Bake to the Future
As artisan bakers search deeper into the past for new ways to make Old World breads, they also look for further technological advances to automate processing.
BakingBusiness.com, Nov. 1, 2010
by Dan Malovany

For Turano Baking Co., producing the next generation of artisan breads requires a bit of time travel. On one hand, the company is going back further in the annals of baking to uncover or rediscover the formulas and methods for creating classic breads and rolls, and then reposition these timeless treasures as the latest craze to consumers. At the same time, the Berwyn, IL-based baking company is searching for innovative ways for automating the often painstaking, time-intensive process of producing artisan breads from formulas that often come with 75 to 82% hydration levels. For Joe Turano, operations manager at Turano Baking, future developments in technology can’t come soon enough.

“We’re going back in time looking at the techniques that this country and Europe have used for many years,” he noted. “The challenge is to come up with equipment to handle these wet, highly fermented doughs in the various levels of output that we need. That challenge also involves producing everything from forming artisanal baguettes and round boules to hoagies, sub rolls and round rolls, whether they are hamburger buns or round Kaiser-type rolls. The challenge is how to run these complex, high-level absorption doughs and run them well.”

Over the years, Turano Baking has taken major strides in automating what had been a labor-intensive process. Eight years ago, after consulting with equipment companies from around the world, the baking company quilted a patchwork of equipment that allowed it to mostly automate the production of its signature, 2-lb Pane Turano bread. Today, the company has four of these low-stress production lines. “We based the entire production line on our signature product because we had confidence that the product was going to continue to grow in popularity as we improved the quality and produced it in higher quantities,” Mr. Turano said.

More recently, the company ventured into products such as ciabatta bread and rolls and other items with absorption rates and long fermentation times that make production difficult to automate because of the wet, soft and sticky doughs. As a result, Turano Baking built a small hand shop in its Berwyn bakery that creates 500 to 1,000 of these specialty products a day for its primarily food service clientele in the Chicago, IL, area. Many of the products are proofed on canvas couches or on peel boards on racks, and many of them require the old-fashioned, hands-on touch or scoring of the product. To automate them is a delicate process. Even unloading the doughs from the proofer to the oven can be a tricky proposition, according to Mr. Turano.

PRICE OF FLEXIBILITY.

When it comes to artisan bread production, bakers look for flexibility in handling a wide variety of products. That’s because artisan bakers often produce a huge number of different baked foods compared to conventional baking companies, and automating the process requires the ability to change the process on the fly. However, such versatility often comes with a price, according to Michael Eggebrecht, bakery consultant for Shelton, CT-based Kemper Bakery Systems, the North American subsidiary of the WP Bakery Group.

“Bakeries have to make tough decisions about how to spend their hard-earned capital and decide whether to buy a machine that not only does today’s products but can also do future products or to invest only in what the immediate future needs are,” he said.

At the recent International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) in Las Vegas, NV, the WP Bakery Group and Mr. Eggebrecht conducted a live bakery demonstration on how to automate or partially automate hands-on processes. “Many of our customers have never used automation and do not know where to begin,” he said. “Furthermore, we try to be flexible with our machine designs, and we can tailor systems to meet most anyone’s needs.”

The WP Bakery Group featured the latest in artisan bread production, including a robotic “flying knife” that guillotined products accurately and with minimal stress on the products. This new technology addresses weight accuracy on high-speed sheeting lines by providing extraordinary low tolerance. Additionally, Mr. Eggebrecht said, the company demonstrated the Quadro Fillius machine for wet, ciabatta-type baguettes and rolls with up to 79% hydration levels and extended fermentation time. “Artisan bread can be more difficult to produce because of the time that goes into it, especially if the process is stretched out over a day and a half and includes starters and prefermented dough,” he noted. “There is just more room for error in the process.”

Another major challenge in automating artisan breads and rolls involves maintaining the unique product characteristics that make it an “artisan” product in the first place, observed Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA, Inc., Hudson, OH.

“An artisan bread product is often started with a preferment to give the dough flavor and also the large, irregular gas bubbles. At Rademaker, we have a number of low-stress dough feeding options to maintain this product’s integrity and not damage the dough or the delicate structure created by the preferment,” he said.

Often, artisan bakers hydrate the flour all of the water it can hold, resulting in extremely soft doughs that can be impossible to manipulate on many lines. “Rademaker realizes that every artisan bakery product is unique and that standard, off-the-shelf equipment is often not going to be the solution,” Mr. Riggle said.

The company relies on its R&D center to evaluate bakers’ needs and design lines that have the flexibility to produce artisanal products such as baguettes, ciabatta and focaccia to sub rolls and hoagies with minimal changeover times. “This product-first approach has resulted in the areas of low-stress dough feeders, automated in-line prefermentation systems, unique dry material applications and specialized cutting systems for bread,” he added.

SPACE-SAVING ALTERNATIVES.

When automating artisan bread production, reducing labor is often critical, but many bakers also face floor space issues when they are expanding their capacity. For these bakers, Rheon USA, Irvine, CA, rolled out a smaller, more compact V4 stress-free line at IBIE 2010, which originally made its debut at the IBIE show three years earlier. The line will produce ciabatta, round and square rolls and even hearty-grain sandwich breads, according to Jon Thompson, national sales director, Rheon USA.

