Flake and Bake

by Dan Malovany
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For many consumers throughout Oregon, Dave’s Killer Bread (DKB) is to die for. The brand’s line of natural, high-fiber, high-protein breads, buns and rolls includes such varieties as Killer 21 Whole Grains Bread, Killer Good Seed Bread and Killer Blues Bread rolled in blue cornmeal that’s “the mother of all killer breads,” according to the brand’s website.

Many of these breads are so loaded with fiber, seeds and grains as well as molasses and other natural sweeteners that the bakery adds ice during the mixing process to regulate the dough temperature, according to Ron Milio, director of purchasing for the Milwaukie, OR-based NatureBake bakery, which also makes a premium line of sliced breads sold under the Nature Bake brand. “We’re not chilling the dough because the room is hot,” he said. “We’re chilling the dough because our whole-grain doughs are stiff doughs, and the mixing process creates a lot of heat.”

In the past, the company relied on cubed ice, but the old system couldn’t keep up with the surging demand for DKB products. “We couldn’t make enough ice,” Mr. Milio said. “We were buying ice every day because our old system didn’t have enough capacity.”

At the 2010 International Baking Industry Exposition, Mr. Milio and other NatureBake executives stopped by Omaha, NE-based Maja Food Technology’s booth, where company representatives were demonstrating its flake ice machine. The Maja system, built in Germany, produces flake ice that’s 17°F to 20°F and lays flat, eliminating air pockets in bread dough caused by cube ice. “We looked at the system and said, ‘This would be perfect for us,’” Mr. Milio said. “We were looking at several ice machine companies, and Maja was the only one that offered flake ice. And the company had a good reputation.”

Unlike cube ice, flake ice provides more even melting that results in increased product consistency and a better bread texture, according to Mr. Milio. “The flake is much gentler on the dough,” he noted. “When you are producing whole-grain breads, you have enough beating up of the dough during the mixing process. [Flake ice] just seemed to work better for us.”

In addition to reducing costs from buying ice, NatureBake realized labor savings on several fronts. Instead of having an employee shovel ice into a mixing bowl, the Maja ice
machine along with a custom-designed ice dispenser from another company automatically loads ice into the mixer. “We no longer need a person dedicated to putting ice into our doughs,” Mr. Milio said. “It also was not a fun job. It was a lot of work.”

The Maja ice-maker comes with a clean-in-place system that reduces sanitation time and labor. In the past, NatureBake employees had to completely disassemble the old cube ice system to clean out flour dust that got into it. With the enclosed Maja system, flour dust is no longer a problem. “It was designed by people who understand food safety,” Mr. Milio said. “With the new system, the flour can’t touch the ice until it is dropped into the mixing bowl. The hygienic aspects of the Maja system played a significant role in our decision-making process.”

Because NatureBake is adding more capacity and a new production line, the company purchased two Maja flake ice-makers. Each one of them can produce 12,000 lb of flake ice every 24 hours. The bakery chose flake ice machines because they were more affordable than purchasing jacketed mixers. Additionally, Mr. Milio noted, the bakers were concerned that jacketed mixers may alter the bread’s texture, and NatureBake didn’t want to deal with reformulation issues that may slow down the company’s success.

“We wanted to buy equipment that would keep our process the same and keep up with our capacity and beyond,” Mr. Milio said. “We wanted to make an investment in ice making that would last a long time and where we can eventually grow into the system.”
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