High-speed Processing: Giving Artisans a Hand

by Shane Whitaker
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Maple Leaf Foods defines “artisan bread” as “the traditional process for baking bread that is time- and labor-intensive, resulting in a crusty exterior and highly flavorful high-value product.” Maple Leaf, Toronto, ON, did a fine job of defining the characteristics of artisan bread products. However, while the process for making artisan breads is time-intensive, some would disagree that it must also require a lot of labor. In fact, the entire process for making a wide range of artisan breads can be automated, allowing wholesalers to produce much greater throughputs with a lot fewer man-hours.

The growth of artisan breads used in food service is a major challenge for bakers, according to Ken Johnson, president, Gemini Bakery Equipment Co., Philadelphia, PA. “Artisan-style products historically were not expected to be very uniform; however, food service industry customers are demanding more uniformity,” he said.

Using automated equipment, bakeries can produce high-quality artisan beads with a more consistent look, if that is what they desire. Or if more rustic shapes are preferred, today’s high-output equipment can accommodate those requests.

Because artisan breads have risen in popularity in recent years and customers want diverse products, bakeries demand versatility of makeup lines, according to Klaus Fritsch, managing director and president of Fritsch GmbH, the Markt Einersheim, Germany-based parent company of Fritsch USA, Cedar Grove, NJ. “Bakeries are being pushed to produce multiple SKUs on one line; therefore, downtime between runs must be minimized,” he said. “Changeovers must occur without tools and very quickly.”

STARTERS AND FLOOR TIME.

Some may contend that because no handwork is used to make products on automated lines, they are not truly artisan but perhaps should be referred to as “artisan-style breads.” Whether they’re artisan or artisan-style breads, these products often feature natural ingredients, highly hydrated doughs and long resting times. And certain ingredients such as improvers and conditioners are considered no-no’s in artisan breads.

Many artisan breads use starters such as a biga, levain or sour with naturally occurring yeasts. It is much easier to automate a levain or a sour starter because these can be configured as liquid systems, according to Bob Marraccini, vice-president, RONDO, Moonachie, NJ. Additionally, bottom-discharge mixers are necessary to fully automate artisan lines, he said. “The simplest way to automate floor time is to use a pass-through fermentation room with conveyorized lanes,” Mr. Marraccini explained. “A tub or container of dough is put on the conveyor, and it can be set for any time period from 15 minutes to 48 hours.”

Next, a gentle dividing and sheeting process as well as automatic, reliable and gentle shaping in the makeup areas are essential for fully automated artisan bread production, noted Josef Hoos, Fritsch’s senior technical and projects manager.

TO SHEET OR TO DIVIDE?

Whether a bakery uses sheeting or volumetric dividers depends on the artisan bread being produced. George Erasmus, vice-president, innovation, and head baker at Tribeca Oven, said he prefers sheeting lines for handling highly hydrated doughs. The Carlstadt, NJ-based artisan bread bakery is in the process of installing its first automated line for artisan breads, which will be capable of producing 6,000 lb per hour. But despite its high output, he pointed out, the line will not run at high speeds. “Because we are using a much wider line, we are able to go at slower speeds and get the quality and open structure [associated with artisan breads],” Mr. Erasmus said.

Mecatherm, Schirmeck, France, offers the patented Mecaflow divider that gently handles dough to guarantee bakers do not lose the benefits of resting time, according to Cyril Munsch, the company’s sales director. “The dough almost naturally flows into a calibrating channel, without going through an extruder, which would damage the dough structure,” he added. “The equipment accommodates a large width of dough, which means that the dough moves very slowly even at high production rates.”

RONDO’s sheeters can easily manage 95%-hydration doughs, according to Mr. Marraccini. “On the RONDO line, the dough put in is the dough you get out,” he said. “No additional stress is added.”

Rheon USA, Irvine, CA, offers its V4 stress-free dough feeders for artisan bread doughs. This machine is designed to handle the widest ranges of dough types, including highly hydrated doughs with hours of floor time, according to Jon Thompson, the company’s national sales director.

Continuous weighing systems help ensure accurate piece weights, and Rheon’s stress-free stretchers gently reduce the thickness of the dough sheet without degassing the dough. “The dough is stretched and not crushed by conventional gauging systems,” Mr. Thompson said.

Artisan breads fit into two categories: moulded or cut breads, according to Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA, Hudson, OH. “Moulded breads encompass things like baguettes, and cut breads are represented by a product like ciabatta,” he said. “However, at Rademaker, we have been getting excellent results in making a baguette from a cut dough sheet rather than conventional moulding, resulting in a more open internal cell structure in the finished product because the dough is not degassed during the moulding process.”

