freezer unit to ensure the cold chain is maintained at all times.
Bearing these criteria in mind, also be sure to select a supplier that can offer customised technical assistance to your bakery, because even as technological advancements race ahead, so do consumer demands change at a terrifying pace.
It seems that consumers, in the end, will have to weigh up their priorities in terms of convenience and choice, against their demands for the “real thing”, particularly in light of the fact that the par-baked and frozen trend has even permeated the world of artisan breads.
It appears, then, that frozen and par-baked is not only here to stay, but certainly the way of the future, so if you have not yet explored this alternative, there certainly has never been a better time.
Suppliers in South Africa include Goosebumps, Bake It Easy, Deeghuys, CAB Foods and Culinary Doppies to name but a few.
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