KANSAS CITY — Mixing can be one of the most vital steps of the baking process. A mistake during mixing, or an inexperienced employee being the slightest bit negligent during mixing, can be the difference between a high-quality finished product and something that borders on being worthy of purchase.
This fact isn’t lost on any bakers, but with high-quality and artisan baked foods becoming more prevalent — and necessary — at instore bakeries, mixing on site is even more important.
“Mixing is the most critical part of the baking process and it’s also the part that’s most out of the baker’s control,” said Paulo Zunino, chief executive officer of Esmach, an Italian company whose mixers are sold in the U.S. by Belshaw Automatic. “The mixer is so important because the baker has no power on the dough at this phase.”
The increasing demand for artisanal products puts even more importance on every step of the baking process. Each step builds in quality in an attempt to keep natural taste and nutritional value.
“Mixing is the first and most important process because it sets the chemical formula of the bread and other baked products,” Mr. Zunino said. “If we miss at the right grade of gentleness, hydration and temperature, we have done more than half of the work because we have a very good dough. Every authentic bread needs a very good dough.”
Carolyn Bilger, senior marketing manager for Hobart Food Equipment Group, said the increase in artisan bread popularity means instore bakeries need multiple mixers.
Planetary mixers by themselves might not be enough for bakeries these days, she said.
“Traditionally, we have seen planetary mixers used,” Ms. Bilger said. “Now, more and more bakeries are adding spiral mixers. Spiral mixers incorporate dough gently and are good for highly-hydrated doughs.”
Mr. Zunino said it is that ability to keep the mix hydrated and cool that makes the right mixer a key component to the artisan bread baking process.
“Esmach mixers excel in keeping the dough consistent, well and uniformly hydrated by respecting its temperature,” he said. “The success of our bakers depends on always having a fresh, neutral and natural dough that they can control in further phases of production. Another advantage is that the taste and the smell of an Esmach mixed dough remains natural, even after being baked: this is the result of keeping it fresh and well hydrated during the mixing process.”
Taking out the guesswork
Supermarkets have recently struggled to find and keep skilled workers. This can make accurate, easy-to-use mixers even more important.
“Baking is a science — if the ingredients are measured accurately and added to a mixer that maintains speeds and delivers consistent performance, the baking manager can be confident that the output will be good,” said Ms. Bilger, adding that mixers with a variable frequency drive system, like the one found in Hobart mixers, provide the power needed to maintain RPM speed, regardless of the weight of the dough.
Mr. Zunino reiterated that a mixer’s ability to gently and properly work the dough makes it possible for workers to successfully prepare the mix while also working on other tasks.
“That’s why we think Esmach mixers provide the very best possible care for the dough, with optional water temperature controls as well as speed programs,” Mr. Zunino said. “That means it’s easy to let the mixer take the best possible care of the dough while the baker does creative and other tasks.”
Changes in the eating and shopping habits of consumers are also putting new challenges in front of instore mixing.
“The growth in meals kits provides the instore bakery opportunities for parbaked bread offerings and fresh pizza dough sales,” Ms. Bilger said.
That increases the need for flexibility when it comes to mixers. Bakers are being used to prepare bread, pizza and sweet goods. Programmable and adjustable mixers can help make a baker’s life easier.
“That’s why we adjusted our mixers for working with all kinds of dough,” Mr. Zunino said. He also pointed out that a big recent trend is for all equipment to be as easy as possible to clean and maintain.
“Trends in food usually begin in Europe and then move globally,” he said. “At Esmach, we are lucky because our manufacturing plant in Italy makes us aware of new food trends. We only have to catch the trend and follow it.”
The need for versatility also increases the likelihood that instore bakeries can benefit from using both planetary and spiral mixers, Ms. Bilger said. Planetary mixers can be a tool for many applications while spiral mixers can be a go-to for artisan doughs.
“Honestly — they need both,” she said. “Planetary mixers are great for the versatility they provide — from whipping icing and whipped cream to making bread dough, batters, cakes, biscuits and cookies. The spiral mixer is only for dough. Artisan varieties like ciabatta and specialty doughs, such as croissants or Neapolitan pizza doughs, are excellent for incorporating in a spiral mixer. “
Both Mr. Zunino and Ms. Bilger stressed the importance of not going too small or too big with an instore mixer.
“Not sizing the mixer appropriately is a common mistake,” Ms. Bilger said. “To buy the right size mixer for your business, the baker must know the batch size and anticipate the growth that could come. Having too small or too large a mixer means more batches needing to be mixed or poor incorporation if the bowl is too large.”
Mr. Zunino suggested doing the same math and then going with a mixer that is big enough to grow into.
“Having a mixer that’s too small is a common mistake,” he said. “For that reason we usually suggest buying a mixer that can make a little more than the forecasted production. Esmach mixers have all those features and they can keep the same performance for small amounts (down to just 5 lbs) to high quantities of dough (500 lbs or more). With a larger mixer, you can mix more gently making better dough; you can have fewer mix cycles; and you don’t push the mixer at its weight limit, making it more reliable for longer.”