These aren’t your grandfather’s waffles and wafers.

Not to say that the baked breakfast items and treats enjoyed by those who came before us aren’t still an everyday staple in households everywhere, but the ever-growing list of consumer wants and needs has created an influx of new products and styles.

Whether it’s waffle-based breakfast sandwiches, products with custom shapes and sizes or, yes, gluten-free offerings, waffle and wafer lines need to boast more versatility than ever.

“You need to be quite flexible,” said Matthijs Sillevis Smitt, sales manager for North and South America, Masdac International, represented in North America by Naegele, Inc., Alsip, IL. “It starts with the customer’s needs. If they can come to you and tell you what they need and you, in turn, can make that happen without too much trouble, it can lead to success.”

To add these new products, companies are looking closely at their ability to build versatility into their lines. Mark Hotze, vice-president, Tromp Group Americas, Richmond, VA, said that’s what is happening there.

“We are developing possibilities to have a quick changeover system integrated in our lines,” Mr. Hotze said. “In our innovation center, we are working on a daily basis with our customers on any possible product requirement. There are no limits in these.”

Creating character

One of the biggest challenges looming on the horizon for waffle and wafer lines comes from the other side of the globe. Uniquely shaped products, which started in Japan, are seeing their popularity spread, according to Mr. Sillevis Smitt.

These products, which can take the form of corporate logos, movie characters and more, obviously provide a set of obstacles not seen in the production of most waffles or wafers.

“New products with various shapes, such as turtles, airplanes and stars, to name a few, are trending,” said Rick Parrish, director of sales and marketing for Franz Haas Machinery of America, Richmond, VA. “Each new product shape requires exchangeable baking moulds and a removal system that ensures gentle removal without damaging or penetrating the filling inside.”

All it takes is a quick changeover to change a SKU for Costco to a different item for Wal-Mart.

“It’s a very good product for co-packing,” Mr. Sillevis Smitt said. “Just by changing the moulds, you can produce for different customers. I think of that as a very key point. It allows customers a more personalized product.”

Masdac, like Haas, has found success in providing options for these creative character and logo shapes. The process typically starts, as one would expect, with the customer requesting the ability to make a creatively shaped product. The customer will then be provided with a mock-up of the request. Once approved, the new moulds are created, and the customer can begin baking.

“The challenges can actually be very little if everything is set up the right way,” Mr. Sillevis Smitt said. “With the system we have and the material our moulds are made of, we can be very detailed. It allows us to make a great, high-resolution picture, for lack of a better term, of what the customer wants.”

Of course, the manufacturing of the custom moulds is just one step in the process. Kevin Forrest, president and CEO of TSA Griddle Systems, Carrollton, TX, pointed out that the custom shape isn’t the only thing a customer might typically request.

“People want a certain weight and a certain texture with the product, so your bulk density may change with the product,” he said. “The shapes can be a little challenging with the design of the cup. It’s challenging to get it all just right.”

Something else to consider is the depositing of the batter into these sometimes intricately designed moulds. The standard depositing methods might not work for a product with detailed shapes and lines.

“Different shapes and sizes often require the depositor to track the griddle during the deposit,” said Lance Aasness, executive vice-president at Hinds-Bock, Bothell, WA. “This allows for maximum spreading and coverage, and it can be coupled with unique spouts to achieve the desired shape.”

It can sometimes take multiple cavities, sometimes 10 per mould, to ensure that all parts of the character or logo are baked evenly. Ten cavities baking 10 separate cakes in the same mould means every part of the shape will receive the same heat intensity, therefore coming out with the same color.

Even extraction

All of that leads to, perhaps, the most important part of the process: extraction. Regardless of all the work put into the formation and cooking of the custom products, it will all go for naught if they can’t be de-panned cleanly.

“Most important is how do you get the product out of the mould? You can make a beautiful mould, but de-panning is key,” Mr. Sillevis Smitt said. “If you don’t get it out perfectly, and some bits and pieces stay in the mould, maybe in the end the character won’t have a nose or an eye. And now you’ve lost the reason a bakery invests in this type of production line.”

Masdac’s de-panning process involves loosening the figures in the mould before extraction. That, along with the material of the mould and the recipes that come along with the line, work together for a clean break.

