"Bakers need to keep developing new products and pushing innovation, otherwise they are really going to suffer under pressure from supermarkets and their low price points," says Fermex’s technical specialist Sara Autton.

UK specialist ingredients distributor Fermex, which supplies Lesaffre products, regularly invites clients to its Baking Center as part of the service it offers to wholesale and plant bakers. Fermex’s customers are given the opportunity to use this training facility. Technical support and expert advice are offered wherever possible.

The Baking Center is part of the giant producer of baker’s yeast, the Lesaffre Group. It is decked out with modern machines, equipment, basic and auxiliary materials, which can be found in commercial bakeries worldwide, including mixers, kneaders, moulders, ovens and proving chambers.

BB editor Sylvia Macdonald and I, aided by the technical skill of Fermex’s Sara Autton and the baking excellence of Lesaffre’s Nigel Saunders, made a selection of speciality breads over a recent two-day visit to the Center, including La Boule Levain (sourdough), La Flute Gourmande, baguettes, focaccia and ciabatta, with differing amounts of salt - 2.2%, 1.5% and salt-free.


Using Lesaffre’s Crème de Levain, La Boule Levain sourdough bread was produced. Levains and sourdoughs are all versions of pre-fermented dough, either in liquid or dough form. They are used for their gluten-mellowing properties, but also for developing significant additional flavour and extending shelf-life.

In their simplest form, spontaneous levains are a pre-fermentation of flour and water, the fermentation being started by naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria in the flour, atmosphere and water. Other external ingredients, such as sources of lactose and other sugars, may be added to promote the fermentation. This spontaneous fermentation relies on the natural microbial activity within the flour to soften the gluten, and flavour development using this basic formulation can take several days. The stages in traditional sourdough manufacture typically involve several steps of refreshing the levain. The incorporation of a specific bacterium may be required for strongly acidic sourdoughs.

"There are some concerns associated with the use of traditional levains," says Autton. "They represent significant investment, because you need the correct dough handling machinery on the plant and appropriate equipment to produce the levain. Careful management of the process is essential, particularly with regard to hygiene issues, as accidental contamination must not occur. They also take up a lot of storage room and use time. For a consistent flavour of product, fermentation times and temperatures must be strictly controlled."

For liquid levains, suitable tanks, mixing equipment, temperature controls, heat exchangers and in-place cleaning systems are essential. Lesaffre has developed a range of ready-to-use levain products to cut down on such problems. Crème de Levain, for example, is a stabilised, live liquid levain, bringing the advantages of a traditional levain in ready-to-use form. It has a rich, slightly acidic flavour, typical of long fermentation. The product contains live aromatic yeasts and sourdough bacteria and may be stored for up to 10 weeks under refrigeration. It is best used as a way of creating flavour during fermentation. As the product has standardised levels of micro-organisms, the flavour created can be repeated again and again, as long as fermentation and dough processing conditions are kept the same.

Fermex’s service to its customers at the Lesaffre Baking Center in Lille, provides two things, says Autton. "We provide an introduction to basic dough technology for people with only a limited technological background and for trouble-shooting - for example, a big plant bakery might be having problems with making sourdough bread, such as it is too sticky or has a funny smell. We can bring them here so that they can start with the basics and learn about how sourdough processes work.

"The smallest change - such as over- or under-mixing the dough or putting water in at the wrong temperature - can have a big effect on the finished product," she says. "At the Center, we aim to give people the tools to get the product they want and to think about things like hygiene or adding other ingredients, such as rye flours. We let them test things on a small production scale.


"Often, bakers think that to make new products they need new equipment, but sometimes it’s simply a case of tweaking the recipe - for example, using a different flour, mixing at different speeds or temperatures, allowing longer resting times or using different amounts of salt. We can help by showing the effects of these changes on different products."

Fermex also demonstrated its new Minute Bread improver, which has been devised by Lesaffre at the Baking Center. The improver’s objective is to reduce the bake-off time of part-baked frozen breads to just two minutes. "The result is not only a massive reduction in bake-off time and potential wastage, but also a superior product with improved appearance, eating qualities and shelf-life," claims Nigel Saunders, a technologist at the centre. The process is now the subject of a patent application.

At the centre, there is also a sensory analysis laboratory. As well as helping visitors, the experts from this department conduct research and sensory tests. These come in the form of a consumer panel and a trained panel. "People on the naive (or consumer) panel have had no training," says sensory analysis manager Camille Dupuy. "This panel consists of about 80 people and is very interesting, because I find out consumer’s preferences - what they love and what they hate."

People on the trained panel, on the other hand, have had a minimum of 20 hours of training. They have a choice of descriptors and give a rating, 1-10, of how strongly they can taste that particular descriptor - for example, buttery, bitter, coffee, toasted and so on. "I train these people to smell like a machine; they need to smell objectively for this analysis to work." n