CHICAGO — When it comes to innovation in bread production, the last thing commercial bakers should do is ignore the independents, according to Tom Gumpel, founder and CEO, MDJ Baking, Inc. and former vice-president, bakery research and development for Panera Bread.

This was his message to attendees of the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech, which took place Feb. 24-26 in Chicago.

As consumers seek high-quality artisan products and demand innovative new items, Mr. Gumpel pointed to artisan bakers such as Dominque Ansel, creator of the cronut — a fried donut made with laminated croissant dough —that can now be found on Dunkin’ menus around the country.

Today, many foodservice operators and in-store bakeries are looking for artisan-style croissants to meet the demand for high-quality baked goods, and Mr. Gumpel identified pre-proofing as a critical stage in the process to meet that demand, harkening back to his days at Panera when the trend was taking off.

“There are more requests going back to frozen, raw and unproofed. But it seems that the craft players want to touch it a little more,” he said. “Pre-proofing is great for labor because you can go from freezer to oven.”

Tom Gumpel addressed attendees at the American Society of Baking's BakingTech2019.
As most bakers know, proofing is not only a critical step in the artisan process, but it can also be a very personal one. “I have told my students in the past how critical proofing is for final quality; it was probably the biggest thing in my career, trying to define and get the young learner to understand when something is properly proofed.

“The proof is so personal, and it’s critical for your outcome,” he continued. “Pre-proofing has been a huge win for the industry.”

As technology advances, Mr. Gumpel emphasized that bakers’ technical understanding of the breadmaking process must advance with it in order for bread to carry on as a mainstay on the American table.

“In my personal experience of running the menu for Panera Bread and living through Atkins, trying to live through gluten-free and wrestling with paleo, you find yourself, as a baker, defending bread. And too often, bakers will say, ‘We’re not that bread; we’re this bread,’” he said.

Mr. Gumpel advised that in order for bread to win, bakers must know how to define good bread. “I’ve been on a kick lately to say, ‘Good bread is good for you,’” he said.

To get the message out, Mr. Gumpel speaks with bakers ranging from artisan bread makers to commercial wholesalers. “I want to give them ammunition and knowledge. Bread has been here forever, and it will continue to be. We need to share that,” he explained.

The first step, he said, is understanding the process at an intimate level. “It’s more often that bakers don’t know what’s behind the bread — how to talk about it, defend it or change it if it’s not within their vision,” he said.

“I’m trying to give a shared definition of what good bread is. I think this is the big next step in bread baking and being face-to-face with consumers and the media. We need knowledge and language to defend bread and move forward,” he said.