On the outskirts of Ahmedabad is a 35,000 sq ft factory that since last year has been open to visitors. But 2023, is an extra special year for the 250- odd member team of The Baker’s Dozen. “We celebrate a decade this year,” says founder Aditi Handa who set up the operation with her husband Sneh Jain. They started with four bakers and a small kitchen in Mumbai back in 2013. And have since, expanded their vision with a menu that covers everything from pav to pizza bases to sandwich bread, made with the goodness of sourdough; apart from cookies, crackers, dips and nut butter. We get a taste of some of the hot-sellers on the list like the focaccia made with farm-fresh cherry tomatoes before we get our white aprons on for the much-awaited tour.
Inside, we find ourselves navigating through a series of rooms that line up the steps of the preparation process.
Knead to know
First up, a holding room where raw materials are stored and a basic quality check needs to be passed. Then, we head to a ‘raw materials store’ where a myriad of flours (brown rice, jowar, whole wheat and ragi) are being measured, sifted and scaled to match specific recipes. In the chiller, there is a fresh stock of sunflower seeds that will be kneaded into a batch of multigrain loaves later in the day. “We also keep some ingredients in colour- coded crates to avoid allergies,” explains Akansha, our tour guide.
She points at a rack that has an assortment of nuts and interestingly, egg powder. “We found handling eggs quite a tedious process between the washing and the possibility of chipped shells, and so we made a switch to egg powder. The taste is just as good and it’s a whole lot more convenient,” Aditi elaborates, giving us an insight into one of the many nuances of what makes for a smootly-running operation.
Window for change
We enter the bread and pastry rooms which have rows of men and women who have perfected the art of kneading and shaping. Here we discover a fascinating phenomenon called the ‘window pane’ test. You take a piece of dough between your hands and stretch it into a square. The centre should look almost transparent, much like looking through a window. If the dough cracks, that means the gluten threads are too weak and more kneading is required. Try as we might, our window is turning out to be the biggest ‘pane’. Yes, winning dough that comes with a window is a product of both skill and patience. We hope we’ll fare better at the croissant section, next.
“Use the side of your palm,” we are instructed as we knead. “Now fold the dough on either side like an envelope.” Sweating under our hair net, we try a few times to take our uneven-looking creation to elevated French elegance. While mastery is not achieved in a minute, it does feel wonderful to create something with your hands. Notably, frequent hand washes are required in this section but gloves are not a mandate. “Gloves offer a false sense of security,” Aditi says when we ask her why. “And everything dies at 240 degrees C,” she assures us.
Fresh out of the oven
As you have probably guessed, the air in the room after this is substantially hotter as we are in the oven room. To speed up the cooling process, Aditi tells us that the brand has invested in a vacuum cooling chamber so that cakes and breads that would normally take over four hours to cool, are now ready in a matter of 20 minutes. If you’re wondering why the cooling process is so important, try slicing your bread scalding hot out of the oven and you will find that instead of neat spongy slices, you will be left with a pile of crumbs.
Our final stop on the tour is the packaging and dispatch room where a fresh batch of chocolate cookies is being wrapped and sealed in a matter of minutes. Big on innovation as always, Aditi tells us about a unique process implemented here as well to increase the shelf life of their baked goods. “We call it Modified Atmosphere Packaging or MAP, it reduces the oxygen inside each pack, meaning our cakes can last for three months and our cookies for nine,” she says impressively. Now you know where to stock up for those midnight cravings any time of year.
Earlier this month, the brand announced that it has begun on a journey towards sustainability with the aim to reduce its carbon footprint by 10 to 15 per cent by the end of this financial year. Apart from optimising delivery routes to reduce emissions, there is also a focus on achieving plastic neutrality by recycling the equivalent amount of plastic it uses, a release said.
sonali @newindianexpress.com @brightasunshine