Tom Cat Bakery made its name by producing authentic French baguettes, Italian ciabatta and Old World artisan breads and rolls and delivering them fresh several times a day, seven days a week to restaurants owned by celebrity chefs and many of the top hotels throughout the New York metropolitan region.

The Queens, NY, bakery then began enhancing its reputation by providing its classic baked foods to some of the Big Apple’s main events, including the US Open tennis tournament, which is held every summer in Queens.

Although it’s primarily a fresh baked products producer, Tom Cat Bakery found itself expanding into the fast-growing world of frozen parbaked and thaw-andserve products several years ago as out-of-town restaurateurs and in-store bakers came to New York and tried the bakery’s signature baked foods during visits to one of the city’s fine-dining establishments. Today, these products, including its popular parbaked mini baguettes, are shipped frozen across the nation.

For James Rath, Tom Cat Bakery’s vice-president who oversees production, going from fresh to a frozen parbaked format required changing some of its controls during the baking process to eliminate the standard moisture loss during the baking and freezing process. Specifically, the standard baking process typically removed 20 to 25% of the moisture loss from a lean dough and the freezing process removes another 3 to 5% of the moisture.

“To retain moisture, we are baking at higher temperatures for shorter periods of time,” he noted. “Even though the color might be the same, the moisture level is higher depending on what option our customers choose, whether it’s parbaked or thaw and serve.”

Often customer preferences, he added, can complicate the process for making parbaked products. Some customers may want to take 15 minutes to thoroughly bake off their breads, while others will only crisp up a thaw-and-serve roll in three minutes or less. In many cases, a product’s tolerance depends on how lean or rich the dough is.

“If you have bread with a lot of fat in it or eggs, sugar, milk and butter, it’s less critical how fast it’s frozen,” Mr. Rath said. “But if you have ciabatta or a baguette, it’s more important to be diligent with the speed at which these lean-formula breads are frozen.”

In other cases, advances in automation may provide a solution to moisture retention. To increase the hydration step of mixing, Diosna RAPIDOJET can add up to 10% more water compared with that made in conventional mixers and cut your mixing time by 30 to 40%. The patented RAPIDOJET relies on a premixing system that injects high-pressure water into a stream of free-falling flour to intensely hydrate the flour in a way that maximizes and stabilizes water intake in baked foods. By encapsulating the water inside the flour particles, this additional moisture does not create a sticky dough. The increased water content in frozen dough will result in a final baked product with the same hydration as a freshly baked piece of dough, said Bob Marraccini, vice-president of sales at Rondo, Inc. North America, Moonachie, NJ.

Parbaked breads and rolls allow bakeries to produce and create products that their clients can bake fresh on a daily basis. Frozen parbaked items provide a way for end users to complement or replace frozen raw products and help in-store bakeries and restaurants that are having problems finding skilled labor, noted Mark Rosenberg, president of Gemini Bakery Equipment Co., Philadelphia, PA.

“The frozen manufacturers’ biggest challenge is their customer,” he said. “If they’re selling it to someone who has a well-run and well-organized bakeoff program, that’s one thing. Often, their challenge is training people to do it properly day in and day out.” This is especially true for the high end of the crusty bread and roll category.

Going from a raw frozen to a parbaked format also may require some changes in mixing and makeup. In fact, Mr. Rosenberg said, many parbaked breads and rolls need more weight than fresh-baked items to offset the moisture loss when the product is baked a second time. An indirect-fired tunnel oven can provide bakeries with better ability to control moisture in the crust. A separate steam chamber in conjunction with moisture evacuation capability in multiple zones can be adjusted to produce baked foods ranging from sandwich rolls to crusty artisan breads.

“Baking a crusty bread and roll requires an oven with a good steaming environment to maintain moisture in the baking environment,” he said. “Direct-fired ovens have a tendency to superheat steam and dry out the crust, which may be beneficial for some products, but for crusty parbaked products, indirect-fired ovens are the more accepted technology.”

After the initial baking process, internal temperatures for parbaked products should be between 165°F for lean formulas and 185°F for rich ones, noted Tim Sieloff, coordinator of baking training service at AIB International, Manhattan, KS. “You want to make sure that you get full starch gelatinization, which will give you rigidity and structure and provide volume retention,” he said.

Mr. Sieloff pointed out that bakers also can provide moisture retention by adjusting the amount of sugar and fats in a formula or by adding gums or pregelatinized starches.

RIGHT TO OVEN. During the past few years, freezerto-oven (FTO) products have become popular because they provide the convenience of raw frozen dough without the end-user having to proof the product. In many cases, however, the FTO process is limited to unbaked croissants, Danish and other laminated products, Mr. Sieloff said.

