Bagel Processing: Boiled and Baked

by Shane Whitaker
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Bagel manufacturers are responding to the latest trends sweeping the baking industry. As is the case for most specialty breads and rolls, wholewheat bagels are gaining in popularity, according to Mark Rosenberg, president of Gemini Bakery Equipment, Philadelphia, PA.

However, variety is still important to bagel bakeries. “Most manufacturers produce at least eight types of bagels,” he said, noting that plain and onion represent at least 50% or more of production for most operations. Mr. Rosenberg pointed out that not only flavors vary but more processors are also making mini bagels that weigh less than 1.75 oz.

Because bagel manufacturers produce a wide selection of bagels, easy changeover for weights and flavors is essential. New bagel equipment has been designed to be faster, more flexible and efficient, and with the ability to change from one weight to another, Mr. Rosenberg said.

Alex Kuperman, president of ABI Ltd., Concord, ON, noted a decrease in demand for smaller bagel lines, as many operators consolidate operations into larger lines to increase their production rates. “The trends in the industry now are to go toward higher production systems,” Mr. Kuperman said.

ABI, which partners with Gemini to develop and supply bagel manufacturing lines, has designed two new combination lines capable of producing sandwich bagels as well as mini bagels. “As the weights of products decreased for minis, the only way to make the line more practical and profitable is by increasing production rates, and the 6-4 combination line allows you to do that by simply changing the knife on the divider,” Mr. Kuperman said.

Mr. Rosenberg added, “The productivity of the minis can be 50% greater than the sandwich bagel size, which allows the manufacturer to produce similar pounds per hour of each size and to keep the baking and cooling sections of the line full for both categories.”

The combination line is just one of the latest advances made to bagel manufacturing equipment in recent years. Wholesale production of bagels continues to evolve, and today’s bagel lines are more faster, more flexible and more automated than ever before.

CUSTOM SOLUTIONS.

ABI manufactures a wide variety of bagel systems. It offers lines that make 3,000 bagels per hour for commercial or retail bakeries all the way through multilane systems that feature a number of lines working together. “The largest system we have delivered produces 100,000 bagels per hour,” Mr. Kuperman said. “That’s a total of 12 shaping lanes.”

This line uses four dividers to portion dough pieces. ABI’s lines are generally built with rotary-knife dividers, which feature conveyorized infeed to ensure even dough delivery into the feeder rollers, reducing problems of overfeed or dough starvation. Rotary-knife dividers also do not punish the dough like volumetric dividers, according to Mr. Kuperman. The shape of the dough piece from the rotary-knife dividers lends itself well to be formed and rolled into bagels that range from ¾ to 6 oz.

Precision of scaling is one area Mr. Kuperman said has seen great advances in recent years. “We implemented very sensitive measuring devices to ensure that the scaling is accurate,” he pointed out.

ABI partnered with another company to provide an inline checkweighing system for customers who desire that level of accuracy in their bagel weights, according to Mr. Kuperman. This system can reject out-of-spec product, but more importantly, it features a feedback loop that ensures the dividers adjust as dough characteristics change. “As dough sits and ages in the hopper, it changes density, and you have a trend whereby dough gets lighter,” he said. “This system makes adjustments automatically rather than having an operator make changes.”

The majority of large wholesale manufacturers use triple-bar horizontal mixers, according to Mr. Kuperman. “It is the most heavy-duty mixer out there, and it can withstand the reduced water absorption of a bagel dough,” he explained. “Because bagel dough is low in water absorption, it is much stiffer than white bread dough, and that requires additional horsepower.”

However, Mr. Kuperman noted that smaller wholesale operations will sometimes opt for spiral mixers because they require less upfront investment in most cases.

ABI custom designs bagel lines to meet the needs of its customers. “There is no cookie cutter solution,” Mr. Kuperman said. “The customer says this is the production volume I need and this is the space I have, and then we develop the line to suit his needs.”

The company analyzes the space available in a facility and determines what will best fit the available space. ABI offers inline as well as right-angled systems. “The layout will be based on production rate desired and available space,” Mr. Kuperman explained.

PROOFING AND RETARDING.

Traditional bagels are cooked after the formed dough piece has proofed and retarded for an extended period, which helps to develop the product’s distinct flavor. However, some companies make bagels without going through any kind of retarding process, which tends to make a lighter product, according to Ron Ferrante, vice-president of Pembroke, NH, operations for Heat and Control, Inc. Fastfood restaurant chains making bagel sandwiches prefer these lightertextured bagels because they make the sandwich easier to eat.

However, man bagel manufacturers want to make more traditional products that are proofed and retarded rather than just proofed, and equipment suppliers have responded to make these efforts less labor intensive by offering fully automated and semiautomated proofing and retarding systems. “The fully automated proofing and retarding system allows the client to automatically load bagels onto plastic and wooden peel boards,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “The boards then automatically load onto a vertical shelf rack that is part of a closed-loop system.”

