Bakers enjoy a variety of oven options with rack, deck, revolving tray, rotating hearth, convection and combination ovens. The multitude of possibilities can making the purchasing process daunting, but knowing your bakeries’ requirements for use and performance, narrows the choices.
Each oven has its purpose. Rack ovens are ideal for baking high-volume items due to the relative ease of loading and unloading. Revolving tray ovens offer the versatility that many full-line retail bakeries require. For crusty artisan bread, bakers often prefer hearth ovens. Convection ovens feature a small footprint, which is perfect for tight spaces. Each oven offers different baking characteristics, so bakers ultimately have to consider which oven best fits their product line.
Whole Foods’ Houston bakehouse currently provides bread for four Whole Foods Markets, but that number will soon jump to six. Haile Tefera, bakehouse facility team leader, needed a good oven for breads.
“We do a lot of rustic bread, sourdough, and we needed to be able to bake ciabatta,” he says. “We needed an oven system that would reduce dough handling and give us good crust and color.”
This meant that loaders would be crucial in oven selection. Tefera decided on twin 12-door deck ovens that eliminate all dough handling from proofing to cooling. The shaped dough is placed on boards on a special rack for proofing, then are rolled to the deck oven. An automatic loader picks up the dough from the boards, loads the oven decks, unloads the baked bread from the oven, and places it directly on the cooling racks without the bread having been touched by the baker.
“We have increased production, and the bread looks and tastes better from the same formula,” Tefera adds.
|An automated loader at Whole Foods’ bakehouse allows dough to go through the baking process with minimal handling.|
Ben Davis, co-owner of Grand Central Bakery in Portland, Ore., cautions bakers to consider all product needs, something he failed to do when purchasing ovens for a new, 13,000-sq.-ft. location.
“We had to compromise on the height of our large deli loaves just so we were able to keep the loaves from hitting the doors on the way out,” Davis says. “We still struggle with that. We wish we had another inch of space.”
Bakers can avoid such frustrations by going over all dimensions carefully with the oven manufacturer, and keeping products’ needs for height and clearance in mind, he adds.
By and large, Davis is more than happy with the performance of his ovens. Grand Central previously had relied on 12-door deck ovens, but he was looking for a heavier duty, more powerful version.
“The burner on the old oven just couldn’t keep up with our baking volume anymore. The temperature would drop 12 to 15 degrees after every load,” Davis says. “If your oven drops 15 degrees, you are going to have a five to eight minute longer bake. If you can put in 200 loaves and it stays at baking temperature, then you are that far ahead of the curve.”
Davis looked to improve recovery time in his bakery by seeking ovens with a higher thermal mass. The ability to store heat is directly related to the weight of the refractory material. In order to get the results he was after, he had to trade in his lighter, relatively mobile ovens for larger, stationary, concrete models.
“In the new ones, there’s virtually no recovery time,” Davis says. “It really shrinks the bake times. Anytime you can get your breads in and out of the oven more quickly, you’re in good shape.”
Deck ovens are favored for artisan breads such as Davis’, but some bakers carry traditional hearth baking even farther.
|Concrete dries on Orchard Hill’s new Spanish-style rotating hearth. The ovens |
are a recomended choice for wood-burning production bakers.
Hearth-baked artisan bread from a wood-fired oven has a certain cache that makes it attractive. Tom Leonard, bakery manager at Wheatfields Bakery and Cafe in Lawrence, Kan., uses a Spanish-style rotating hearth oven.
“Part of it is the tradition of it; it involves the baker in the process much more instead of just coming in here and setting a dial,” he says. “You are balancing your fire with your production style, and it keeps a baker active in production.”
Also, the wood-fired oven allows Leonard to use a local, sustainable resource–in this case, wood from old fence posts– as a clean burning fuel. An advantage of wood-burning is comparatively inexpensive fuel bills. But wood-fired ovens do have their drawbacks.
“With a lot of wood-fired ovens, you are baking with retained heat, meaning you have to fire up the oven and bake as many batches as you can from the stored heat before having to fire it up again,” Leonard says. “You are somewhat limited in production because you are constantly going from fire to baking.”
Some bakers find that wood-fired ovens can restrict their production. Noah Elbers, owner of Orchard Hill Breadworks in East Alstead, N.H., had used a 4-ft. by 6-ft. brick, wood-fired oven for years, but the demands of his bakery outpaced the oven’s capability.
“It got to the point where I had a 30-hour heating phase prior to the beginning of 500-loaf bakes,” Elbers says. “Every bake would be 14 to15 hours, and we’d be burning bread at the beginning and waiting as bread took excruciatingly long at the end. It was stressful. I knew I’d either have to retire early or make an oven change.”
Consult other bakers
Instead of retiring, Elbers spoke with other bakers who operated wood-fired ovens, including Leonard and Jim Williams, owner of Seven Stars Bakery, Providence, R.I. The Spanish rotating hearth ovens that Leonard and Williams use can be heated by gas or electricity, but when heated by wood, they are unique in that bakers can fire constantly with them. This eliminates the need for separate firing and baking periods, and allows for more efficient production. Leonard says the loaves themselves evaporate water as they are being baked, eliminating the need for steam.
“For someone looking to go the wood-fired route, you really can’t beat a rotating hearth-style oven in terms of quality and efficiency,” Leonard says. “Anybody who wants to do wood-fired baking needs to look at this style of oven first.”
Elbers decided to replace his old oven with a rotating hearth oven to better handle production while maintaining the wood-fired appeal. While recommendations from other bakers are invaluable, Williams says that oven performance shouldn’t be the only matter of discussion.
Work with manufacturers
“Above all, make sure you research who you are buying the oven from, make sure the company is organized and that you trust who you are buying it from,” Williams says. Every oven is built differently, so putting one together is a test of patience and resolve. Hiccups in the building process and repairs down the road are inevitable, and Williams urges bakers to carefully select a manufacturer that will work with you.
Williams knows from recent experience, with Seven Stars Bakery recently opening a production facility with a new 12-door deck oven.
“It lacks some of the romantic appeal that some people want, but it was a logical step for us,” Williams says. “It’s more of a refined oven, and we can be more precise with it.”
Rack ovens are also highly precise ovens. Bakers who want to produce large amounts of a single product with a high level of consistency generally use rack ovens. Heat is distributed with convection, so hot air circulates throughout the oven for an even bake. Controls typically monitor vertical temperature, as well. Volume items, such as dinner rolls and cinnamon buns, are likely candidates for rack oven baking.
Ovens are the core of most bakeries, and bakers need to do their homework to ensure they choose the best oven for their operation. A thorough product line examination that accounts for future growth potential will likely reveal which ovens are right for the job.