|MASTERPIECE: Bakers are artists who toil to create perfection.|
There are two main reasons for creating an in-house bakery. First is the possibility of lowering your cost of baked goods while increasing profits. This goal is no sure thing, so crunch the numbers and don't forget to factor in the cost of new equipment,-some of which is discussed below.
The other reason for creating an in-house baking program, even if it does not lower costs, is to create a point of differentiation between you and your competitors. Producing a signature or recognizable baking product, whether it's fresh bread or a specialty dessert, will elevate your foodservice operation in the eyes of customers.
Here are a few of the equipment items you'll need to support your baking program.
Rack Ovens. The major types are the rack oven, rotating oven, convection oven and deck oven. The rack oven, used in high volume or institutional applications, will accept racks with 12 or more baking pans in the oven chamber. The rack is mechanically rotated in the oven and gentle convection is used for even cooking throughout the chamber.
In a rack oven, hundreds of rolls can be baked simultaneously and then unloaded quickly and cooled in the same rack used to bake the product. The drawback is that the rack oven has only one large cavity, which means only one type of product can be baked during a given production run. If you're a small operator or offer a variety of baked goods, a rack oven may not be the best choice. Also note that a rack oven uses a minimum of about 25 square feet of floor space.
Revolving Ovens. This oven, which is often larger than the rack oven, uses decks that 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 100 years, 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.
Deck Ovens. The mainstays of a bake shop are the convection oven and deck oven. The deck oven is a must for any real baking because of its reputation for producing a superior product. 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 baking "hearth baked" breads and pizzas directly on this special oven deck. 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.
The best bakers know the baking patterns and irregularities of each deck. They also know the settings to achieve optimum results. Inherent in the nature of the deck oven is irregularity in baking from top to bottom and side to side. Since there is no air movement within the oven cavity, there will be "hot spots." Newer ovens have improved in evening the heat through insulation and better thermostats, but for many products, baking pans must be turned or shifted during baking.
Historically, the finest temperature-control ovens have been made in Europe. These ovens have high-quality heating elements, low deck heights to minimize toptobottom temperature differences, and heating elements at the top and bottom with separate controls. An experienced baker, and one familiar with the oven, can set what sometimes seems like a maze of controls for the most evenly baked products possible.
Creating your own bakery may cost you quite a bit up front, but the specialty items you can produce will generate great customer interest because of their quality.
Convection Ovens. A convection oven is the other important baking oven. Many baked items, especially pies, cookies and pastries, can be produced quite well in a convection oven. Typically, convection ovens cook at either a lower temperature or shorter time or both when compared to a standard deck oven. For higher production needs, convection is often the best oven choice.
An option available on most convection ovens is a two-speed fan. The lower fan speed is gentle and is 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 the fan turns on. Some convection ovens are available with steam injectors, which can be used to keep roasting products moist. Moisture also helps produce a thick crust on some breads. Some manufacturers have recently introduced steam ovens, which are suitable for baking.
The mainstays of a bakeshop are the convection and deck ovens, which both produce superior products.
Other Needs 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 they may not be powerful enough to mix heavy doughs, necessitating a dough mixer or spiral mixer, named for the way the mixing and kneading action is done. In large operations that produce a lot of rolls or bread, a specialty spiral mixer may be needed.
A typical kitchen mixer is usually supplied with a wire whip and paddle attachment for mixing different types of products. The paddle attachment will work fine for cake batters, but a dough hook may be needed to mix dough. A pastry knife attachment may also be warranted to make piecrusts or flaky breads, which require shortening cut into the flour mixture.
Sheeters. 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 larger foodservice operations, 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, into the rolling pins.
Sheeter varieites include a small tabletop unit fed by a chute that delivers the rolled dough onto a worktable. Larger models have landing conveyors five or more feet in length. More deluxe models have cutter attachments that can automatically cut shapes like 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.
Dough Dividers. 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.
Commercial Proofers. Yeast breads require " proofing," which is the process of warming the dough to allow the yeast to activate and the bread to rise. Dough will rise most rapidly at temperatures of about 100°F to 110°F. The cabinets of commercial proofers are essentially a warming cabinet with a thermostat to control temperature. Most have humidity control—the use of a water pan in the unit. Humidity keeps the dough from drying out while it is being proofed.
For the small foodservice operator, the oven-sized proofer, which is mounted under a deck or convection oven, is a space-saving idea. These proofers use the otherwise wasted space beneath the oven and keep the proofer in close proximity to the oven.
Since baking is a process involving a number of steps, it's essential that the equipment layout be geared to the workflow, even in a small operation. It's important to consider the relationships of the various groups of equipment, such as mixers or ovens, when your baking facility is being planned. Plenty of table space will be needed, and don't forget to allow sufficient space for cooling product after it is removed from the ovens.
Butterfly Racks. Standard mobile racks, also known as butterfly racks, are specifically designed for cooling baked goods. They are flexible and maneuverable. 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 operators see the benefit of offering a fresh-baked product, and often at a lower food cost. The display and merchandising of baked goods creates add-on sales which otherwise would not be made. Consider the benefits and the costs, study the ramifications and perhaps you will find some level of baking that fits your operation.
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. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.