Creating the classic croissant can be a bit like practicing yoga. It requires a balance of inner strength and respect for tradition coupled with ample stretching and often extended periods of relaxation before gradually moving on to the next stage in development.

Then again, there are always those bakers who try to shortcut the process in the name of efficiency and soon find out that a high-intensity workout doesn’t cut it. In fact, sometimes the quick fix ends up backfiring and, in the long run, costing more than just time.

“In these cases, ‘resting time’ is added to the process to really allow a dough to recover from being stressed and damaged,” noted John Giacoio, vice-president of sales, Rheon USA. “The key is to eliminate the damage done to the dough. Most times, the damage is done when a dough sheet is made thinner with equipment that is too aggressive.”

If the makeup process is performed correctly, however, resting the dough can provide a multitude of benefits.

“If you retard the dough or rest it for flavor, that is another story,” Mr. Giacoio pointed out.

To be the best in their class, bakers need to take a moment to understand the fundamentals of pastry-making and couple it with a comprehension about applying the latest advances in technology to their processes.

It doesn’t matter if they’re making flaky egg-washed European delicacies or sturdier breakfast carriers that act more like a bun. When it comes to the bottom line, neither product is “better” than the other. What’s “best” normally rests on what the customer wants.

“Quality is a subjective term,” Mr. Giacoio explained. “I may define it as all butter, flaky but not greasy with good layer definition, six or more curls and a good tail position, but some customers may just be looking for something that fits into their packaging.”

While premium ingredients tend to be more process-friendly, they’re not always a realistic option, especially when the goal involves producing more value-driven pastries, said David Moline, vice-president, sales and marketing, Moline Machinery.

As a result, the line’s makeup components often need to accommodate multiple types of formulations. In other cases, he added, an array of sheeters, stretchers, reduction stations and laminators must be custom-configured.

Despite the options in this diverse category, there is one constant in pastry production. “For sheeting and laminating systems, gentle processing goes hand-in-hand with adequate sheeting capacity,” Mr. Moline said. “Systems must not overwork the dough, and adequate sheeting capacity is the only method to achieve this.”

From a technical perspective, there are other reasons for taking it easy on the dough.

“Only gentle dough processing on the laminating or sheeting line can guarantee that the gluten network or the dough-fat laminations will not be destroyed,” said Jörg Sonnabend, manager of marketing communications, Rondo.

Fluctuating circumstances

When making croissants, even the most basic ingredients will impact the texture and flavor as well as the process.

“The strength of the flour protein in croissant and other pastry doughs is critical in understanding the processes needed,” said Clinton Adams, product specialist, AMF Tromp. “The major difference between European and American ingredients is the flour quality. Flours milled in the US tend to have more gluten strength than those in Europe, which may require more retarding or different processing.”

Because of the weaker flour quality in Europe, Mr. Sonnabend noted that laminating often starts shortly after mixing without any resting or retarding time.

“In the US, the dough needs to be retarded overnight between mixing and laminating," he said. "Otherwise the dough would be too strong for gentle laminating.”

Small- to mid-size operations sometimes adapt more easily to fluctuations in flour quality, but when they automate, maintaining the pastry’s same characteristics can be a drawn-out process. Many companies like Moline operate technical centers to overcome the transition through collaboration and product testing.

Another essential ingredient is shortening or fat. Ever wonder why many European-made pastries taste so different? It’s because of their high level of butterfat compared to the butter that’s sold in the North America.

However, even in the United States, flavor profiles vary.

“Due to the different types of grasses that dairy cows consume, the butter can taste extremely different,” said Adriaan van Houwelingen, senior application specialist, AMF Tromp. “To get the most butter applied accurately on the dough sheet, the butter pump must be of the highest quality for the most consistent product quality.”

From a processing standpoint, uniform fat extrusion requires some prepping.

“The butter, margarine or other fats need to be tempered to assist in processing,” Mr. Adams said. “The AMF Tromp fat pump has improved features to deposit the fats with more precision and control.”

