Various sour systems can be configured to automate the creation and maintenance of natural sour starters. Mixtures of flour and water are stored in these jacketed tanks, which also contain various agitator bars.
To create a quality artisan bread, bakers must ferment dough before sending it through makeup equipment. New systems allow bakers to ferment dough in an inline system.
Automating artisan bread production is a reality with today's equipment and technology. These new systems provide complete control over time and temperature.
Ten years ago, bakers and suppliers frequently debated whether or not artisan bread production could be automated. Advances in equipment and production lines have answered this question with a resounding yes.
"There will always be a group of artisan bakers that says everything has to be manual, but there are a lot of bakers that are proving that with machines you can have better control over what you're doing, and have a better quality artisan bread," one artisan bread equipment manufacturer says.
Bakeries from New York City to San Francisco have automated the production of breads such as ciabatta, French baguettes and foccacia. And, technology's growing accomplishment is mirroredby America's appetite for quality breads. These two factors have created a boom in the artisan bread industry. Specialty bakeries such as Ecce Panis, Brunswick, N.J., are moving from small bake shops into highlyautomated facilities. Other specialty bakeries, such as Alsip, Ill.-based Labriola Baking Co., have expanded their once small bakeries and invested in automated artisan bread equipment. Labriola Baking recently bought the space next to their bakery and invested significant money to purchase an industrial artisan bread line and an automatic deck oven loader and unloader.
Conversely, large wholesale bakeries are acquiring smaller artisan bakeries. For example, Maple Leaf Bakeries October 2002 acquisition of Grace Baking Co., Richmond, Calif., helped the company round out a complete line of par-baked artisan bread products.
Time and temperature
The demand for artisan breads has started a chain reaction that has trickled down from bakers wanting to capitalize on this trend to equipment suppliers pushing the boundaries of technology to automate this once handcrafted process. When embarking on automating a production line to manufacture artisan breads, it is crucial to have complete control over every aspect of the production line. More specifically, it is essential to control the time and temperature of dough during mixing, fermentation, makeup, proofing and baking.
Implementing complete control over a production line usually requires the installation of PLC-controlled equipment. Standard on most new equipment, PLC controls allow bakers to consistently create artisan breads in the most timely manner.
Gaining control over a production line is necessary to combat artisan bread production's main hindrance: time. Simply put, manufacturing artisan breads takes time. Regardless of technological advancements, manufacturing a high-quality artisan bread will never be as fast of a process as traditional pan breads. For starters, artisan breads require longer mixing, fermentation, proofing and baking times than traditional pan breads. Dealing with this extended processing time is the first hurdle in automating artisan bread production. The most ideal way to deal with a slow processing line is to have complete control over it. This usually requires the complete automation of a line. And, today's equipment suppliers have enabled bakers to install an inline production system without gaps or manual labor.
Creating a starter
Although baking mixes can and have been implemented in artisan bread production to provide flavor characteristics, many bakeries, including Ecce Panis and Labriola Baking, create their own starters. Creating a natural sour starter takes time, dedication and space, but the rewards are worth it according to several artisan bakers. The main purpose of a starter is to naturally provide flavor and dough characteristics to an artisan bread. Over time, these sour starters build flavors and enzymes that give artisan bread its unique taste. "When you taste artisan bread, you get a flavor in the back of your throat like you would from a fine wine," one manufacturer of sour systems says.
In the past, starters were created and maintained by specialized bakers whose sole job was to continually feed and monitor the starter. In many cases, these starters were maintained in large plastic pails stored in temperaturecontrolled rooms. Although time consuming, this method is still prevalent in many artisan wholesale bakeries.
However, equipment suppliers have created systems to automate the creation and maintenance of natural sour starters. These systems use a setup of tanks that store the starter and feed it to the mixer when needed.
According to one manufacturer of these systems, creating a sour starter in an automatic tank system requires four key elements: flour, water, time and temperature. The general operating principle of these sour systems is to mimic the manual practice of storing sours in large pails in temperature controlled rooms. "By using liquid sour tanks, it allows us to put the flour and water together for 8 to 24 hours," one sour system supplier says. "This allows the flour and water to combine together and give you enzymes, which gives you flavor and dough characteristics.
The first step in creating a starter in an automated sour system is to deliver flour and water to the sour tank. Generally, the ratio of flour to water is one-to-one. After the flour and water have been fed into the sour tank, the mixture must be precisely stirred to create an emulsified starter. Precise stirring is essential because too little agitation will result in a glue-like substance and too much agitation will result in dough development.
"We need to put flour and water together perfectly emulsified where every molecule of flour hits every molecule of water," one sour system manufacturer says. "But, we cannot develop the flour and we certainly don't want to wash out the gluten either. We want to make sure that we handle it properly in that we're creating a perfectly emulsified mixture."
One sour system manufacturer's sour tanks create the ideal emulsified mixture by adding flour and water to the sour tank at the same time. According to the manufacturer, this method ensures that the flour and water ideally mix together.
To mix the flour and water together, many sour systems come equipped with various types of agitator or mixing bars. Besides providing the initial mix, the agitator bars also turn the starter during storage, ensuring that the starter develops evenly.
