Reader Michael writes:
We were sitting around talking about why pastries from bakeries are nowhere near as good as they used to be. It came to me that it may have something to do with lard vs shortening vs oil. My brother commented that Panera used to have cherry danish that was awesome, then they changed the recipe and the result was not worth the effort so he quit eating it.
Perhaps we got our bakery recipes ruined by the corporate mentality that has given us cardboard flavored tomatoes. Then again it could be that the healthy dining freaks have succeeded in making our former “treats” so tasteless that they are not worth eating.
Hey Michael! Honestly I think it’s a combination of both factors. But first let me say it’s a sad testament on the state of modern baking when we’re getting nostalgic for the early days of Panera bread! Hehe…
I think a big part of the reason for the sameness of so much mass-produced pastry is that pre-made component suppliers like BakeMark have started producing cheapie laminated doughs in huge quantities and offer it at a very low price. Chains like Panera may well have switched from their own pre-produced pastry to BakeMark’s (or some other megacorp’s). This sort of outsourcing has been a growing trend in commercial baking. It makes a lot of economic sense, but then as you point out, it’s we the true pastry lovers of the world who pay the price.
The dietary scolds also play a part in this, as a company like BakeMark knows that every one of its offerings is going to be scrutinized for every last additive, calorie and gram of saturated fat. Like every other industrial food maker, they’re scrambling to create “clean labels” that only the world’s most food-obsessive personalities would find objectionable. So when you’ve got a situation in which very few suppliers are feeding products to the mass market, and those suppliers are under constant pressure from dietary pressure groups, you can imagine the outcome: yuck.
Best to learn to make your own while you still can in the privacy of your own home! Thanks for a great question, Michael!