Bakery engineers and the vendors supplying wholesale baking equipment can be justly proud of current breadmaking technology. It reliably outputs loaf after loaf of consistent quality bread at speeds that can exceed 180 pieces per minute. With the addition of automation and computer controls, such proven technology fits the needs for low-labor input and the low-margin, high-output products that populate the bread aisle.

Yet the rising popularity of thins in sandwich bun and bagel formats, plus coiled-dough swirl breads and the attractive margins for artisan-style specialty loaves prompt the question, “Is it time to re-think bread making technology?”

The consensus of baking technology experts recently consulted byBaking & Snackwas, “Yes,” although they acknowledged that considerable institutional challenges exist. The opportunities are out there, particularly for high-margin and value-added products.

In the final part of our online-only series, here’s what Terry Groff, chairman, Reading Bakery Systems, Robesonia, PA, had to say a short time ago about the future of breadmaking technology.

Baking & Snack: Is it time to re-think commercial wholesale breadmaking technology? Why or why not?

Terry Groff:What a great question! I think it's a great time to re-think breadmaking technology and here's why: We've been making bread for a couple of thousand years, and only now are we really beginning to unravel the chemistry and the physics associated with this genre. We are finally beginning to understand the relative influence that radiation, convection and conduction have in the baking process, especially as it relates to flavor development. We are able to use important new research tools such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and combined chemometrics to determine flavor signatures, and we've learned how to use heat transfer to manipulate these signatures.

All this means we can bake bread and bread-like products with better texture and flavor, and we can use specific techniques to reduce the formation of undesirable elements like acrylamides.

From our internal research perspective, the work we are doing in continuous mixing of bread dough is going to be viewed, I believe, as truly ground-breaking. We started this work a number of years ago, progressing from soft pretzel dough to pizza dough, and now we are extending that research to bread dough by building on what we've learned with working with other high-gluten dough.

Last year, we introduced continuous mixing to the cracker industry, and it has been a resounding success. Not only are the crackers better, they are flowing into the packaging systems much, much better, and packaging efficiency is being dramatically improved.

Bread bakeries are going to see the same benefits from real continuous mixing but perhaps on an even larger scale given the large scale of their production. I say “real” continuous mixing because the industry tried a pretty primitive continuous mixing system 30 years ago without much success. Today, the only thing that we are doing the same as those first systems is using the same name to describe the process. Beyond that, just about everything is different.

When it comes to process control, there is nothing more basic than matching a continuous process like baking with another continuous process like mixing. Trying to match up batch mixing techniques with a continuous baking process is like mixing oil with water. The interface is just fraught with problems and winds up transferring the inconsistencies of the batch process into what otherwise would have been a simple, stable, continuous baking process.

In the end, the baker winds up chasing his tail, and the letters on the bulletin board range from “stale” to “great product” to “burnt” complaints. And, it's like that every single day.

Continuous mixing is going to change the bread industry for the better. It's going to stabilize the input, and that's going to stabilize the output. I think that's going to lead to greater profits for the industry and happier customers in the market.

Read More on the Subject:
Forward Progress
A look at the future of breadmaking from Mark Rosenberg of Gemini Bakery Equipment