| Vertical mixers dominate artisan bread production in the United States. These mixers stretch the gluten structure without damaging it. |
Production systems: Vertical mixers have cornered the market in artisan bread production in the United States, and for good reason. These small, versatile mixers ideally are suited for small batch artisan bread production, where changeovers are frequent and gentle dough mixing is required.
Vertical mixers are known for their ability to stretch dough’s gluten structure without ripping and damaging the dough’s integrity. Vertical mixers also handle highly hydrated doughs, which are common in artisan bread production. Typical dough hydration levels for artisan breads range from 65% to 85%. High hydration levels give artisan breads an open, airy cell structure.
Processes: Most artisan bakers say mixing is the most crucial aspect of artisan bread production. Simply put, if mixing is inconsistent, products are inconsistent. However, bakers differ on their needs for automation in the mixing department. Artisan bread bakers such as Rich Labriola, Labriola Baking Co.’s founder, caution against too much automation at the front end of a line. “If you remove the mixer operator from the job, then you’re not getting a feel for the product,” he says.
Other artisan bread bakers feel differently, and have installed highly automated mixing systems that use robotics and computer controls, instead of experienced mixer operators. Both schools of thought have merit and thrive in today’s baking environment.
Mixing artisan dough varies from bakery to bakery. Most bakeries employ a straight mixing process, while some specialized bakeries use more complex mixing processes to garner the ideal flavor and texture. For example, the autolyze mixing process blends flour and water together to the point that a dough is formed, but not developed. Next, dough rests for anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, which allows the flour to absorb the water, hydrating the gluten without using mechanical force. After resting, the remaining ingredients are added and the mix is finished.
What’s new: Equipment manufacturers continually seek the ideal mixing tool for artisan bread production. And surprisingly, most mixer manufacturers disagree about the ideal shapes, sizes and number of mixing tools. Standard spiral mixers contain a single, spiral arm that mixes dough. Standard mixers also feature rotating bowls. One manufacturer says that bakers can cut their mix times in half by finding the optimum speed of the mixing tool and bowl. This manufacturer’s mixer has an innovative bottom discharge process that allows bakers to drop dough directly from the bottom of the mixing bowl into troughs.
Another manufacturer uses twin, semi-spiral mixing tools and a moving bowl to cut mix times in half. The twin mixer arms move in opposing circles to “stretch the gluten structure as opposed to ripping it,” the manufacturer says.
Casting aside traditional spiral mixer designs, one equipment manufacturer offers a vertical mixer that uses two vertical bars as mixing implements. “These mixing tools have a combination of compression and stretching that builds the gluten structure in a way where it can accept and hold on to more water,” the mixer manufacturer says. The mixer accommodates batches as large as 1,000 lbs., and processes doughs with hydration levels as high as 85%.
Troubleshooting: To obtain ideal hydration, one mixer manufacturer suggests experimenting with the way water is added to the mixer. “Put the water in the bowl more gradually instead of all at once,” the mixer manufacturer says. “Put 70% of the water in at the beginning of the mixing, then let the other 30% go in gradually during mixing.”
| The layout of this automated fermentation system contains multiple stainless steel or plastic troughs that ferment artisan bread doughs. |
Production systems: A new generation of automated fermentation systems allow artisan bread bakers to automate one of the most labor-intensive processes in artisan bread production. These systems manage the storage and retrieval of mixed doughs during fermentation. After fermentation, the systems deliver doughs to makeup lines. These systems also automate sour starter production.
Processes: The secret to flavorful artisan breads is time. However, time is the bane of high-volume baking. Most wholesale artisan bread bakers sacrifice speed and automation to allow for proper fermentation. These bakeries use dough troughs to ferment dough before makeup. Generally, the fermentation operator manually coordinates fermentation times and the delivery of troughs to the makeup line.
What’s new: Automated fermentation systems remove guesswork and manual labor from artisan bread production. These systems automate the fermentation process through storage, retrieval and delivery systems.
One manufacturer’s fermentation system stores mixed doughs on a tiered system that features one to three levels, depending on capacity requirements. A robotic shuttle moves on a horizontal axis up and down the tiered system, storing doughs that need fermentation and retrieving fermented doughs for processing.
“Essentially, it’s an automated warehouse,” the system manufacturer says. “Bowls are stored until the system says it needs them, and then it picks them up.”
Another manufacturer created an inline system that ferments doughs without troughs or manual labor. From the outside, the system resembles a large tank sitting on its side. Inside, a large screw slowly transports dough to the makeup line. The system holds as much as 8,000 lbs. of dough, and bakers specify fermentation times.
| This stress-free line produces ciabatta with high hydration levels. This type of system is common in North American bakeries. |
| One manufacturer's system uses a V-Belt rounder to create boules and other round artisan breads. |
Production systems: Primarily because of one equipment manufacturer, U.S. artisan bakers use no-stress dividers and makeup systems to produce a variety of artisan breads and rolls. This equipment manufacturer revolutionized stress-free production, and invested heavily in marketing and selling stress-free makeup lines. Today, this line has become standard in artisan bread bakeries.
The secret behind the machine lies in its ability to turn highly hydrated dough into a continuous dough sheet without imparting any stress on the dough. This preserves the dough’s integrity, but also offers many ancillary benefits, such as eliminating divider oil and intermediate proofing.
The system works best for long and rectangular loaves, such as baguettes and ciabatta. For round loaves such as boules, manual labor often is needed. However, one manufacturer says that a more traditional volumetric divider creates artisan boules without manual labor. The system contains servo drives that control the pressure in the volumetric chamber, which maintains dough integrity. A V-belt rounder completes the system by automating the rounding of loaves.
This type of system, according to the manufacturer, is common in Europe. In the U.S., however, no-stress sheeting lines still dominate artisan bread production. “In the ideal world, artisan bakers should have both types of systems,” the equipment manufacturer says.
What’s new: Equipment manufacturers from around the world have caught on to the power of no-stress makeup systems, and are launching new systems that promise better and faster performances. One manufacturer’s system uses gravity to create a continuous string of dough. The system runs 2,600 lbs. of dough an hour at hydration levels as high as 85%.