In the North American baking community, the challenge to automating artisan-style premium breads, buns and rolls goes back decades when much equipment was designed for only panned bread and rolls and other typical products. How times have changed. Today’s technology allows bakers to create all types of international baked goods on one line to various degrees.

Industry veteran Rich Wall, manager of sales and marketing, Sottoriva America, has his thoughts on this subject. “Changes to equipment design have made the production of non-conventional products possible,” he said.

Prefermentation and high levels of sugar, fats, eggs and water content create European-style baked goods such as brioche with doughs that are sticky and loose in structure. “Primarily, it is important that the dough is handled carefully in smaller masses so as not to degrade the delicate yeast cell membrane and degas the dough before the product is divided and rounded,” Mr. Wall noted.

Despite advances in automation, making conventional and specialty products on a single line often results in trade-offs. “You are going to compromise one or the other when you are making artisan products,” explained Damian Morabito, president, Topos Mondial. “You are not going to achieve the speeds you may want with high-speed bread and buns when you have a combo line. On the artisan side, you may compromise on some fermentation and proof times.”

With many specialty breads, operators should control the amount of heat and avoid overdevelopment of the dough. “On high-speed bread and bun lines, many bakers like to pump the dough, which can result in a positive effect involving degassing, but with artisan doughs, you want to chunk and feed it to the divider,” Mr. Morabito said.

Compared to a decade ago, Topos is selling 10 times more chunkers than pumps today because bakers want versatility. “Simply put, dough chunker technology has gotten better over time,” Mr. Morabito noted. Moreover, he suggested specialty bakers employ automatic trough or dough handling systems to give the dough the necessary fermentation and floor time to fully develop its artisan flavor and texture.

Another key variable involves how lean or rich the dough is. “Formulation is critical and dependent on the desired speeds,” observed Jay Fernandez, Bakery Innovation Center manager, Middleby Bakery Group. With the popular highly seeded and enrobed premium breads, he added, the Glimek volumetric divider along with formula tweaking will produce a sheeted-style crumb structure with proper weight control.

Dividing and conquering

Automating a manual specialty baked goods process is often the way to go with today’s technology, suggested John Giacoio, national sales director, Rheon USA. “We can install a small, stress-free divider with about a 7-by-3-ft footprint that can do the work of up to 15 people, and we maintain a better dough quality every time while still accurately dividing the dough with it. We can do this because our systems handle the dough so gently, and the conveyor has load cells under it that ensure accuracy.” 

Because the Rheon process only cuts the dough once to achieve the target weight, the system enhances product quality. “Bench dividing requires several attempts to get the correct weight,” Mr. Giacoio said. Rheon also has systems that simulate hand rounding.

Mr. Wall noted a divider that uses a gravity transfer will keep the dough cool because of the reduced coefficient of friction. He also recommended a divider that uses a drum-inside-a-drum rounding system with a soft rounding and moulding belt for producing premium round, flattened, elongated or stamped baked goods.

As far as product flexibility goes, Koenig’s Rex dough divider/rounders produce everything from hamburger to brioche doughs and even recipes with chunky ingredients such as raisins, nuts or chocolate chips. Rich Breeswine, CEO, Koenig Bakery Systems, said the Koenig Industry Rex machines handle doughs with high-fermentation times and accurate weight execution that save on premium ingredient costs.

Reiser emphasizes collaboration to determine the proper system, whether it’s high-speed conventional bread and buns or the premium alternatives. “Our bakers understand the products and the makeup systems,” said John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser. “The focus is often on the divider, but it is the whole process that delivers the premium products our customers are demanding. They need to be delivered in an efficient manner. This means high-speed dividing and tight scaling. Our bakers look at the whole process and work with customers to tailor the process to deliver the end products the customers are after — mixing through makeup and beyond.” 

One way to marry formulation and process is by testing doughs on equipment during the decision-making process. Rademaker has more than 13 full-time dough technologists at its technology center in the Netherlands, according to Nick Magistrelli, vice-president of sales, Rademaker USA.

Mr. Giacoio said Rheon’s policy requires bakers to test the machine before purchasing it. He pointed out that using quality ingredients does not make it more difficult to make a premium product. “It’s the process that needs to change to be able to make a superior cell structure or desired mouthfeel,” he said.

Ron Mullins, Reiser’s director of national bakery accounts, said clean label and lean formulations for premium breads and rolls require the gentle dough processing that Vemag technology provides. “The Vemag divider’s positive displacement double-screw system processes doughs at low pressure without compressing them,” he said.

Cesar Zelaya, bakery sales and technology manager, Handtmann, advised that equipment should be flexible enough to handle the dough characteristics of all formula types. “We strive to minimize or avoid not only the changes on formulation but also the dough characteristics during the dividing and makeup process,” he said. “Handtmann offers different dough dividers to accommodate a wide range of dough absorptions, dough developments and floor times required on the particular process.”

For single-lane production, Mr. Zelaya recommended its compact Handtmann VF608B dividers with built-in hoist VF612B. These dividers can process up to 7,000 buns or rolls per hour. Handtmann also offers blade or wire options to fulfill different dough consistencies.

Koenig developed a three-roll dough sheet former for different doughs. The system uses plug-in rollers with different surface finishes to produce small and large-pore doughs. “Dough sheeting lines have been classic lines for products such as pastries or various breads,” Mr. Breeswine explained. Such versatile technology produces everything from brioche and gluten-free items to challah. “We like to go by the rule ‘most every product can be produced on a dough sheeting line,’ ” Mr. Breeswine noted.

Meanwhile, Rondo Inc. focuses on the key properties of artisan doughs. “One goal besides the taste with artisan products is to achieve a certain crumb structure,” said Jerry Murphy, president, Rondo. “Usually everything from large, regular crumb to large irregular open crumb is possible. The whole process — preferment, final mix, long floor times to create such a certain cell structure within the dough and later in the crumb structure — requires a gentle approach during the makeup to ensure to reach the final target.”

Rondo’s Artisana line handles dough with an absorption rate up to 85%. Its Artisana moulding table is available with various configurations ranging between static and motorized moulders providing “soft moulding” technology.

This article is an excerpt from the November issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on bread, bun and roll tech, click here.