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What is Baker's Dozen?

Shaswati, Bhubaneswar
Unlike what t sounds like Baker's Dozen is not just a common phrase in the culinary world but happens to be an ordinarily used phrase in everyday life. Interestingly, it is a step above its kinsman the ordinary dozen. While the latter refers to a group 12, the former points to the number 13.

The story of the origin of this weird pair of words dates back to the medieval ages. England has a long history of regulation of trade; bakers were regulated by a trade guild called The Worshipful Company of Bakers, which dates back to at least the reign of Henry II (1154-89). This law caused bakers to be completely wary of the services they provide and was called the Assize of Bread and Ale. Any baker to sell bread that is underweight or slightly less in quantity than what the customer demands would be heavily taxed and punished.

Such serious levitation of laws on the selling of bread sounds hilarious today. But during that time, bread was the primary synthetic food which both the common man could afford and rich men could enjoy. That is why even today we use phrases like the 'bread-winner', 'daily bread' etc. It was and is the symbol of hunger. Since a loaf of bread was such a big deal, The traders would supply an extra piece to the customer when asked to pack a dozen. It was to be extra sure that they are not providing anything short of the desired measure and quantity. This is how the phrase came to be so popular.

The above interest story was simply the first and most accepted version of logic behind the phrase. Two more have been doing the rounds for a long time too. One of them is that that bakers would sell 13 loaves to vendors while only charging them for 12 which allowed the vendor to sell all 13 then at full price; thus, they’d earn a 7.7% profit per loaf. So in this case, vendors were being given a sort of wholesale price, but without breaking the laws outlined in the Assize of Bread and Ale, which had no exceptions for allowing a lower price to vendors. This theory has some loopholes in it but one can make his peace with it all in all.

Another theory does not quite clarify why they sell 13 at the price of 12, but can show why bread bakers and brewers would make in batches of 13 mostly. The size of the trays was such that the dimensions would demand an arrangement of 4,5,4 in each row. It would look like a hexagon. The corners would be free as they seem to be heating and cooling faster than the other parts. Hence, there is a high chance it gave birth to the 'Baker's Dozen'.
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