Eliminate dough stretching and compression to retain the light pore structure of artisan bread.
Soft processes protect the integrity of the dough structure.
by Sabrina Tillman, contributing editor
As the low- and no-carb trend declines in popularity, health-conscious consumers have sparked a resurgence in sales of healthful and organic breads. Originating from simple, all-natural ingredients and produced by a traditionally natural, hands-on process, premium and artisan breads can be touted as a catalyst to draw consumers back to bread.
Artisan breads remain appealing because of their typically pure, short ingredient lists and hand-molded production. However, is it plausible to produce premium and artisan breads in large quantities with a less-traditional approach?
Carol Head, owner and CEO of Oliver’s Artisan Breads in San Fernando, CA, describes an "interesting conundrum where artisan traditionally refers to a hand-made process, and yet it is ironic that there are so many equipment systems out there" for artisan bread production. Tasked with producing 4,000 units daily, Oliver’s Artisan Breads supplies par-baked, flash frozen and freshly baked boules, ficelles, batards, ciabattas, baguettes, traditional artisan loaves and custom breads to wholesale customers, grocery stores, retail stores and restaurants. Head describes production at Oliver’s as a "less equipment vulnerable", line-free process where each bread product is hand-shaped.
However, when increased through-put is required, is it possible to replace hand molding with an equipment solution that provides the gentle dough handling required to produce high-quality artisan bread?
Low-stress dough handling remains the vital component of effective automated premium and artisan bread systems. "Preservation of the dough structure is key, especially for artisan bread, if you want to avoid improvers," says Dieter Wolf, marketing leader at Fritsch Germany. "Treating dough as gently as possible throughout the entire process is how we preserve the light pore structure of artisan bread dough."
According to Wolf, the process of creating artisan breads typically includes a long dough guiding and setting process where the aroma, pore structure and prolonged freshness are acquired. Maintaining gentle dough handling throughout the production process proves vital. Through a method called soft processing, "all components of a production line [work] to prevent a single module from destroying what you have reached with the other 98% of your equipment," says Wolf. Gentle dough handling is important not only in the dough rolling stage, but also in the shaping stage.
"A piece of machinery can only truly claim to be called ‘gentle’ if a circular dough shape really remains circular, if no compression or stretching occurs at interfaces and if the transfer from conveyor to conveyor is made virtually without stretching or imposing any mechanical load," he adds.
The soft processing procedure includes pre-portioning system divides the dough into regular batches in a row and the dough sheet former moulds the batches into a continuous dough sheet with a minimum of pressing and pulling. Then, the satellite head gently reduces the dough sheet nearly to the final desired dough thickness as the spiral cross roller reduces the lengthwise tension in the dough until the final width of the dough sheet is reached.
Tension in the dough is avoided because there are no falling heights to add pressure to the dough. If little dough thickness is required, as in the production of foccacia, the proper dough thickness is achieved by way of a calibrating head.
Delicate dough shaping
Another low-stress production line boasts a waste-free process where a delicate-dough concept includes endorsing the weight accuracy of each dough piece to ensure that breads with a full range of cell structures can be automated. The line includes a stress-controlled divider, type dough master and an artisan moulder. Capable of producing 3,000-6,000, 250-600gram pieces per hour, the line can produce cylindrical products measuring up to 530 mm and square-shaped products, and can accommodate both stiff doughs and bowl resting times of more than four hours with a water content over 75% (of flour weight).
Suited for a large range of dough consistencies, the divider incorporates servo technology that provides precise dividing, thus preserving the required specific dough characteristics. Filling up dough in the volume pockets is only done if the knife is closed and the pocket reaches a high upwards position. Depositing of the dough from the pocket on the belt occurs in the lowest position. The line’s dough related software calibrates the precise amount of dough by calculating the required dough weight to be processed with the amount of pockets. This ensures that the minimum stress will be applied during dividing, and thus maintaining the maximum preservation of the initial cell structure.
After dividing and portioning, the dough travels on conveyors that are managed to pre-orientate the dough pieces. The dough is oriented on the infeed belt so that the gluten strands inside the dough are positioned in line with the lengthening direction of the belt.
"A most important function of the conveyor is the additional resting time between pre-forming and the final shaping of the dough pieces by the moulder," Roger Ronsom, sales director, Benier Holland, says. "This way of processing allows a high quality of product with minimal dough damage incurred by mechanical treatment during the moulding process."
A unique innovation to the line is a pressure board that moves along with the belt for use during the moulding process. While the belt rotates, the pressure board moves gently back and forth. The time, intensity, material and shape of the board can be altered according to product produced. For example, a slightly curved board ensures bakery foods will have pointed ends. A quick release feature permits rapid changes so that production of alternate products can ensue.
End of the line
Although gentle dough formation remains the secret to relying on equipment to produce quality premium and artisan breads, one manufacturer of an automated premium bread line has incorporated new technology at the end of the line to ensure that artisan breads are baked to perfection. Capable of producing up to 50,000 baguettes per hour, the hearth line is equipped for baked and par-baked breads.
The line’s innovative oven is equipped with a "bottom bake booster" that bakes the bottom of the bread with convection heat, and the sides and top of the bread with radiant heat. Equipped with a circuit of controlled hot air convection limited to a height of half of an inch, the oven’s upper chamber is powered by radiant heat without air turbulence.
According to equipment manufacturer Mecatherm, superior baking results are achieved due to this unique combination of radiant and controlled hot air convection. Textural results include the development of open dough structure, control of crust thickness, formation of an upper crust without excessive coloration and formation of a bottom crust without marks. The oven also produces superior par-baked breads thanks to the non-turbulent atmosphere of the radiant heating (on the upper side of the oven) that contributes to efficient steam dispatching, the manufacturer says. Par-baked breads are completed predictably in shorter times because the high residual humidity allows for desired quality without the risk of collapse.
Rising consumer expectations that diverse, high quality artisan breads be widely available in places other than neighborhood bakeries may mandate that high volume bakers consider employing specialty bread lines to assist with meeting demands. Part of the appeal of premium and artisan breads is that they provide variety, added taste and texture, and aesthetic appeal to the ordinary sandwich, breakfast or soup accompaniment. Therefore, bakers should consider equipment that not only honors the hand-made tradition of these high quality breads as closely as possible, but that also has the capability to handle multiple weights, sizes and shapes of breads.