“The oven is number one, and any kind of freezer space is ‘1a.’ Ninety-nine percent of our products are frozen at some point, whether it's frozen raw or after its baked, or frozen finished and boxed,” Gori adds.
This statement might have struck fear into the hearts of retail bakers 20 years ago, but times have changed. Bakers have discovered that when freezers are used properly, product quality can be maintained and production efficiency can be improved.
“With everything being tighter, labor being tighter, it is an essential piece of equipment,” says Andrew Swartz, owner, Andrew's Pastries, Marion, Ohio. “It gives you the ability to work ahead of yourself, especially around the holidays. I just couldn't imagine not having a freezer.”
For retail and in-store bakers, freezers are fairly standard. Most retail bakers choose a walk-in, with size the only really defining characteristic. All freezers contain compressors with fans for continuous airflow; condensers that allow refrigerant gas, such as Freon, to flow from the compressor; evaporators that change liquid to gas, absorbing heat; and insulation surrounding the cabinet to help maintain inside temperatures and minimize noise. Bakeries generally keep their freezer temperature between -15°F and 0°F.
Freezer needs for wholesale bakeries go beyond walk-in freezers. Freezing technology choices broaden for larger bakery facilities and include spiral freezers, mechanical blast freezers and cryogenic systems. Cryogenic systems freeze products using nitrogen or carbon dioxide and are available in spiral or tunnel formats. They can reach temperatures as low as -150°F. While many retailers like the idea of quickly blast freezing their products, size and cost can be prohibitive.
When choosing a freezer, decide what types of products you are going to freeze, the size you need and if your needs require customization.
Gori's biggest priority was size and using his available floor space judiciously. His freezer/refrigeration unit is situated in the middle of his bakery and divides his production area into two distinct rooms.
He chose to have two 24-in. doors on each side of the freezer. The 24-in. door size is perfect for fitting racks without losing too much freezer space, he says.
“How many entrances do you need? You put in a door or two, you might solve one problem but you create another problem by losing space,” he adds. Gori also decided to sink the floor of the freezer, so the freezer floor is level with the bakery floor. This eliminated ramps, allowing racks to roll in easily.
The Pastry Chef's freezer system was custom made. “It's pretty standard that you can custom make your freezer and refrigeration into almost anything you're looking for as far as size, number of doors and size of doors,” Gori says. “Customization is very important.”
When Debbie Brockhoff was planning to open her retail bakery, she was new to the industry and sought advice from other bakers. The overwhelming consensus was to purchase a walk-in freezer. “So, I took their advice, and that's what we did. I'm so glad; I just wish it was a little bigger,” Brockhoff says. She and her husband own Isabel's Bakery in Sparks, Nev.
She purchased a 10-ft. by 8-ft. freezer/refrigerator combination walk-in. The manufacturer had her speak directly to the engineer to determine the type of freezer she needed. The engineer asked several key questions: what types of products was she going to freeze, how much of the product was she going to freeze, and was she planning to freeze products while still warm. “That was really impressive to me that I talked to the engineer of this company,” Brockhoff says. “I was grateful.”
With the growing importance of freezers in daily production, reliability is essential. “As long as [the freezer] is working properly, it's a pretty low maintenance piece of equipment,” Swartz says. “If it's not working properly, you can have a bunch of problems.”
Gori's solution to potential breakdowns is to have extra freezer space. With all of its freezers combined, The Pastry Chef has at least 600 sq. ft. of freezer space. “Have multiple freezers in case one breaks down, that way it doesn't kill your day.”
Determining which products can be frozen requires some understanding of the science of baking, Swartz says. The general rule of thumb is products with high moisture content are more difficult to freeze because they encounter freeze/thaw issues. Some products freeze well without a loss of quality, such as cakes, cookies, Danish, brownies, baklava, biscotti, eclairs and buns.
Two keys elements to freezing products are making sure they are well wrapped in plastic and rotating them properly; first in, first out.
Also, know your own products. Gori's rule is that any product his bakery freezes should be able to be frozen for a couple of months. However, there are exceptions. He knows that his frozen Danish dough does not last two months. The yeast is gradually killed the longer it is frozen. While the flavor is generally unchanged, the appearance changes. Cakes will freeze for two months without any change in the taste or appearance. He tries not to expose his finished product to a lot of air in the freezer. If a finished cake is exposed in the freezer, the appearance will be altered.
“Freezers are great,” Gori says. “They are our best friends.”
Brockhoff's advice: “Go big. Trust me, you will find ways to fill that thing.”