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Making Your Dough Rise

THAT SMELL: Freshly baked breads and pastries are irresistibly seductive.

HANDS ON: As important as your big baking equipment is, don't forget that baker pads and mitts are just as vital.

Freshly baked breads and pastries will not only appeal to your customers, they'll please your accountant as well. It's no wonder so many foodservice operations are adding in-house baking.

Operators have two ways to approach offering baked on-premises goods. The easiest is the "bake-off" concept, which uses fresh or frozen dough purchased from a purveyor. The dough is sold mixed in bulk or mixed and preportioned into needed shapes. A full variety of ready-to-bake products is available, including various types of rolls, pizza shells, croissants and other pastries. The bake-off operation is popular because it requires relatively low capital expenditures in equipment. Since most restaurants already have deck ovens or convection ovens, often no new equipment is needed. The bake-off operation has the additional advantage of not requiring a highly trained staff of bakers to be added.

On the other hand, a "scratch" baking operation will require at least one trained baker. Preparation space, usually separate from other food prep areas, will be necessary. It's recommended that the bake shop area be well air-conditioned for better product handling.

The amount and types of equipment needed for an inhouse bakery are unique to each operation and vary depending upon the size of the operation and the products being created. A bake-off concept obviously will not require the same extent of equipment as a scratch bakery. The following outlines the basic types of equipment needed to produce various products.

Baking Ovens
The heart of every bakeshop is the oven. The preceding preparation equipment is needed for the traditional bakeshop, but ovens are needed for any on-premises baking function. The major types of ovens used in baking are the rack oven, rotating oven, convection oven and deck oven. The rack oven, used for large-scale applications, will accept racks with 12 or more baking pans in the oven chamber. The rack is often mechanically rotated in the oven and gentle convection used for even cooking throughout the chamber.

Hundreds of rolls can be cooked simultaneously and then unloaded quickly and cooled on the same rack. Rack ovens may not be the best choice for small operators or those offering a wide variety of product because the oven has only one cavity, which means only a single product type can be baked in a given production run. Also, a rack oven requires a minimum of about 25 square feet of floor space.

Even larger than a rack oven is the revolving oven. This equipment uses decks, which are rotated like a Ferris wheel through the cooking chamber. Even baking is accomplished by physically moving product through the various temperature zones in the oven rather than forcing convection. Revolving ovens, used for well over a century, still have some applications in the modern bakery, but probably not for most small operators, although some newer models are as small as 42" wide.

The mainstays of most bakeshops are convection and deck ovens. There have been a number of improvements in convection ovens since their introduction in the late 1950s. An option available on most convection ovens is a two-speed fan. The lower fan speed is gentle and less prone to splatter cake batter or meringues. Some ovens also offer the option of operating the convection fan on a timer, which will allow lighter products to set before turning the fan on.

Some convection ovens are available with steam injectors, which can be used to achieve a thick crust on some breads. Some manufacturers have recently introduced steam ovens suitable for baking. Many baked items, especially pies, cookies and pastries, are baked quite well in a convection oven. Typically, convection ovens cook at either a lower temperature or for a shorter time (or both) when compared to a standard deck oven.

The deck oven is the traditional baker's closest companion. After working with an oven, most bakers get to know baking patterns and irregularities of each deck and the proper settings to achieve optimum results. Inherent in the nature of the deck oven is some irregularity in baking from top to bottom and side to side. Since there is no air movement within the oven cavity, and heating elements must be located in certain areas, the oven inevitably has "hot spots."

Newer deck ovens produce better-regulated heat through insulation and improved thermostats. But for many products, baking pans will still need to be turned or shifted during baking. Historically, ovens with the finest temperature control have been made in Europe. These ovens have high-quality heated elements, low deck heights to minimize top-to-bottom temperature differences and heating elements at the top and bottom with separate controls. An experienced baker who is familiar with the oven can set what sometimes seems like a maze of controls for the most evenly baked products possible.

The standard deck of a deck oven is built of steel and made to hold baking pans. Most of these ovens are also available with a stone hearth for cooking some types of breads and pizzas directly on the hot surface. Ovens made especially for pizzas are usually equipped with a special high-temperature thermostat for temperatures needed to cook pizza quickly. A hearth deck acts as a heat sink to store heat, but its temperature is usually lower than the oven air temperature so the bread or pizza does not burn on the bottom.

Support Equipment
A mixer is a key item needed to mix doughs, batters and other ingredients for baked goods. Often, the typical kitchen mixer will suffice, but some may not be powerful enough to mix heavy doughs, necessitating a dough mixer. Large operations may need specialty spiral mixers. A typical kitchen mixer is usually supplied with wire whip and paddle attachments for mixing different types of products. The paddle attachment will work fine for cake batters, but a dough hook will be needed to mix dough. A pastry knife attachment may also be warranted if making piecrusts or flaky breads, which requires cutting shortening into the flour mixture.

For the small operator, the oven-sized proofer,
which is mounted under a deck or convection oven, is a space-saver.

When preparing sheet cookies or biscuits in small quantities, dough is rolled out with a rolling pin and hand-cut to the shape desired. In a larger operation, rolling dough by hand can be labor-intensive and not as consistent as mechanical dough rollers. A mechanical dough roller, or sheeter, as it's called, consists of a series of motorized "rolling pins." The dough is loaded by hand or, for larger applications, by conveyor. Some larger, more deluxe models have cutter attachments that can automatically cut shapes, such as triangles for croissants, in the same pass that the dough is being sheeted. Keep in mind that the more sophisticated the machinery, the more training the staff will need to use it effectively.

If you are producing a lot of breads and rolls, a dough divider may be beneficial. The divider allows batches of dough to be divided into equal parts for products like dinner rolls. Mechanical dough dividers take a weighed batch of dough and automatically divide it into a set number of equally sized "balls" to be baked off as rolls. For most operations, a manual tabletop divider is all that is needed.

Yeast breads require proofing. Dough will rise most rapidly at temperatures of about 100°F to 110°F, which can be achieved in a proofing cabinet. This is essentially a warming cabinet with a thermostat to control temperature. Most have humidity control, which keeps the dough from drying out while it's being proofed. For the small operator, the oven-sized proofer, which is mounted under a deck or convection oven, is a spacesaver.

Since baking is a process involving a number of steps, it's essential that the equipment layout be geared to the work flow, even in a small operation. It's important to consider the relationships of the various groups of equipment, especially with certain units in the kitchen that might be used for general food production as well. Production needs should be addressed as the facility is being planned. Do not forget to allow sufficient space for cooling product after it's removed from the ovens. Standard mobile racks (butterfly racks), especially designed for cooling baked goods, are flexible and can be maneuvered around the kitchen. You also will need to plan for the added load that the bakeshop will give your pot washer. Utensils and equipment are soiled at each step of the baking process.

Today, many restaurateurs understand the value of offering their guests a fresh baked product, whether it is bake-off, scratch or somewhere in between.

Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI).