The proper incorporation of the ingredients is vital to how the end product turns out, which requires not only the right machine, but also the right operator. “Typically, you have your all-stars there because it is the most important stage, I feel,” says Michael Eggebrecht of Artisan Baking Solutions, a consulting firm based in Stevenson, Wash. “The dough has to get started right. In most artisan bakeries, it is the most challenging job because you need someone who is intelligent, can stay focused and has the strength and ability to move the flour and pull out dough. You're looking for a very smart, healthy person.”
The critical tool for this employee is the mixer. Analyze your product line to determine which mixer you need. Michele Albano recently opened Michele's Pies in Norwalk, Conn., and she admittedly was resistant to the idea of a mechanical mixer. “I thought I had to do it by hand. I didn't think it could be done by a mixer and be the same quality, so I was really stubborn,” she says.
She didn't want a mixer that would overhandle her sensitive pie dough, so she found a spiral mixer at the IBIE bakery trade show last October. The spiral mixer she purchased has a more gentle motion than the mixer she had previously ordered. “It has more of a hand motion than the more aggressive mixers, and now you can't tell the difference from when I mix by hand or with the mixer,” Albano adds.
The size of a mixer also is important. “In making a purchasing decision, getting the right size is the most important thing,” Davis says.
The size of the batches often dictates the type of mixer needed. For example, oblique fork mixers can't mix small batches as well as spiral mixers, Davis says. He has owned both and has slowly switched to spiral mixers. “For a baker who is buying just one mixer, and he is mixing doughs from 30 lbs. up to 180 lbs., spirals can do that range while forks really struggle with that,” he explains.
However, for bakeries incorporating a lot of fruits or nuts into the dough, Davis has found that fork mixers are better for that process. The mixer's folding action mixes the particulates nicely without beating them up. The goal is to just get the ingredients into the dough, not have them become part of the dough, he explains.
For bakeries producing large batches of dough, removable bowl mixers are something to look into. “A big thing we knew we needed was a removable bowl, so we could just dump the dough, and save backs on digging dough out of a bowl,” Davis says.
It is an extra part, and any time you add parts, you add things that can go wrong, but the added expense is worth it, he says. A removable bowl is a labor-saver on both bodily injuries and the amount of time it takes to empty the bowl. It also opens up the field of who can run the mixer because strength is less of a factor. “We had some employees who could never mix, and now they can,” Davis adds.
When choosing a mixer, Eggebrecht suggests you look closely at the bowl speed in correlation to the hook. If the dough is passing the hook many times at a certain bowl speed, the hook might not actually turn the dough back around; instead, the hook might allow the dough to sneak behind it and not actually knead the dough. This makes longer mix times because the dough is just being punched, not kneaded.
“Your mixing time goes way up, the heat of the product goes way up and many times there are some ingredients, such as flour or something, still stuck on the bottom because the hook never turns the dough back onto itself. It doesn't complete the kneading process,” Eggebrecht says.
“A good baker should be able to make a good dough out of almost any mixer; it's just knowing what good looks like,” Davis says.
Grand Central operates two different brands of mixers, but Davis suggests that if you need multiple mixers, find the brand/type you like, and purchase the same for all mixers. This alleviates having to designate that the dough has a certain mix time on mixer A and another mix time on mixer B, due to differences in revolutions of each mixer.
Some bakers are looking into the new multi-phase mixers, which allows the mixer to step up in rpms, not speeds. “You don't have just one-speed and two-speed, you actually have many different speeds. You decide what rpm you want to run the mixer at,” Eggebrecht says. By setting the rpms, you can achieve more consistency from batch to batch, he adds.
If you have a larger budget, Eggebrecht also likes mixers with a PLC control panel. The panel allows you to store the mix times and speeds for several doughs. You select the product you are mixing from the touch screen panel, and the mixer automatically goes through the required speeds at the correct times. Some models will even stop for autolyse, which incorporates the water and flour just until the flour is hydrated. Then the dough is allowed to rest in the mixing bowl for a minimum of 20 minutes.
Some mixers also allow pauses in the mix cycle so operators can add another ingredient, such as raisins, to dough. “The mixer can stop and wait, so if the mixing person is away from that station the dough won't overmix,” Eggebrecht says.
A PLC control panel can help keep the dough consistent because all the mixing staff are mixing the dough exactly the same. But neither Davis nor Albano invested in mixers with a PLC control panel. “I can see how the PLC could be helpful; I don't see it saving any time, but it might save training,” Davis says. “In my mind, it's just one other thing to go wrong, and now you have a piece of software in there. I say keep your mixers as simple as possible.”
You might not think about mixers very often, but as Albano learned, they are completely necessary to running a bakery. And, for Davis, he's learned that all mixers have their pluses and minuses.
“I've found that we can make good bread; it doesn't really matter what mixer. We can make good bread by just adjusting mix times and being smart with it, but there are some mixers that are better than others,” Davis says. “You just need it to be a workhorse.”