Why is a Baker’s Dozen 13 instead of 12?

Dozen is defined as a collection of 12 things. It is from old French douzaine “a dozen, a number of twelve”.  In various usages, from doze “Twelve,” from Latin Duodecim “twelve,” from the duo “two” (from PIE root *dwo- “two”) + decem “ten” (from PIE root *dekm- “ten”). The Old French suffix -aine is characteristically added to cardinals to form collectives in a precise sense (“exactly 12,” not “about 12”). Some various roots are Spanish, docena, Dutch dozijn, German dutzend, Danish dusin, Russian duizhina, etc. (click here for more details)

It is believed to be one of the earliest primitive groupings, maybe because there are approximately a dozen cycles of the Moon, or months, inna cycle of the Sun, or year. Twelve is suitable because it has the most divisors of any number under 18. (click here for more details)

However, uniquely used, a baker’s dozen is a group of 13 and not 12. Are bakers bad at counting?

There are several theories behind this baker’s dozen. One most widely accepted has to do with avoiding a beating. In medieval England, laws were made regarding the price of the bread related to the wheat cost used for baking. If a baker is caught or found to be “cheating,” the customers, by overpricing small loaves, will be subjected to strict punishments, which included fines or flogging.

Despite careful planning, it was a challenge back then to ensure the equality of the bread size because there will be fluctuations in rising and baking and air content, and many of the bakers didn’t even have scales to weigh their dough. Fearing the punishment, bakers would throw in a bit extra to ensure that they wouldn’t end up accidentally coming up short. So instead of 12, they went beyond to even 14-just to be extra sure. (click here for more details)

There were other reasons but mostly about strict compliance of laws that made this dozen a group of 13 to bakers counting. Throughout history, many societies have had stringent laws concerning baker’s products because it is relatively easy for bakers to cheat patrons. You cannot blame lawmakers since bread at that time was a primary food source.

In Egypt, if a baker is found cheating someone, his ear would be nailed to his bakery door. If a baker in Babylon was found to have sold a cheated loaf or a “light loaf to someone, his hands would be chopped off.

In Britain, the Assize of Bread and Ale statute was established in the mid-13th century. It was in effect until the 19th century before being repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act of 1863.

Another example was in Britain in the mid-13th century with the establishment of the Assize of Bread and Ale statute, which was in effect up to the 19th century before being repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act of 1863. It had set the price of ale and what weight a farthing loaf of bread should be.

Specifically it stated:

By the consent of the whole realm of England, the king’s measure was made; that is to say: that an English penny, called a sterling round, and without any clipping, shall weigh thirty-two wheat corns amid the ear, and twenty-pence do make an ounce. Twelve ounces one pound and eight pounds make a gallon of wine, and eight gallons of wine make a London bushel, which is the eighth part of a quarter. (click here for more details)

The practice was used by the Worshipful Company of Bakers (London) guild code, which was actually started in the 12th century and had a major role in formulating the rules on the Assize of Bread and Ale statute.

Another possible reason why a baker’s dozen makes 13 is due to the baking tray, which tends to have a 3:2 aspect ratio. It is considered the most efficient two-dimensional arrangement in baking that results in 13 items with a 4+5+4 hexagonal arrangement, which avoids corners. Avoiding corners is needed because, in baking, it easily heats up and quickly cools off than the edges and the interior. Therefore, it would result in not cooking anything on the corner evenly with the rest. (click here for more details)

However, this does not apply to today’s dozen bread if you buy from your favorite bread store. Consumer legislation has changed, and a supermarket pack of a dozen loaves now contains just 12!