5 Things Bakeries Don't Want You To Know
We all love the smell of the bakery. It seems like a magical place where only good things happen. But as a bakery insider, I can tell you it’s not always like that.
Here are a few things that bakeries and bakers won’t tell you.
Night of the Living Bread
Everybody loves garlic bread. If you’re hungry there’s nothing like a bite of warm garlic bread. When you’re at a bakery, you have to pick some up for supper.
You don’t just pick any loaf, though. You check the expiry date and you squeeze it. But guess what? It probably doesn’t matter.
Garlic bread is French bread on borrowed time. If a loaf of French bread is put on the shelf today, it was most likely baked today. If a loaf of garlic bread is put on the shelf today, it was almost certainly not baked today. Or yesterday. Or the day before. Or the day before that. And so on.
Here’s the problem: French bread is a big seller, so bakeries make a lot of it. Why take some of these fresh loaves that will probably sell anyway and turn them into garlic bread? Why not keep some of the unsold loaves from a slow day, put them in the cooler or freezer, and turn those into garlic bread? Now you’re selling all the fresh French loaves AND rescuing the ones that would have been wasted while turning them into a higher priced item.
The Verdict: Do bakers shun garlic bread? No, they still buy it. Garlic bread might not be the freshest item in the bakery but it still tastes darn good. And when we get it home, what do we do with it? Put it in the oven for a few minutes, of course. That freshens the loaf for the time it takes us to enjoy it, so all is well.
Man's Inhumanity to Bran
I don’t want to be indelicate here but bran muffins are the garbage bin of the bakery. I’m exaggerating a bit. We don’t sweep the floor and put it in the bran muffins, so don’t get alarmed.
Bran has a dark color and coarse texture for a muffin; they’re perfect for hiding stray ingredients in.
If there’s a bit of mix left from other muffins or cakes, throw it in the bran. No one will notice. Crumbs from cutting bread or cake? In the bran.
Is this true of every bakery? No. It's just one of those things that is known to happen.
The Verdict: Do bakers buy bran muffins? Sometimes.
If it’s a big chain store/supermarket, go ahead. Those places are fine for bran muffins. There’s a set recipe of normal ingredients and the staff doesn’t own the business, so they don’t care about adding extra things to avoid waste.
If it’s a small bakery, don’t. Waste comes right out of the owner’s pocket. They don’t want to throw anything away. I’ve never heard of anything dangerous or gross being put in bran muffins, so try not to get sick over this. Bakers avoid bran muffins from private bakeries simply because they don’t know what’s in them.
The Fix: If you regularly eat bran muffins, buy them at a supermarket or make them yourself.
Would You Like Floor with That?
I hate to be the one to tell you, but not everything that falls on the floor gets thrown out. Why?
In a small, private bakery the owner will probably be upset if the staff drops something and then throws out what should have been a perfectly good item. It might not even be allowed. Or if the policy is to throw out something that hits the floor, an employee who drops something will see if anyone noticed, and if not, it gets packaged. They don’t want to get in trouble for wasting the owner’s money.
In a large chain store/supermarket it is the policy to throw out things that have fallen to the floor. Does this mean that the staff always does that? No. Some people don't like admitting a mistake so if no one sees, they keep it.
The Verdict: Do bakers worry about this? No. Hardly anything falls on the floor, so it’s extremely rare that you’ll buy the one item that did. And anyway, who hasn’t dropped something and then picked it up and eaten it?
Taking the Law into Our Own Hands
There are rules about when you have to wash your hands when you're working with food. But if you know anything about working with food, you know it’s hectic. If we washed our hands every time we switched back and forth between things we would never get anything on the shelf.
The truth is we don't wash our hands when the rules say we have to.
The Verdict: Do bakers avoid buying things because of the filthy hands that were on them? No. We don’t follow the hand washing rules but we use common sense. After handling something dirty we wash our hands before moving to the next thing. If we're moving from one clean task to another clean task with no risk of cross-contamination, we don’t worry about it.
"Sorry, We're Out... But Not Really"
You’re not going to like this, but sometimes when we tell you we’re out of something, we’re not. I know, it’s outrageous.
Bakeries can get really busy and sometimes they’re understaffed. When we’re rushing to get everything baked and packaged and a customer asks us for something, we might say “Sorry, we’re out.” We have work to finish, and even though getting an item that a person is willing to pay for should be our most important work, we might not be up for it. It’s that one extra thing that we can’t cope with at that moment.
The Verdict: If a baker asks for something at another bakery and they’re told “We’re out”, do they make a scene and claim it’s in the back? No. Most of the time we are out, and if we’re not, you have no way of knowing that. If you make a fuss we won’t ever admit that we actually have it.
The Fix: If the shelf is empty and you ask if there’s anything in the back, do it in the most pleasant way possible. Smile and ask politely if the person could spare the time right now to check for you. If it happens to be one of those times when we aren’t out, this pleasant interaction will lower our stress level and make us want to help you.
Despite these issues, bakeries are still great. They're magical places with a little past-its-prime bread, mystery ingredients, floor, rule breaking, and lying thrown in for good measure.