Of course, extraction isn’t just important when dealing with character shapes. It is a key step in the process of any product, especially when it’s new.

Franz Haas developed its new waffle oven so it does not need any special plate coatings or needle removal systems. Its alloy baking plate has shown positive release characteristics with multiple waffle formulations, according to Mr. Parrish.

“The oven has a vacuum removal system that gently removes round or square baked waffles from the cavity,” he said. “It is designed with a waffle release spray for difficult recipes. This latest style oven is capable of production capacities up to 36,000 pieces per hour, depending on the final product dimensions.”

TSA Griddle Systems found a different way to avoid sticking of the product during extraction. It relies on good old gravity, along with a blast of air. Mr. Forrest said this reduces the need for non-stick coatings, which needs to be replaced every two or four weeks. That drives up costs.

“All waffle machines up until now have always had the non-stick coating on them and now we have a machine that has no non-stick coating at all,” Mr. Forrest said. “It improves the cost and quality, and it also minimizes the environmental footprint. That’s something we’ve been focusing on and fine-tuning the last few years.”

Going without gluten

As with many other areas of the baking world, catering to gluten-free demand can be a necessary evil with waffles and wafers. Consumers want the products, but gluten-free batters don’t react the same way conventional batters do, meaning changes have to be made for a seamless transition.

“Gluten-free is definitely trending,” Hinds-Bock’s Mr. Aasness said. “Good positive shut-off spouts are a must for gluten-free batters.”

Mr. Forrest pointed out that more companies are jumping to gluten-free production. After years of one or two names in the game, others began to notice how many people were willing to pay the higher prices for their waffles, sans gluten.

He said TSA doesn’t have to make many changes on its machines to accommodate gluten-free batters, but challenges do present themselves.

“Formulating is a little tricky for it,” he said. “Gluten-free is a very delicate process. That can cause problems when you’re extracting because conventional waffle machine forks can tear them up. Wheat waffles are stronger and can take the rigors of sticking a fork into them and getting them out. With gluten-free waffles, it can really tear up the product, which can lead to a lot of waste.”

Waste worries

That reduction in refuse can be a huge part in successfully adding new products to a waffle or wafer line.

“This all starts with complete process control,” said Tromp’s Mr. Hotze. “This means accurate servo-driven depositing system, temperature control on the top and bottom in combination with full line control.”

Mr. Parrish pointed to consistency, which begins with the accuracy of the ingredients in the batter mixer, mixing time and consistent holding time of the batter prior to depositing. “Accurate depositing of the batter onto the baking plates ensures minimal edge waste and a properly filled end product,” he said. “The oven’s baking chamber must evenly heat the upper and lower baking plate to ensure the final color.”

As is seen in other production lines, the simplicity and effectiveness of quick changeover and sanitization can be another key.

“Our hoppers tilt, our pistons remove without tools and our positive shut-off spouts unclamp simply,” Mr. Aasness said. “Servo depositors are much quicker to set up and to arrive at the proper deposit parameters since the operator simply enters an SKU or recipe name into the operator interface. This reduces waste since the tuning time is greatly reduced and the depositor is making production faster.”

Unique uses

With versatility being the name of the game, waffle and wafer lines can benefit from taking it a step further. The ability to use the lines to crank out products that are neither waffles nor wafers can be a needed shot of efficiency.

“When you have easily exchangeable baking plates, new shapes and sizes can be achieved,” Mr. Parrish said. “That same oven style can also be used to make pizzelles and other thin types of products.”

Hinds-Bock employs their waffle technology for other batters, such as muffin, cake and cupcake mixes. Mr Hotze, meanwhile, mentioned the utilization of cake doughs and yeast doughs to produce fun cakes and bapoa-type products with the waffle and wafer systems.

Mr. Forrest said TSA Griddle Systems has seen its waffle machines used to make other products.

“There’s a French toast product out there. They call it French toast, but it’s not actually French toast; it’s made on a waffle machine,” he said. “They run a very thick batter to try and make the density different, and they simply label it as French toast, although it was never bread and it was never dipped in egg. It’s just another way to get the most out of the equipment and make yourself that much more valuable.”