Cookies: C is for Controls
by Shane Whitaker
In any highly competitive market, the key to success often involves differentiating one brand’s product line from all the rest. Maybe that’s why some of the major players in the cookie category are developing more healthful cookies while others create indulgent, decadent products. It’s also why many producers are trying to keep up with consumers’ demand for cookies in a wide range of sizes from mini to large, according to John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser, Canton, MA. He noted that cookies today include more combination flavors using fruits, nuts and candy pieces.
Mike Sherd, project manager of Egan Food Technologies, Grand Rapids, MI, said more companies are moving in the direction of making cookies for niche markets such as organic, allergen-free and gluten-free.
Martin Riis, product specialist, cookies, Unifiller Systems, Inc., Delta, BC, said he has received many inquiries during the past year from manufacturers interested in making gourmet cookies with large chocolate chips, macadamia nuts and other inclusions. But at the same time, the company has seen a growing interest in gluten-free cookies. Mr. Riis said he has “tasted a good couple dozen” gluten-free cookies over the past year and a half working with customers.
“People are trying to play with [gluten-free] formulations to develop different textures, and with a cookie, you can actually hide the fact that it is gluten-free,” Mr. Riis said. “In bread, it tends to be more difficult.”
However, no matter what kinds of cookies a bakery makes, it needs makeup systems to produce consistent, high-quality cookies.
“Gourmet cookie bakers who used to make their cookies on pans and rack ovens are now moving to automated wirecut machines and continuous tunnel ovens,” said Shawn Moye, executive director of sales, Reading Bakery Systems, Robesonia, PA. “Many of these bakers are creating new unique products with interesting formulations that can be gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, soy-free and egg-free.”
Reading assists manufacturers in meeting these trends by offering flexible and custom equipment designs. “We also use our Science and Innovation Center to assist in moving these customers from the pan process to fully automated production lines,” he said.
GENTLE AND ACCURATE.
One of the challenges cookie manufacturers face is that they don’t want machines that overwork the dough. “What you get out of your mixer and put into the extruder is what you want coming out of the other side,” Mr. Riis said. “Say a baker is using dough with chocolate chips or inclusions. When those inclusions get broken down and the chocolate chips melt, it changes the dough’s texture. That is a big concern for a lot of our customers.”
Unifiller’s Dopositors feature patented high-traction, self-cleaning rollers that do not overwork dough when driving it into the filler block or die. “When the roller is coming around and feeding dough into the die again, it cleans itself,” he explained. “It also has a groove system in it, so it allows those large inclusions to pass through the roller without being crushed.”
Accuracy is another major concern for cookie manufacturers, Mr. Riis noted, especially with increasing ingredient costs. He said the company’s high-traction rollers help ensure piece-weight accuracy by directing the correct amount of dough into the die cavities without overworking it.
Reiser developed new double-screw portioning systems for its Vemag depositors that were based upon recommendations by its three bakery specialists, who work regularly in its customers’ bakeries. “Our latest double-screws deliver higher throughputs with greater portioning accuracy while maintaining the integrity of the inclusions that makes our customers’ products unique,” Mr. McIsaac said.
To control weights of rotary moulded cookies, Tom Weidenmiller, president of Weidenmiller Co., Itasca, IL, recommended that the feed and die rolls be set up with independent drives. Then, when the feed roll is sped up, more dough can be packed into the cavity. Likewise, to get a little less in the die, cookie and cracker manufacturers would need to slow down the feed roll, he said.
Companies also can adjust the take-off knife to be a little above or below center to control weights; however, Mr. Weidenmiller said that he always recommends that a cookie and cracker manufacturer keep the knife centered. Also, keeping the hopper at least half full at all times is important for weight accuracy because it ensures that the feed roll constantly passes dough into the rotary moulder cavity.
After considering many of its existing customers’ recommendations, Egan incorporated state-of-the-art controls and linear servo motors to its cookie makeup systems to provide manufacturers with greater process control, according to Mr. Sherd. The Egan wirecut extruder features Allen-Bradley linear servo motors with 3-axis control for the wire stroke, drop and band raise. “This simple design features user-friendly controls and precise speed control of all movements during the deposit cycle, providing the ability to run many different products with accurate size and weight control,” he said.
In addition to its wirecut machine, Egan provides dough feed systems and conveyors to tie the entire process together. “Combining related systems allows us to improve process accuracy, weight control and user-friendly operation,” he said.
Unifiller introduced a servo belt drive for the industrial Dopositor that lifts up the belt to the extruder die so that formed cookie dough pieces are placed directly on the belt. The servo motor gives manufacturers 100% accurate placement of dough pieces, according to Mr. Riis. Because the cookie dough pieces can be placed with greater accuracy and closer together, the servo motor assists with the efficiency of freezing and packaging dough pieces that will be baked off later.
The Dopositor is available in three sizes. A mini machine makes one dough ball at a time at rates up to 45 cuts per minute. The standard Dopositor features a 6-ft-long conveyor and can deposit up to six cookies per row at speeds of up to 60 cuts per minute. Also, the company offers heavy-duty industrial Dopositors, which it custom designs to a baker’s specifications. The machines are capable of making up to 200 cuts per minute.
Reiser offers a base machine — the Vemag depositor — that accurately portions cookie dough while maintaining piece identity of the dough. “We then use this base and develop attachments that can bring form and placement,” Mr. McIsaac said.
As such, he pointed out the same base machine can run cookie dough pellets, sheets of cookie dough, break-and-bake cookie dough and, of course, single portions for freezing or bake off. Also, it can fill tubs with cookie dough. “The base machine is recipe-driven and easy to operate,” Mr. McIsaac said. “It is also the most sanitary cookie machine on the market.”
Mr. Weidenmiller said it is important for bakers to perform quality control checks of their die rolls used for rotary moulded cookies. Bakers need to keep the die rolls clean and check regularly for burrs that can be formed when a steel take-off knife is used with brass dies. Contact by the hard steel knife will nick the softer brass roll. “You want to make sure that you’re not creating burrs over time that could prevent the cookies from coming out of the dies,” he said.
Whether forming cookies with wirecut extruders or rotary moulders, bakers need to explore the options that will help them make accurate piece-weights time after time.