For premium products, Moline often is asked to extrude shortening at very low temperatures.

“The Moline RAM feeder easily extrudes the most difficult-to-apply shortenings while adding minimal heat,” Mr. Moline said.

Reiser complements makeup lines with numerous applications of various fats as well as cinnamon and fruit smears, said John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development.

“We have a range of Vemag pumps and attachments for high and low rates, narrow and wide applications, single or multilane, as the product requires,” he said. “We also offer systems to meter the rework — webs or side trim — back to the mixer accurately, in either a batch or metered stream.”

What tension and stress?

Throughout the process, the dough sheet passes through multiple sheeters, cross rollers and other reduction stations.

“The lines’ speeds, thickness of dough and layout determine the number and types of stations,” Mr. Adams said. “The AMF Tromp sheeting principles allow time for dough relaxation between each station to create the least amount of tension possible.”

Nick Magistrelli, vice-president of sales, Rademaker USA, urged bakers to start with a final product’s taste, texture and other characteristics, then work backwards from there to determine the number and type of reduction stations — and where to place them — on the production line.

“The key is to understand the end-product goals and then reverse engineer a solution to reach the required thickness while maintaining the quality of the dough sheet,” he said.

While Fritsch uses its Soft Processing technology in all croissant and pastry lines, its configuration depends on the type of dough and such factors as its hydration rate and flour quality, noted Stefan Praller, head of marketing for Fritsch.

“We offer different dough sheeters to fit the specific requirements of our customers,” he said. Specifically, Fritsch integrates multiple sheeting stations to gently reduce the dough sheet to the required thickness.

As a general rule, cross rollers increase the dough sheet width, and stretchers reduce the dough sheet thickness, said Mr. Giacoio.

“With a lamination line, it is important not to crush the delicate layers of dough and fat,” he pointed out. “The least amount of stress to the dough will result in a better-quality product.”

Rheon relies on a stretcher that pulls the dough with minimal pressure to keep the layers intact. Mr. Giacoio said its typical stretcher ranges from 4- to 6-feet long to allow the dough sheet to be reduced slowly without damaging the layers.

“The key is to be sure the final product does not shrink more in one direction than it does in another,” he advised. “If this happens, it means you are adding too much stress to the dough in that direction.”

When to fold it

When laminating, bakers can select from tons of options that will directly influence the design of the line. Often the type of fat plays a determining role.

“Butter needs intermediate resting time during laminating where margarine products can be laminated — up to a certain number of layers — without any resting time in between,” Mr. Sonnabend observed.

Product variety also influences the design of the makeup line. Danish pastries or croissants have 16 to 32 fat layers where puff pastries require 64 or more.

“The number of layers affects the number of folding stations,” Mr. Sonnabend said. “Continuous laminating lines for Danish pastries and croissants are normally equipped with two folding stations. Lines for puff pastries typically have three.”

But when should lamination involve folding vs. cutting the sheet and stacking it?

“On AMF Tromp lines, we tend to always fold the dough on the first laminating station while the fat and the dough are still thicker and not as pliable,” Mr. Adams explained. “The choice of cut-and-stack method is most of the time determined at the final folding and ensures adequate fat distribution.”

During the initial lamination, continuous folding allows bakers to apply a rather thick sheet of butter while avoiding the risk that the fat will leak out of the dough and create a mess on the entire line. Bakers then can choose between folding or stacking when laminating a second or third time.

“The advantage of cut-and-stack is that you take eventual tension out of the sheet while achieving a more equal spread of the butter sheet and a straighter dough sheet,” Mr. van Houwelingen said. “The disadvantage is that it requires more space and a higher investment.”

Mr. Moline pointed out that folding — also called lapping — is almost always employed when using margarine or other shortenings.

