We all love the irresistible aroma of freshly baked bread, but what does the daily life of a baker involve and what journey does your sliced pan make from the wheat in the field to when the ingredients are mixed together right through to your shop shelf?

Let’s start at the beginning, to the farmer who grows the wheat, harvests it and brings it to the flour mill. When the miller gets the wheat, it’s tested to measure the amount of protein and moisture in the wheat. Then the wheat is sorted into different varieties and cleaned to remove anything that shouldn’t be there – like stones, wood, and other grains such as barley or oats. The wheat grains are then soaked to soften it and make it ready for milling. During milling, large rollers are used to crush the grains No doubt you remember seeing old fashioned stone mill wheels that were used to grind wheat and corn and other grains. Things have moved on a bit since then but the principle is still the same!

What’s left is the white part of the grain, called the ‘stock. For white flour, a sieve then removes the wheatbran and wheatgerm. Then, it’s ground down further into flour and sieved again to give your flour. Unlike white flour, wholemeal flour includes the bran and the germ. The flour is then bagged and transported to the bakery.

The baker’s “day” actually starts late at night, so they can get to the bakery and start preparing the ingredients. Following the previous day’s work, the bakery has been cleaned from top to bottom and all the mixers, pans and equipment have been thoroughly washed and sanitised. Food hygiene is top priority! The Bakers start by mixing the ingredients needed for the sliced pan, including flour, water, yeast and salt. Some sliced pans might also contain whole grains, seeds, dried fruits or other ingredients.

All the ingredients are mixed together to form dough. When the dough comes out of the mixer, the baker checks that it’s not too tight, not too loose, not too hot and not too cold. The dough is then cut up into the weight of a loaf. As any home bread baker will know, weighing your dough is an important step to make sure your loaves are all the same size! Next, the dough is shaped into a ball and allowed to rest in a warm area to recover. After 5 minutes, the dough is rolled out, flattened like a pancake and then rolled like a swiss roll. Then it’s cut into 4 pieces and put into a tin. The tin is sent to another warm place so the bread can “prove” – this allows the dough to relax a second time and it’s here that the dough rises. Once the baker is happy that the dough has risen enough, then it goes into the oven for baking. During baking, the bread’s unique shape is set and this is also when the ‘crust’ is formed.

Once it’s baked, the baker checks the temperature and height of the bread before removing it from the tin. It’s left to cool down in a large, cool room. Then, after 2 hours, the bread is cool enough and ready to be sliced and wrapped. It’s checked one last time and if the baker’s happy, the bread is ready to go to the shops. From start to finish, the whole process can take 5 or 6 hours depending on which bread we are baking.

Bread was traditionally delivered by horse and cart deliveries but these were replaced with a fleet of electric vans in the 1960’s, retiring the horses on to pastures new. In the 1980′s, the electric van fleet was replaced with the distinctive diesel vans that you see on Irish roads today.

The delivery vans and trucks are then on the road from about 3am, delivering fresh bread every day to shops and supermarkets all across the country, just in time for your breakfast!

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Photographs: http://www.jmob.ie/history/

This blog post first appeared on www.irishbread.ie

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