Rademaker developed a new low-stress sheeting system that creates breads with higher absorption levels and that treats the continuous dough sheet in the gentlest manner possible, Mr. Riggle noted.

Doughs processed on sheeters generally have longer prefermentation times as opposed to those handled with volumetric dividers, and artisan products made with piston dividers often need an intermediate proof after dividing, according to Michel Eggebrecht, bakery consultant for WP Kemper Bakery Systems, Shelton, CT. By removing the dough band former, new sheeting lines from WP Kemper put less stress on dough, according to Dieter Knost, managing director of Werner & Pfleiderer Industrial Bakery Technologies, Tamm, Germany. Top-and-bottom-driven satellite heads gently reduce the thickness of dough as it passes to the gauging rollers, he added.

To ensure sheeted dough pieces are precisely portioned, WP Kemper offers a new delta robot cutter that uses machine vision to accurately cut the dough within ±1% of the desired weight, according to Pat Kennedy, president of WP Kemper, the North American sales office for The WP Bakery Group of Germany.

While all of these new controls on satellite rollers and heads give the baker significant command of the dough, Mr. Eggebrecht said skilled craft bakers are still needed on these lines because of their understanding of dough. “I firmly believe you can make high-quality artisan bread [on automated lines] as long as you’re using high-quality machines with highly skilled bakers,” he explained.

For the past 10 years, many US bakeries have relied on sheeting lines for processing of artisan breads. However, Mr. Eggebrecht pointed out that sheeted dough doesn’t look as natural when trying to make larger artisan bread loaves. In addition, he noted that volumetric dividing has come a long way in the past few years in not putting as much stress on dough.

Voluminator dividers from WP Haton feature a 2-stage system; on the back stroke the machine pauses and doesn’t force dough back into the hopper, so there is less rework, according to Mr. Eggebrecht. “Reducing the pressure on the stroke, using little bit of oiling on the belts and doing some other things has allowed us to handle very hydrated, fully fermented doughs, which years ago were impossible to do [on volumetric dividers],” he added.

DOUGH FORMING.

Cone rounders are one of the most popular options for forming artisan products, and to handle artisan bread doughs, WP Kemper offers Teflon-coated rounders with adjustable tracks. “That way you can open up the track as you need to for each piece of dough, putting less stress on it,” Mr. Eggebrecht explained.

Some doughs bakers run through the Mecatherm machines are so soft, fluffy and sticky that they wouldn’t even be able to be formed by hand, according to Mr. Munsch. The Mecaflow treats flat products differently than baguettes. “Flat products are run through the machine using the laminating technique,” he said. “Again, working without an extruder and on a large width mean we maintain the dough quality that we had out of the mixing bowl from the beginning of the process to the end. The amount of trim [or scrap], which is a consequence of lamination, is limited by the fact that we work on a large width, thus reducing the percentage of trim.”

The Mecaflow is used as a divider only when making baguettes, rolls and Parisians, and it feeds one or several Mecaflow moulders. “In this case, we duplicate the different steps a baker would do by hand for flattening the dough piece, folding it, moulding it and finally stretching it to its final length,” he said. “Going through these steps will give the baguettes the right aspect as well as mechanically strengthen the dough to have, after the baking process, the volume, the texture and, importantly, the opening of the cut.”

Gemini’s new CraftMaster Plus bread and roll line is designed to handle a large variety of French-style specialty breads and variety rolls, according to Mr. Johnson. The production rate of the system varies based on size, weight and shape of products. The expected throughput capacity is approximately 4,000 lb per hour, depending on size of product.

After forming, the product moves to a final proofer where the dough gets a final fermentation before baking. A belt proofer may only provide one hour; however, if the product is being proofed on peel boards, the final proof may last up to two hours, Mr. Knost said, noting that conditions in the proofer are generally held around 86 to 90°F (30 to 32°C) and 80 to 82% humidity.

Industrially produced artisan products have the same quality as a handmade artisan bread or roll, according to Mr. Munsch. “However, we mass produce with a higher level of consistency and with limited amount of people,” he added.

Mr. Fritsch contended that during a blind cutting by a panel of unbiased consumers it would be impossible to discern the difference between a handmade artisan baguette or ciabatta and one made on a Fritsch line. “What will always be most important is the formulation and process, not whether it was produced by hand or via commercial equipment,” he said. “The use of high-quality equipment simply allows a larger bakery to replicate what a skilled baker can do — just in much higher quantities.”

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