One advantage of die-cut tortilla makeup systems is that these systems always produce consistently sized tortillas. The die-cut system also produces scrap dough, and most manufacturers offer makeup systems that automatically return scrap to the extruder.
Heat press systems use electricity or oil to form dough balls into tortillas. Dough balls are moved onto a conveyor toward pressing plates. Through heat, the plates move down toward the conveyor and form tortillas.
Although tortillas are in a small slump, according to the latest IRI research, they remain one of the most popular foods in the baking industry. Tortillas are versatile products, and are used not only for Hispanic meals such as tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and burritos, but mainstream America also consumes tortillas in sandwich wraps, salad bowls, and baked on salads as as substitutes for pizza crusts.
There are many processes involved in formulating tortillas. Tortilla dough tends to be sticky, even after the product is baked. Because tortillas are thin, gentle handling is a must. In addition, bakers should respect the tradition that tortillas hold.
"With this product, there is a greater ethnic responsibility," one tortilla system manufacturer says, "because many people have eaten tortillas all of their lives, and they won't buy bad products."
In addition, today's tortillas are larger and sturdier than they have been in the past. Years ago, 6-in tortillas were the norm. Today, 8-in. and 12-in. are the biggest sellers. Because of this, mixers, makeup, baking and stacking must be accurate, efficient and gentle—but fast.
Flour tortillas may be stretched, pressed or die cut. Handstretched tortillas are pulled by hand into a circle. This type of tortillas are visually unappealing, as they are dull in appearance and have little flaking. They also have a powdery texture due to residual flower on their surfaces. The handstretched method is rarely employed by wholesale bakers.
Instead, it is more common for bakers to use press or die-cut makeup systems to form tortillas. Pressed flour tortillas are shaped from dough balls into circles by a heat press. These tortillas appear smooth and shiny with layers and flakes. Pressed tortillas feel light and pliable, and are easily rolled without tearing.
Die-cut tortillas, on the other hand, are made from sheeted dough. This dough moves under a die that cuts tortillas to their appropriate sizes. Similar to hand-stretched tortillas, die-cut tortillas have residual flour on their surfaces and feel dry and powdery. They do not have flakes or layers.
Tortilla makeup impacts how the dough is mixed. Bakers should slightly undermix dough for pressed tortillas at temperatures between 90°F and 100°F. These parameters help the dough relax after dividing and rounding.
Compared to pressed tortillas, diecut tortillas require cooler and more developed dough. This dough should be mixed at temperatures between 80°F and 90°F. Because this dough is stressed during production, bakers also should add conditioners and oxidizing agents.
Press makeup systems
In a press makeup system, dough is taken from the mixer and moved to the divider and rounder. There, it is shaped into dough balls according to the tortillas' specified sizes. These dough balls then move through a loading device that positions the dough onto a pressing belt, which contains several openings that ensure the dough balls do not roll. The belt moves, carrying the dough balls toward pressing plates. The plates and surface area are heated—by electricity or oil—to temperatures between 350°F and 450°F. The plates press down onto the dough balls, forming tortillas.
The heat press system offers several advantages to bakers. It preserves the matrix of the gluten, ensuring that dough remains intact during production and consumption. Heat press tortillas also are able to take more abuse: they can be frozen and thawed without damage.
However, pressed tortillas may not be uniform in size and thickness. Although one manufacturer offers a press makeup system that weighs dough balls to within a gram of their specified weights. This system also provides an accurate loading system, he says.
"We have a system that is like yanking the tablecloth underneath the wine bottle," the manufacturer says. "We station [the dough balls], and then rip out from underneath. We press down on them so that they won't roll, and prepress them."
As an extra step, this system also features a vision inspection system that measures and sorts the quality of tortillas. It is placed just prior to packaging. Tortillas are judged on 11 parameters of quality, including diameter, toast marks, roundness and holes.
Die-cut makeup systems
One advantage that die-cut makeup systems have over press systems, is that die-cut systems always produce consistent results. Tortillas always are the same size, shape and thickness.
In die-cut systems, tortilla dough is extruded then sheeted to a specified thickness, usually between 1/8 in and 3/16 in., using a cross sheeter. The dough feeds to a cutting belt and moves under the die. The die cuts the tortillas and also produces scrap dough. Most manufacturers offer diecut systems that automatically return the scrap dough to the extruder.
Die-cut makeup systems offer other advantages besides consistency. They save bakers space and time, compared to press systems. Die-cut systems do not require dividers, rounders and immediate proofers.
However, there are some disadvantages to die-cut tortillas. Unlike pressed tortillas, die-cut tortillas do not hold up to freezing and thawing conditions. They typically are used in foodservice applications, such as prisons.
After tortillas are sized and cut, they are transported to the oven. Tortillas bake quickly: Pressed tortillas should bake between 24 and 40 seconds at temperatures ranging from 375°F to 500°F, depending on the desired color of the finished product.
Die-cut tortillas bake between 17 and 25 seconds. Bakers should set their ovens to temperatures ranging from 425° and 500°F.
After baking, tortillas must cool, otherwise they will stick together. Bakers should keep tortillas on a cooling conveyor for two to five minutes in ambient air. If bakers use cooling chambers, tortillas should remain in them for one to two minutes at 40°F.
Before shipping, tortillas must be stacked and packaged. Tortillas typically are packaged in one to two dozen counts. Because of the stickiness of tortilla dough, bakers should consider interleaving to ensure that tortillas maintain their integrity and layers.
One manufacturer offers an interleaving stacking system. This automated system is placed after cooling. As a tortilla moves off of the line, the inter-leaver has a robotic eye that senses the leading edge of the tortilla. At this point, paper from underneath the interleaver is cut and automatically placed beneath the tortilla. Then the tortilla—with the paper—move together toward the stacker. The stacker also has an eye that senses the tortilla, which is then picked up by a set of mechanical fingers and dropped into a stack. Once the stack reaches its specified count, it is packaged.
This system runs at 150 to 200 tortillas per minute, per lane. The stacking machine is able to handle tortillas as wide as 20 ins. in diameter. The interleaving system accommodates tortillas up to 12 ins. in diameter.
Because of the popularity of tortillas, bakers should remain aware of the latest trends in tortilla formulation and production. Many manufacturers offer innovations for tortilla mixing, makeup, baking, cooling, stacking and packaging equipment.