Once the flour and water have been ideally emulsified, which generally takes about 30 minutes, sour systems begin a multi-stage temperature controlled process that promotes ideal bacteria and enzyme growth. Although creating a starter varies from baker to baker, the general principles and stages are virtually the same.
The first stage of starter development involves warm temperatures in the 80°F to 90°F range. During this initial stage, which can range anywhere from three to four hours, an added starter culture begins to build bacteria. "The 10% to 12% starter culture builds into millions of bacteria, feeding off of the starch that's in the flour." Besides building bacteria, the first stage also creates flavors and enzymes.
After the initial starter stage, the goal of these sour systems is to bring the temperature down to the ideal level where the starter's integrity does not tail off. This process usually consists of multiple stages and a temperature curve that gradually brings the starter temperature down to the desired level. Throughout these various stages, the starter continues to build enzymes and flavor characteristics that distinguish artisan breads from traditional pan breads.
Mixing and waiting
When a starter is ready to be used in production, sour systems feed a portion of the starter, generally between a ratio of 10% to 20% of flour, to the mixer. Mixing artisan dough requires a gentle touch and significant time. Many artisan bakeries use spiral or vertical mixers to achieve the ideal mix. According to one mixer supplier, spiral mixers stretch the gluten structure in artisan dough without beating it up.
After mixing, artisan dough requires long fermentation times. Generally, artisan bakers will take the mixed dough and hold it between 30 minutes and five hours before sending it through the makeup line.
Bakers can employ various methods to hold dough, including purchasing multiple mixing bowls or more cost efficient troughs. One mixer manufacturer has created a mixer with a bottom discharge to more easily transfer the dough from the mixer bowl to the trough.
Another equipment supplier has created an innovative inline fermentation system that eliminates holding areas and manual labor. From the outside, the system resembles a large sour tank sitting on its side. On the inside, a large screw slowly transports the dough to the divider. This system can hold as much as 8,000 lbs. of dough, and the bakery can specify fermentation time and temperature.
Handling artisan dough
In the past, making up artisan breads was always considered the most difficult aspect of automated artisan bread production because it required a gentle touch that normal ram and shear dividers could not produce. Besides demanding gentle handling, artisan doughs also are traditionally high in water content, making them to sticky to handle with traditional makeup systems.
Artisan bread makeup made its first great strides with the advent of stress free makeup systems. Instead of dividing and rounding the dough into manageable pieces, stress-free makeup systems form a continuous sheet of dough without applying stress, which degasses the dough and damages its integrity.
Today, many equipment suppliers agree that about 90% of the artisan bakeries in the United States create a continuous sheet of dough to begin artisan bread production. The advantages of this process for artisan bread production are innumerable. Stress-free dough makeup systems are ideal for processing dough with high absorption rates. For example, Ciabatta is currently one of the most popular artisan breads on the market. Although formulas vary, most ciabatta dough has absorption rates between 65% and 80%. Stress-free makeup systems can handle this high water content gently without degassing the dough.
A sheeting system's flexibility also makes it the primary equipment purchase for artisan bakeries. "When you produce off a dough sheeting line, once you produce the dough sheet, you can do so many different things with it," one manufacturer of sheeting systems says. "On a sheeting line you can alter the dough thickness and the internal structure."
This feature makes sheeting systems extremely attractive to artisan bakeries operating relatively short runs of two to four hours.
After a dough sheet has been created and formed to its desirable size, most artisan bakers employ a series of curling chains and pressure boards to mould the bread. Although these systems create standard loaves such as baguettes, some handcrafting may be needed to form some artisan breads. Ecce Panis uses a combination of moulding systems and manual labor to create its line of breads. After being moulded, Ecce Panis employees manually provide the final shape to the bread.
Finishing the job
The final step in artisan bread production, and perhaps the most talked about today, is the oven. An influx of ovens with stone baking surfaces have swept through the industry causing many artisan bakeries to invest in these stone tunnel ovens. According to bakeries with stone-surface ovens, the benefit of these systems comes from the strong bottom heat the stones provide.
Although stone-surface ovens are the current trend in the industry, they are not essential to producing a quality artisan breads. Other ovens, such as thermal ovens and impingement ovens, also provide the necessary bake characteristics of an artisan bread.
Despite the different styles of ovens, they all share one thing in common. Ovens used for artisan bread baking must have multiple zones to produce the quality crust associated with artisan breads.
Although humidity, temperature and time in these zones vary from bakery to bakery, some general principles exist in almost all artisan bread ovens. Generally, artisan bakeries will apply steam to the dough in the first zone of an artisan bread oven. According to one oven manufacturer, this initial steam prevents the premature forming of the crust. As a result, the bread will obtain an ideal rise in the oven. "Once you form the crust, the bread cannot rise anymore. Plus, the crust works as an insulation, so it will be harder to get the core temperature up to the level you want," one oven supplier says. "The trick is to wait to form the crust for as long as possible, so the bread can really rise in the oven." At the tail end of the oven, most bakeries use high heat to obtain the desired final crust.
Installing an automated artisan bread production line has moved from the extraordinary to the ordinary. Although advances in technology will continue to improve these systems, the necessary pieces of equipment are currently available to manufacture a true artisan bread.
The key to installing these lines and manufacturing artisan breads is control. With every equipment purchase, bakers should fully understand the controls on a system, and how they can be integrated into a complete line.