At the end of an automated bread line, a baker wants to find a steady stream of finished product at the same high standard of quality. However, some bread doughs are more challenging to automate than others. Gluten-free, artisan and breads with particulates can pose some obstacles.

Even though these types of bread doughs each exhibit different characteristics and present different challenges, the priority is the same: Maintain the dough’s integrity from the mixing bowl into the oven. Equipment and processes that respect the dough’s needs ensure that the finished product quality is consistent with the baker’s standards. 

“Bakers have to rely on two things,” said Merle Cooper, Adamatic sales manager, Belshaw Adamatic Bakery Group, Auburn, WA. “One, that their equipment is designed for that particular dough, and two, that you get consistent dough to the machine.”

Before the mixer, dough quality is a matter of ingredient sourcing and following the fundamentals of baking. The mixer is the first place these factors come ­together but not the last place that quality is determined. “A baker needs to be a disciplined manufacturer,” said Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA, Inc., Hudson, OH. “It’s mixing from a discipline approach, always the same temperature, the same mix time. It’s controlling and understanding each step of the way.” 

Stephen Marquardt, sales director, Zeppelin Systems USA, Odessa, FL, agreed that control of variables is ­important to accommodating the challenges presented by gluten-free and artisan doughs, including dough temperature and fermentation time. 

For gluten-free, artisan and doughs with particulates, once mixing is finished, it’s up to dough handling systems to deliver that dough to the moulder and makeup line as unchanged as possible to ensure that the finished product will come out the other side meeting the baker’s expectations.

Gluten-free dough runs the gamut of loose and batter-like to stiff and low in hydration. Artisan dough is full of water and gas, making it sensitive to the rigors of machining. Particulates in conventional bread dough can break and lose their appeal, and they definitely can cause concern for allergens. Making it to the oven requires the right equipment for the right dough and plenty of control in order to maintain integrity.

Transfer with care

When approaching dough handling processes with challenging products, it’s critical to focus on the consistency of the dough and expectations of the finished product. For example, while a conventional bread line might include a divider, gluten-free dough for the same finished product type might be too runny to handle with such a system. “When you have a dough that’s harder to machine, dough consistency becomes even more important,” Ms. Cooper said. The dough’s body determines how it will be transferred and machined.

For artisan doughs with less than 63% hydration, Ms. Cooper  recommends the company’s Adamatic ­equipment; doughs with higher hydration levels will work better on the company’s Glimeck equipment, which uses oil to prevent sticking and suction to avoid damaging the dough structure.

Handling gluten-free dough varies from baker to ­baker. Batter-like gluten-free doughs cannot be produced on typical bread lines. “It’s not like you can lay the dough on a table,” Ms. Cooper said. “Those will run right off the sides.”

Because gluten-free lacks strength, maintaining a dough sheet gets difficult. “You want to incorporate minimal-stress sheeting techniques as much as possible. Gluten-free dough has a tendency to tear because it doesn’t have the gluten,” said David Moline, sales and marketing manager, Moline Machinery, Duluth, MN.

This gentle handling applies to artisan bread dough as well. Such doughs use a high level of hydration to create an open cell structure. Bakers don’t want that damaged during processing, so machinery must be very gentle. This has been one of the main obstacles that prevent ­artisan bakers from fully automating production.

“You want to maintain the open cell structure,” Mr. Moline said. “You want to get it onto the table as gently as possible, sheet it as gently as possible, cut it to shape and leave it be.”

Because the cell structure is so sensitive, pumps are typically not used for transferring artisan doughs out of the mixing bowl. Pumps can increase temperature, according to Bruce Campbell, vice-president, AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA, for which a baker must accommodate other places in the process. To maintain the structure developed in the mixer for artisan doughs, Mr. Campbell said bakers tend to use chunkers or even hark back to automated trough-and-hoist systems. This ensures that the dough remains the same from mixer to makeup.

Pumping or chunking can also smash or break up ­inclusions, so the trough system also works best with these types of doughs.