The fully automatic system accommodates 6 to 12 hours of retarding, and the rack is then automatically unloaded onto a conveyor that delivers the bagels to the boiler prior to baking.

The semiautomated system also includes automated rack loading and unloading, according to Mr. Rosenberg. “The main difference is the semiautomated system requires the client to move the racks through the proofing and retarding areas manually,” he observed.

Another area Mr. Kuperman said has seen major advances in recent years is precision of bagel placement as they travel through the system. “The transfers between the machines are such that they lend themselves to proper alignments on the boards,” he added.

BOILING AND BAKING.

“Boiled bagels have returned as the leader,” Mr. Rosenberg said. Not long ago, many manufacturers were producing steamed bagels as opposed to boiling them. “Presently, most clients have converted to the ability to run boiled only or combine to run boiled and steamed alternately,” he added.

Heat and Control manufactures three types of bagel cookers: immersion bagel boilers with top and bottom conveyors, waterfall systems for lighter or softer products and steam cooking chambers. Companies that don’t want any markings on their bagels will generally select a waterfall system. Instead of submerging the proofed dough piece in water, this method carries the bagels on a belt with approximately ½ in. of water and a spillway across the width of the unit pours water at 200 to 205°F over the top of the bagels. Both the immersion and waterfall cookers are available with either direct- or indirect-heated water. Direct-heated systems feature heating tubes within the vessel, whereas indirect heating uses a steam-generated heater in the water line, and the water is circulated from there into the tank and back out again. “The steam-injected heaters work well if your company already has a boiler in the plant and excess steam you can use,” Mr. Ferrante said. “If you have a plant with a lot of steam usage and extra heat available, you can save on the cost of the equipment by not having to buy it with a premade combustion system.”

The burner system employed in ABI’s bagel boilers have changed over the years from direct-fired ribbon burners to submerged burner systems that are substantially more efficient, according to Mr. Kuperman.

Cornmeal is generally put on peel boards prior to the bagels being placed on them to keep the dough pieces from sticking, and when the bagel transfers into the cooker much of cornmeal falls off. Therefore, it is important for these cookers to include filtration and scrubbing systems to help remove the excess cornmeal from the water, otherwise finished bagels will have surface defects.

Boiling, which can last up to 1 minute, is not meant to cook the bagel, but instead this process helps to develop the sheet and chewy texture of the finished product. The hot water gelatinizes starches on the surface of the dough, and this could make the product stick to the conveyor belt of the oven. Thus, bagels often travel through a bagel dryer after the boiler and prior to the oven.

Heat and Control offers two types of bagel dryers: infrared ovens and indirect hot-air chambers. Bagels will generally dwell in these heating units for 1 to 1½ minutes.

To eliminate the dryer, many companies experimented with different types of release agents applied on the ovens’ conveyor belts to prevent dough from sticking, ac- cording to Mr. Ferrante. However, as of late, he has heard customers talking about going away from that and returning to drying because they didn’t like how it affected the bottom of their bagels.

Bagel processors can use both indirect- and direct-fired tunnel ovens to finish their products, and each has its advantages and drawbacks, according to Mr. Rosenberg. “A direct-fired oven can normally bake at a higher temp and a lower bake time,” he said. “An indirectfired oven is less costly to operate and is more versatile for different types for products that benefit from the added use of steam.”

Another preference is for a hybrid oven that features both direct- and indirect-fired sections, according to Mr. Kuperman. The reason processors select this option is because they want to use steam within the oven, and direct-fired ovens do not take steam injection favorably, he said.

MAINTENANCE AND SANITATION.

If processors keep their bagel lines clean, they are much easier to maintain. “The majority of breakdowns in bakeries are because sanitation is not being done properly,” Mr. Kuperman said.

Sanitation is an important aspect of ABI’s machine design. “In the design process, we have considered what needs to be done to change quickly and make sure people can service and clean the machine fast and properly,” Mr. Kuperman observed.

The equipment manufacturer improved access to critical points of its bagel lines. For example, he explained how a short conveyor between the bagel former and a merging conveyor was put on rails so the operator could easily pull it out to allow access for cleaning and push it back in when done. “All the rollers on the majority of the conveyors can be removed without tools,” he added. “Hinged conveyor sections allow instantaneous release of tension on all of the merging conveyors and such, so once the hinge tension is released then you have access to all the rollers to take them out and clean them.”

Bagel bakeries should investigate the newest equipment available to them. Today’s lines are more automated and flexible. Today’s systems are designed so processors can produce more bagels and different style and sizes in a more efficient manner.

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