“After proofing and freezing, you denature the yeast proteins so you have little or no yeast function,” he noted. “Freezing has a damaging effect to that yeast cell structure, but what you have is lamination, and that [folding of the dough] provides the oven spring or oven kick in the product.”

To make FTO and other frozen products, many producers rely on a low-stress makeup process that doesn’t tear up the dough structure or require extended relaxation periods for the dough to come together again, according to Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA, Hudson, OH.

The company’s initial foray into this technology, its LSS, or low-stress sheeting, system, came out about 12 years ago and features two hexagonal rollers set above two smooth base rollers. The hexagon rollers massage and feed the dough to create an undamaged sheet instead of chewing it up like many dough extruders, Mr. Riggle said.

Rademaker updated this system with the X Pack, which relies on a series of eight rollers. The X Pack is used predominately for making bread. Two large-diameter rolls initially act as a sheeting roller and guide the dough between two sets of large-radius grooved rollers. These two sets of rollers not only rotate but also move in a peristaltic way that guides the dough to the final set of rollers that establishes the final sheet’s thickness. Unlike the LSS, the X Pack provides a continuous mass to the system and doesn’t require overhead chunking into the hopper.

At Europain this spring, Rademaker rolled out its newest low-stress system, which features a double chunking system along with side and top tamping rollers to create a continuous sheet of dough. The first chunker provides larger, dough chunks that are about 1 m long, and a subsequent chunker adds another lighter meter-long piece to create a continuous dough sheet. The new production line, which will be featured at IBIE 2010 in Las Vegas, NV, this fall, doesn’t use any oil to create the sheet and is designed for sticky artisan doughs or those products with long preferments that may create processing problems, Mr. Riggle said.

HYBRID ARTISAN BREADS. In addition to parbaked and pre-proofed frozen dough, bakers are producing a wider variety of products to satisfy a plethora of consumer trends such as convenience items, health and wellness products, functional foods and ethnic breads and rolls, according to Dieter Wolf, marketing director, Fritsch GmbH.

“The challenges for bakers with pre-proofed and parbaked frozen products are more with the recipes than with the equipment,” Mr. Wolf said. “They need special ingredients and maybe higher fat content for pastry for final proofing and shelf life.”

For artisan breads and high-moisture products, the Fritsch Impressa bread line features a low-stress process that requires no separating agents for sticky doughs. The line relies on what Fritsch calls its Soft-Processing technology. For bread production, the dough initially travels through a gentle preformer to a multi-roller satellite head with nonstick rollers that guide the dough sheet forward without pushing or pulling the sheet. To keep the dough from jamming, a longitudinal cutter divides the sheets into rows. After dough passes over a weighing system to ensure accuracy, the line’s synchronized guillotine cuts the dough into pieces without stretching or jamming. A variety of forming, shaping or moulding equipment may follow during the makeup process.

Today, specialty bakers also are producing “hybrid products” such a parbaked ciabatta roll that not only has some of the characteristics of the classic Italian bread but also has a slightly open cell structure, a softer crust and other attributes that casual dining chains prefer when using a roll as a component of a sandwich.
“What you are seeing is the specialty baker, who is not an artisan baker, trying to make an open-grain, more-aged dough, and they’re doing it in a variety of manners,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

Overall, conventional specialty make up equipment used to produce specialty breads and rolls has its limitation, he added. Typically, such equipment is designed to handle doughs with 55 to 65% hydration and limited floor time.

“If you have 75% hydration on a dough and you want four hours of floor time, you’re buying equipment that’s specific for that type of product,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

For hybrid specialty and crusty breads and rolls, the Gemini Craftmaster offers low-stress production for a variety of products, including Italian and French breads with lengths up to 32 in., round rolls from 1 to 6 oz, as well as club rolls and individually moulded dinner rolls from 5 to 13 in in length.

When Tom Cat Bakery first began producing artisanstyle breads and rolls in 1987, the company made products by hand because most equipment at that time was designed to handle only conventional bread products. During the 1990s, that slowly changed in response to the burgeoning number of artisan bakers supplying frozen products to an ever-expanding number of in-store bakeries and food service chains.
“Now, you can have a dough that has 85% moisture and three or four hours of fermentation and still produce it on equipment in a way to maintain its integrity and cell structure,” Mr. Rath said. “You can’t tell the difference between the handmade products and the machined ones.”

The ultimate solution to producing higher quality frozen dough and parbaked products involves following the longstanding fundamentals of baking.

“In the baking business, we live and die by standards,” Mr. Sieloff said. “There are companies out there that produce products and get away from their standards. If they can put time and temperature to every part of the process, they will see improvement. Monitoring and controlling time and temperatures gives you the ability to control the process and the ability to produce consistent products.” •