Despite the fact that if you put ’retarder provers’ into Google’s internet search engine, it seems to think you’ve made a spelling error, these machines are an integral feature of many bakeries. A retarder prover cools dough products, allowing them to be stored, before transforming from a cold storage unit to a warm incubator-like environment, for the bread to prove ready for baking. It allows bakers more control over when their products are baked and enables them to prepare the dough in advance, but what are its other plus points?

David Charlesworth, sales executive at Norbake, says the biggest advantage of retarder provers is the time it saves bakers, especially early in the morning. The goods can be retarded and stored overnight, ready to be put straight into the oven the next day. This means businesses don’t need to staff the bakery so early in the morning - which is handy for those bakers who aren’t so keen on the night shift. "One of the biggest problems bakers face is getting staff to come in early, so making the product in the daytime and having it ready for baking first thing in the morning, gives the baker a good start to the day," he says. "Retarder provers can be used for the majority of dough products," says Charlesworth. "The retarder acts like a refrigerator, stopping the yeast from developing the dough." Products can then be stored inside for up to three days without any deterioration of the dough. For bakers looking to store dough for a much longer period without the risk of deterioration, there are other options. "A piece of equipment that follows on from a retarder prover is a dough controller," says Charlesworth. "With this equipment, frozen dough products can be kept for two to three weeks with no deterioration."

Danish company Lillnord manufactures a dough controller called SupraLine, supplied by Norbake, with a patented system that claims to do just that. Lillnord’s range also includes its Semi Line retarder prover and SemiMiniLine retarder prover for trays. Charlesworth says he knows of one particular baker in the north-east who fills up his eight-rack dough controller with products when he goes on his annual two-week summer holiday.

As Stewart Morris, director of European Process Plant (EPP), says: "Proving isn’t complicated, but is fundamental to the quality of the finished baked product." That’s not to say things cannot go awry. For example, if there is not enough humidity, the product will not rise properly, or if there is excess moisture condensing on the dough, it can result in a tough crust, says Morris. It’s all about the control of temperature, humidity, air-flow and time. So, easy then.

EPP supplies retarding and proving systems from German manufacturer MIWE, with capacities ranging from a few racks, right up to 200 or more.

For example, MIWE’s Garomat model has five programme sections: fast cooling, proofing interrupted, proofing retardation, proofing and the support phase, and has an operating temperature range of between -25?C and 45?C.

Many sizes fit all

Retarder provers are available in all sorts of shapes, sizes and specifications to suit bakeries’ needs. Some models even have a built-in sleep mode, so bakers can essentially press the pause button on the production process.

Chris Huish, sales and technical manager at Mono, says one of the main benefits of retarder provers is that they take away the peaks and troughs in the level of production. Swansea-based Mono Equipment, part of the AFE Group, manufactures and supplies bakery equipment, and is the agent for its sister company Williams Refrigeration.

The firm supplies two different retarder provers aimed at craft bakeries - the 17-tray Crystal RPC1T (upright model) and the 10-tray RPCC2-18U (bench model). It also supplies the Modular DRP, designed for use in retail bakeries.

"You tend to get a better product, because you can set the retarders up for a very gentle proof," explains Huish. "You can develop more flavour and will get a nicer product."

The latest addition to Mono’s range is the Doughmaster. The control panel is located in the door for ease of use and according to Huish all you have to do is set the time you want the dough ready for and the rest is done for you. "We do what we call a pod system, which is where the refrigeration unit is outside the cabinet rather than inside, so it’s easier to maintain and there are no compressors or condensers hanging down inside," explains Huish. "There is also the option of a low-medium prove or low-medium retard if the customer wants it."

One thing to remember is if you’re thinking about investing in a retarder prover, make sure it is a compatible size with your oven. "There’s no point having 60 racks of proved bread if your oven only holds 30," says Charlesworth.


=== Case study: JG Fletcher & Son (Bakers) ===

J G Fletcher and Son (Bakers), in Wigan, purchased three 15-rack Lillnord retarder provers from Norbake - one in 2004 and two more in 2006 - and director Glyn Fletcher says he is considering purchasing more in the future. Fletcher says it was improving the quality of product that prompted his initial decision to invest in the units.

"We used to have older retarder provers, but we couldn’t get a consistent product all the way along the rack," he explains. "With these new ones, the technology they have and the spread of the air flow around the product gives you a good quality product across the rack. They’re absolutely superb."

He says that as well as improving product quality, they have also helped with costs. "They have cut our staffing needs down, particularly at weekends, because you’re not starting from scratch; you’ve already got some stock that’s ready to go."

His staff already work nights, but it has enabled them to come in four hours later than before. It also means that, as soon as the oven man comes in, he’s got something to do. He bakes, and then the other staff come in and the production staff start later on.

Despite the fact the three units set him back around £75,000, Fletcher says they are cheap to run and have definitely saved him money in the long run. "All the latest technology means they don’t use a lot of energy and are environmentally friendly," he says. "We’ve not only saved money, but have also helped the quality of our product."