“This ensures the shortening stays contained in the dough sheet,” he said. “Cut-sheet laminators are highly beneficial for high-fat doughs like pie crust that are not extensible like a yeast dough where folding/lapping would result in tearing.”

For high-capacity systems that require wide conveyors, he added, Moline laminators allow for adjustable stroke length while fully supporting the dough sheet to eliminate excess stretching due to gravity. Moreover, its in-line systems accommodate facilities where a 90-­degree transfer isn’t possible.

A well-deserved time out

To ensure product consistency, bakeries need to set their temperature-controlled makeup departments at about 59 to 62˚F, said Mr. Praller. That prevents the yeast in the dough sheet from prematurely activating, prompting the sheet to rise and stick to sheeters, rollers and other reduction stations.

To fully develop a pastry’s flavor and texture, bakers can rely on the block-and-retard method, Mr. Magistrelli said. After rolling the butter into the dough sheet, it’s then laminated and cut into blocks — often around 2-feet long. These slabs are then wrapped in plastic and placed on a tray and racked before they’re rolled onto a retarder or into a static cooler to develop flavor.

After an extended period, he added, bakers stack the blocks together on a final system’s conveyor to create a new sheet that’s then reduced in thickness before cutting and coiling.

To account for the high-protein in some flour, bakers may retard the dough for 8 to 24 hours. That can be a challenge in some operations.

“Floor space requirements for this long of retardation is great, as are the labor requirements for this two-step process,” Mr. Adams said.

Mr. Sonnabend observed that the block-and-retard process offers the greatest flexibility by providing different resting times to achieve varied product quality. It also may assist in production scheduling on the following shift or day. During peak production periods, he added, bakeries can freeze and store the dough blocks to keep the operation running smoothly.

To avoid interruption in the process, bakeries often install a variety of in-line retarders or pre-proofers that automatically provide from 45 minutes to 2 hours or more of resting time in a controlled environment.

“Overhead conveyor systems can be integrated into production lines to give the product certain attributes,” Mr. Magistrelli said. “These boxes can maintain colder or warmer temperatures to create environments where the process of making the product can be controlled and ultimately provide a consistent look and taste.”

AMF Tromp uses overhead retarding normally after the first laminating stage and in combination with any recipe changes, said Mr. Adams.

While continuous resting chambers typically aren’t as versatile as a block-and-retard chamber, all types of resting chambers require evenly distributed temperature for consistency and quality.

“Furthermore, the air velocity must be under control,” Mr. Sonnabend recommended. “If the velocity is too strong, the surface of the dough can dry out. This results in reduced product quality, too.”

To integrate resting and cooling times into its production line, Fritsch incorporates different options depending on the process and space available. Mr. Praller said it could happen after sheeting the basic dough sheet for 1 to 2 hours or following either the initial lamination or even the last folding unit.

Moreover, Mr. Praller suggested a balanced combination of contact and convection cooling to efficiently bring the dough down to its target temperature and prevent skinning on the surface.

Contact cooling works when the dough sheet travels on a conveyor over glycol-cooled plates to reduce its temperature. The system usually can flip the dough sheet upside down a couple of times to cool it properly from both sides.

Sometimes adjusting the process starts at what’s happening to the dough at the front of the line. When adequate pre-fermentation cannot be achieved via floor time after mixing, Mr. Moline suggested that bakers using resting conveyors for at least 20 minutes prior to final sheeting.

“This is necessary for some products as it serves the dual purpose of preliminary proofing and dough sheet relaxing prior to cutting,” he said.

Of course, many bakers tweak their formulas to assist in processing.

“You can improve taste and texture by using the right ingredients, and you can add improvers to reduce time,” explained Hans Herman Doude, vice-­president of sales, AMF Tromp. “Normally, this makes running the dough across the line easier as well. It depends on your goals: If you are prepared for the challenge of creating traditional, artisan quality, then focusing on your process is essential.”

Ultimately, he added, time determines taste. That’s the ingredient that matters most.

Then again, a little karma never hurts.