“This addressed two of the requests from bakers — to make the lines more compact as well as more versatile,” he said. “On this new line, the artisan baker can produce more ciabatta from square rolls to baguettes. Conventional moulded baguettes, batards, demi baguettes as well as the ‘seal-cut rolls’ are produced on this one line. The new guillotine will have angled blades to produce the pinpoint baguettes that are now popular. In addition, this line, as well as our automated lines, comes with our continuous weighing systems to make sure the weights of the products are very accurate. This line can come with 1-, 2- or 3-lane weighing systems.”

Bakeries producing artisan and artisan-style products also want better consistency. To enhance their production capacity, specialty bakers are seeking to improve their retarding, proofing and baking processes in a semi- or fully automated fashion, said Mark Rosenberg, c.e.o. of Gemini Bakery Equipment Co., Philadelphia, PA.

“Some of our clients have proof times that vary from 30 minutes to two hours and seek retarding capacity up to six to eight hours. While looking to improve their operations and save labor, these bakers cannot always justify full automation,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “Gemini offers an automated rack loading system to allow our clients to semi-automate the proofing and retarding process by automating the loading and unloading of their racks with boards and pans.”

Gemini has delivered stone-hearth and wire-mesh tunnel ovens for in pan and hearth-baked artisan products for those bakeries that have sufficient business to justify the advantages that a tunnel oven offers, he said. Specialty and artisan bakeries are being forced by their clients to improve consistency and uniformity of their products. For most bakeries, a tunnel oven can produce a more consistent product because it is not as reliant on operators, Mr Rosenberg added.

For bakeries that cannot justify a tunnel oven, Gemini offers the Sveba Dahlen I 62 industrial rack oven, which can handle two double racks in each bake cycle. “The advantage of baking in one quad-rack oven versus two double-rack ovens reduces rack handling and increases productivity,” Mr. Rosenberg noted. “The new I 62 also will take up one-third less space than two double rack ovens sitting side by side.” The oven, which is equipped with a new dual-steam generating system and alternating rack system, also can operate in a high-volume wholesale bakery seven days a week, 20 hours a day.

SHORTENING THE PROCESS.

Today, retailers, in-store bakers and food service operators are ordering a greater variety of products, but they also want to source them from a single supplier that they know and trust, said Ken Schwenger, sales manager, Fritsch USA, Cedar Grove, NJ. Fritsch’s Laminator 300 PLUS can provide the flexibility to produce everything from croissants and Danish to cinnamon rolls and ciabatta bread. Specifically, the sheeting process allows bakers to make up products with doughs ranging from 55 to 80% hydration. “Sheeting lines can produce products with a low hydration level as well as products that have long fermentation, even up to two or three hours of bulk fermentation as well as extremely high levels of hydration,” Mr. Schwenger noted.

The versatility of the line also reduces maintenance because it eliminates intermediate proofing in many cases. “Final proofing is also reduced by 50% because you don’t have to mould the products and you go directly from a guillotine to the final proofer or blast freezer,” he said. “The guillotine as opposed to the moulder is a huge advantage.”

At IBIE, the company also saw significant interest in its MultiTwist system, which can reduce labor and eliminate hand twisting by producing braided products, pretzels, twisted donuts and even knot rolls at rates between 1,500 and 2,000 per hour, Mr. Schwenger said.

Bakers also were checking out lines that offered increased food safety through sanitary design, noted Jerry Murphy, president, RONDO, Inc., Moonachie, NJ. At IBIE, RONDO featured its totally redesigned production line featuring its ASTEC, or Advanced Sanitary Technology, which complies with the 10 principles of sanitary design being promoted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and many of the nation’s largest food manufacturing companies.

According to Mr. Murphy, artisan bread baking companies desire technology that allows them to produce their products using tried-and-true, old-fashioned processes such as extended floor time but at high volumes to allow them to be profitable.

RONDO, which is now representing equipment components for Kaak Group North America, also promoted the Diosna Wendel mixer, which has a distinctive design and is well understood for making breads, but it can be used to produce pastries as well, Mr. Murphy said.

Koenig Technology, Inc., Richmond VA, featured the Ceres 2.1, which can satisfy artisan bakers’ demands for extended bowl resting times; stress-free, accurate and consistent production; and ease of cleaning and maintenance. The Ceres 2.1’s modular design enables bakers to customize components to meet their individual production needs to produce everything from wheat or rye bread to baguettes and ciabatta, according to Rich Breeswine, national sales manager for Koenig Technology.

Additionally, Koenig displayed its improved Artisan SFC line, which now offers a wider belt to optimize dough feeding to the cutter roller, a dough belt duster with a larger storage container and controllable drive for a more regular dusting of the dough string, a PLC, and a new dough string calibrating system.

Because many artisan breads are made from wet, sticky doughs, bakers can benefit from features such as monitored oiling systems, nonstick materials and pneumatics that can be adjusted even while the system is running, said Magnus Soeson, sales manager, Glimek North America. Glimek’s new SD-600 industrial capacity divider offers touch-screen controls, comes in 2-, 3- or 4-pocket models and can handle weights up to 60 oz with production rates ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 pieces per hour. The divider and other Glimek systems are sold and serviced by the Belshaw-Adamatic Bakery Group, Auburn, WA, in the US.

At IBIE, Sottoriva America, Charlotte, NC, showed off its “FLEXLINE” makeup system for producing bread and rolls ranging from 0.75 oz to 24.5 oz, according to Rich Wall, sales director. The company also displayed a variety of equipment.

For specialty and artisan bakers, automating the production of time-honored products remains a challenge, Mr. Turano explained. “Our suppliers are certainly stepping it up and coming up with creative ideas, but we still face challenges as we push the envelope with fermentation and absorption levels to produce those products that our customers desire,” he said.