Pumps can help with slack doughs such as those for English muffins and gluten-free products, which are quite fluid. Pumping can, however, cause unwanted temperature rise, so Terry Bauer, sales manager, Shaffer, a Bundy Baking Solutions company, Urbana, OH, suggested that these dough start as cold as possible coming out of the mixer. 

Dough chunkers, because they handle larger masses than the typical divider, have less impact on individual gas cells. AMF’s Rotary Dough Chunker’s cutting blade geometry is gentle enough to leave unharmed the open cell structure of artisan dough.

For high absorption and stickier doughs, Topos Mondial, Pottstown, PA, offers its Slide Gate Style Dough Chunker. The pneumatically actuated slide-gate guillotine works well portioning artisan doughs.

Heights and drops also put unnecessary stress on the product. Liam Burns, managing director and vice-­president, Fritsch USA, Inc., Cranbury, NJ, encouraged bakers to limit falling heights throughout the production process as a way to cut back the stress on the dough.

Forming a dough sheet

Dough consistency also tells a baker which dough former to use. “Using the correct dough former is the most critical part of the forming process,” Mr. Moline said. This depends on hydration, a measure of how much water is bound up in the dough. For some gluten-free formulas, Mr. Moline suggested extrusion technology. Moline Machinery has seen success extruding gluten-free flatbread dough with its three-roll extruder.

High-hydration doughs, such as artisan, require low-stress systems such as Moline Machinery’s Yoga No Stress Dough Feeders to prevent damage. Moline Machinery often will pair its starwheel dough chunker with its low-stress dough former to form a continuous dough sheet. Combining the right tools with the right product keeps the dough intact and moving. “We’ve done some large-scale ciabatta systems using our chunker/divider operation to handle the dough so that we’re not doing anything to the cell structure,” Mr. Moline said. “We integrate multi-roll sheeting heads to provide gentle reduction and maintain that cell structure all the way through the cutting.”

Mr. Riggle agreed that the front end of dough ­handling is important. “You want to create as little damage at the beginning so you don’t have to use a lot of oil or flour on the processing line,” he said. To address the need for low-stress dough feeding, Rademaker developed the Double-chunker Sheeting System (DSS) that was introduced at this year’s International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas. The DSS creates a tension-less continuous dough sheet by cutting off chunks from the batch and piecing them together again.

To create an even sheet of artisan dough, Paul Rooijmans, sales manager, Americas, for Tromp Group, Richmond, VA, said it’s important to support the dough in the hopper. If not, the dough’s own weight can de-gas it. Tromp Group’s artisan dough sheeting and makeup line uses two-directional gentle pressing to form the dough into a continuous sheet.

Sheeting ever so slightly

The gases in artisan doughs that create the open cell structure must be maintained during the sheeting process. Sheeting should be gentle to avoid de-gassing the dough sheet. Fritsch USA, Inc. developed its TBP 5-roller sheeting unit specifically for these doughs. The sheeter’s multiple rollers and a satellite head continue to reduce the dough sheet before the spiral cross roller massages the dough from the center out to create a uniform dough sheet.

To limit stress on dough sheets, Rademaker regulates its passage down the line. “We control the flow of the dough into and out of the reduction heads so we’re not pushing or pulling it,” Mr. Riggle said. Rademaker’s system will speed up or slow down conveyors carrying the dough through each step. This creates a consistent, tension-less dough sheet. Without that system control, an operator must speed up and slow down the line accordingly.

While gentle is the way to go when automating gluten-free and artisan productions, speed is also important for the baker’s bottom line. “It’s important to process ­gluten-free doughs gently as well as quickly because they don’t like to sit around,” Mr. Riggle said. “These are doughs that like to get into the pan and into the oven as quickly as possible.”

Artisan doughs on the other hand need extra fermentation time that can slow down production. Mr. Burns recommended artisan products be processed in smaller batch sizes fed frequently to the line. “If larger batches are used, there will be a difference between the first part of the dough and the last part, as it had longer time to develop before it is processed,” he said.