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Dressing up bakery productsDressing up bakery products

Just like in show biz, appearance is half the battle when it comes to bakery products.

January 1, 1994

7 Min Read
Dressing up bakery products.jpg

In the food biz, they say, appearance is half the battle. Each morning you search your closet or drawers for a tie without stains, for pantyhose without runs; time permitting, you might even add a tie tack or a string of faux pearls. You take careful measures to ensure you look your best. Shouldn't you afford your new bakery products the same courtesy?

Product designers wishing to dress up their new bakery foods can select from an array of ingredients on a par with Liz Taylor's wardrobe and Imelda Marcos' walk-in shoe closet. Backed by thousands of years of experimentation, bakery product accoutrements run the gamut from simple sprinkles to complex coatings. In fact, the range of options is so broad, few food scientists can claim to know how all ingredients will perform under all processing conditions. For this reason, ingredient suppliers have become invaluable resources. Like celebrities' fashion consultants, these professionals frequently are called upon to specify the precise form necessary to withstand the rigors of processing, packaging and distribution; their input can help ensure your new product arrives at its premier looking sharp and tasting sweet. The following compendium of ingredient classifications surveys the broad range of ingredients available for giving a new bakery product that extra panache.

Appearance enhancers

This broad category encompasses a wide variety of accoutrements, including coarse sugars and candy sprinkles (for sweet goods) and kosher salt and seeds (for savory products). While these ingredients might add a modicum of flavor, their primary function is to enhance the bakery products' appearance.

This being the case, the ingredients should be stable enough to withstand baking temperatures. For instance, sanding sugar is recommended for topping cookies -- its coarse grain melts just enough to promote adhesion to the cookie's surface.


Pure chocolate and its accompanying assortment of blends can be used to top or coat bakery products, or become an integral part of the product formula -- as is the case with chocolate-chip cookies. Pure chocolate can catapult a new product from being one of the boys in the chorus to singing the lead. Its cocoa-butter fat system makes for an ingredient that melts relatively rapidly and supplies rich flavor and mouth feel; it also requires more handling --tempering -- to control fat crystallization. Also, as is true with most pure ingredients, straight chocolate also can add significant cost. As a result, pure chocolate should be specified only in products where its flavor and texture can be fully appreciated, as in gourmet-style chocolate chunk cookies.

Chocolate coatings offer product designers a more economical, and flexible, option. According to Edward Minson, R&D manager, Ambrosia Chocolate Co., Milwaukee, chocolate coatings contain added vegetable fat, either in the form of lauric hard butters (from oils such as coconut and palm seed) or non-lauric (domestic) hard butters (from sources such as soybean and cottonseed oils). The type of fat used will have a direct effect on flavor stability, tempering requirements, cocoa butter content and the total amount of fat contained in the product.

In general, domestic-fat coatings: offer high flavor stability over a wide range of moisture levels; do not require tempering; and are compatible with cocoa butter levels as high as 15%. However, Minson adds, the coatings also carry a notable disadvantage: Domestic butters must be added in higher quantities to achieve a given viscosity, thus increasing the end product's fat and caloric content.

Coatings can be used to form chocolate drops, which can range in size from 650 per pound to 12,000 per pound. The fat content of the coating will determine the drops' melting properties -- an important consideration if the drops are to be baked.

Chocolate coatings are perhaps more commonly used to enrobe products; the degree of coverage is determined by the coating's viscosity (fat content) and by making adjustments to the settings on the enrober itself.

Minson notes that when using chocolate coatings in this manner, special attention should be paid to the enrobed product's moisture content as well as to the potential for condensation after enrobing. Water, even in small amounts, could prevent the coatings from solidifying properly; it also can produce a dull, rather than glossy, finish.


Whether made from a non-dairy whipped product or a starch-based pudding or fruit formulation, fillings should not seep or break down as environmental conditions fluctuate. That's a tall order, given the wide range of conditions a product can encounter between plant and consumer. For this reason, fillings normally are specified only after close consultation with a fillings supplier.

Notes Walt Schierioth of the American Institute of Baking, Manhattan, KA, "To specify fillings correctly, a food product designer needs a thorough knowledge of the scores of starches on the market; how they interact with other ingredients, their cooking and subsequent handling procedures. Rather than store all those facts, it's normally more efficient -- and economically feasible -- to contact a fillings supplier. Chances are they either manufacture, or can create, the exact filling you need."


Fruit components for bakery products are available in a variety of forms; besides the aforementioned fillings, fruits can be purchased whole or in pieces, IQF (Individually Quick Frozen), packed in syrup or dehydrated. Each form offers its own advantages: Fresh and frozen fruits undergo minimal processing; syrup-packed fruits can be used immediately or stored at ambient conditions; dehydrated fruits can be shipped at a fraction of the cost of their higher-moisture brethren.

Fruit-ingredient suppliers typically specialize in a small number of fruit varieties, yet offer these fruits in virtually any form a product formulation requires. At Tree Top Inc., for example, apples dominate the specification sheets; however, the Selah, WA, company also supplies bananas, peaches and berries in varying forms.

According to Tree Top's Greg Bainter, a product designer need not be proficient the multitude of qualities each variety of fruit presents; he or she can convey the qualities desired and let the suppliers technical staff supply the required ingredient.

"With apples, for instance, designers usually don't know a lot about specific varieties -- particularly the new ones like Fuji," says Bainter. "Each variety has a different flavor profile, some don't hold up well in fillings."


These exterior components help protect a bakery product from outside air. But, perhaps more importantly, they're the first thing a consumer sees when he or she pulls the product from its packaging. To this end, the icings should be formulated to prevent sticking, drying and cracking throughout the manufacturing and distribution process -- not to mention withstanding the abuse it may suffer at the hands of the end user.

To create such strong, stable products, flat or water icings (sugar solids suspended in water) frequently are strengthened by the addition of food gums. These hydrocolloids help control the delicate balance between the sugar crystals and the syrup in which they are suspended. Flat icings typically are drizzled on danish, donuts and coffee cakes.

Richer icings contain a fat component which enhances mouthfeel as well as flavor. These fats can be provided in many forms to the product designer wishing to create his or her own formula; in addition, recent advancements in fat-replacement technology have made reduced-fat icings a reality.


Nuts add a great deal to a product's perceived "naturalness" -- a definite plus in the back-to-basics 1990s. Depending on variety, they can be purchased in-shell, whole, halved, chopped or ground, raw, roasted, or further processed into nut butters. They add both flavor and texture to a finished bakery product.

Nuts' healthful image is not without basis. They supply protein, vitamins and minerals; in their natural states, they are low in sugar and sodium. And they are low in unsaturated fats and high in fiber -- two nutritional buzzwords consumers recognize instantly.

Nuts should be stored under cool, dry conditions. Temperatures just above freezing are recommended to keep the nuts' unsaturated fats from oxidizing and becoming rancid. Low humidity limits water activity, thus slowing down oxidation as well as microbial growth.

After completing the research and specifying the required ingredients, a product designer's your dressed-up product can be sent on its way down the bakery-fashion runway -- through scale up, production, packaging and distribution channels -- to its big debut. It might luxuriate in a thick robe of chocolate, sport fancy fruit accessories, or simply be clad in something nutty; what's important is how the critics receive it. If its combination of colors, textures, aromas and flavors all measure up, it's certain to garner raves from even the harshest critic of all: the consumer.

Pam Erickson is a St. Charles, IL-based contributing writer specializing in topics related to the food industry.

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