The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Quality of bread from equipment

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artisan intern's picture
artisan intern

Quality of bread from equipment

The company I work for is looking to start an artisan bread bakery. We want to provide quality breads. Upon looking at equipment, I wanted to know if mechanical molders and dividers take away from the authentic taste of artisan breads as opposed to doing all the work by hand.. Any insite would be helpful!

artisan intern

PastryPaul's picture
PastryPaul

Hi, not sure on what volume you are intending and that would have a huge impact on your choice. So would other factors like available space, number /skill level of staff, number of bread varieties, etc.

IMHO: The less one uses cutting and shaping equipment, the more one can say his/her bread is artisanal. That being said, the most expensive ingredient in the baking industry is labour cost, so something may need to be done.

I would venture to say that a cutter would help a lot since the dough would be properly scaled prior to shaping thus saving a time consuming step and keeping the end product uniform in size but the time saving would not balance off the cost of the equipment without sufficient volume. However, I would draw the line there. I don't see how a machine-shaped loaf could be called "artisanal." Hand shaping, with its slight variance loaf to loaf and baker to baker, is one of the things that makes artisanal bread, well... "artisanal."

At our shop, we focus more on cakes and pastries. Bread is not a great sales product for us. (prices stay pretty low due to competition from in-house "bakeries" in supermarkets who pretty much buy frozen loaves, thaw them in a proofer and label them "artisan bread baked on premises." )

With our low volume of about 60 to 84 loaves a day we scale and shape by hand. Further, we have cut down loaf sizes to match the needs of our predominantly young professional demographic, so even an 84 loaf day is only about 50 pounds of dough, barely 5 manhours to prepare, cut, and shape depending on number of varieties. If we were to jump to say 1000  loaves a day, I would probably just add a bread-only shift and meet demand while still hand scaling and cutting.  (Assuming of course, that I had no better, i.e. more profitable use for that shift.) I would estimate, at least provisionally, one baker could do 126 loaves in a 7.5 hour shift... call it 120 as a target. Mind you, I AM NOT a bread specialist, and neither are my people (we are pâtissiers as opposed to boulangiers),  so maybe my guess is totally out to lunch.

Cheers

Paul

Chuck's picture
Chuck

It's not the equipment itself that changes the taste. It's partly what gets done to the dough to make the equipment "work better", and partly what gets done to the dough to maximise the utility of the equipment. Besides "taste", there's texture, and here equipment can make a significant difference.

A shaper might recommend adding a certain "conditioner" to the dough. Equipment speeding the work may encourage more batches during a shift, which means the dough needs to rise faster, which means more yeast etc. And equipment that  handles the dough quite forcefully (such as a cheap "cutter") will tend to deflate the dough thoroughly, which means no big holes.

Especially be wary of things that "speed up" the process. The various techniques for very long slow rises (pre-ferments, retarding, overnight, etc.) are a big part of making bread taste really good. Bread made "quickly" (which often -but not always- means using mechanized equipment) isn't going to taste the same.

artisan intern's picture
artisan intern

I too was thinking that the less machines used the more "artisanal" the bread would be.  We have the space, mostly likely staff numbers, and a small variety of breads to start out so the equipment probably wouldn't be a necessity. I'm a newbie to the industry and just needed some reassurance. We want to have an exhibition style setting so again the less machines used would be ideal.. Thanks for the kind and informative replies :)

PastryPaul's picture
PastryPaul

Hmmmmm!

By "exhibition style" am I right in assuming that you mean someyhing where production areas will be visible to the public? If so, keep me posted on your progress.

We are planning a new location for Summer 2012 in a high-traffic, very trendy section of town. I have always liked the showcase-kitchen style for restaurants and wanted to mimic it for a bakery. Tough to balance food safety and legal compliance needs with high-visibility to the consumer though. Three designs have been knocked down by governing bodies so far. My fav was a u-shaped setup with displays all around, production lab in the center and decorating stations very close to the public.

Cheers

Paul

artisan intern's picture
artisan intern

Exhibition style is our ultimate goal but we're only in the beginning stages of the project so not sure yet if it will work in the space we have (or at least not all the production will be done in the area where public can see it). We have big store front windows along the city's main street and hope the exhibition style will help lure customers in.

Artisan Intern

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

trained Architect and artist I would like to say one thing - nothing personal intended at all.  Machines do not make art - as in artisisan.  Some fine folks lose sight that words have real meanings - including artists.  Bread made by machines or partially made by machines is properly termed mechanical bread or non-astisan bread.   There is nothing at all wrong with that kind of bread either since it is fair, decent and honest when termed properly.  I wish I could make bread as well as machines :-)  Hope no one is offended by my personal opinion since that is not my intention in the least.

amolitor's picture
amolitor

I use only my hands to make my bread. I work naked, first scraping a hollow in the earth in which to mix my dough, near the stream so that I can conveniently carry water cupped in my palms to the dough. I grind my grains only with unmodified flat stones which I find near the stream, and I can bake only when a forest fire comes through (and only it was started by lightning or other natural causes)

 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

If you were offended I am truly sorry, but you will note that I was trying to be kind while stating my opinion in my original post.  I still agree with Paul.

gerhard's picture
gerhard

Just because people disagree with you does not indicate that offence was taken.  I tend to agree that the use of machinery does not necessarily take away from the artisanal quality of the bread.  

Gerhard

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

way beyond disagreement.  I expected disagreement - not total and complete exaggerations of the issue, illogical hyperbole and mythical circumstance.

Your response is polite and we can agree to disagree.  Any sane person knows that a bakery will use machinery to make bread.  Which one doesn't have a Hobart for mixing or kneading?  You can't do 500 loaves by hand without an army - or an automatic scaler for heaven's sake.  But you have to draw the line somewhere if you want to fit the definition of and carry the artisan label.

The definition of artisan is - An artisan (from Italian: artigiano) is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewellery, household items, and tools. As an adjective (spelled "artisanal"), it has been used as a marketing buzz word to describe or imply an association with the crafting of hand made food products, such as bread, tofu, beverages and cheese

Using machinery for the entire process of bread making is what produces Wonder Bread and they are in bankruptcy for the second time.  Even if it made the very best SFSD bread instead, then any human could make, this process could not be called artisan just because someone says it implies hand made crafting.  Artisan is the crafting of hand made bread as the definition says - maybe not entirely.  I draw the line where Paul does.  Implied hand made is just a ruse to manipulate the consumer into paying more for non artisan bread.  If you say impersonating or implying artisan  - I have no problem with Wonder Bread being labeled that way.   Words have meaning.

gerhard's picture
gerhard

I guess to me the artisanal bread is made by respecting the time that the process will take and not rushing through the use of additives and total avoidance of preservatives. If bread is fresh the day it is baked and still edible the next day and then ready to use as bread crumbs then so be it.  Basically to me artisanal bread should contain flour, water, salt, sourdough culture or yeast, fats or oil are optional.  

I think to call the Wonder product bread is a stretch but to call it artisanal should be criminal.

Gerhard

PastryPaul's picture
PastryPaul

In fa ct, I though the comment was hysterical

Still LMAO

Cheers

amolitor's picture
amolitor

I was just being funny..

jcking's picture
jcking

I find it quite funny went I hear or see "artisan recipe" advertised.

Jim

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

I apologize.  I'm going to Del Taco and get an authentic, artisan taco made by a real illegal alien who is from China using real Mexican ingredients from Indonesia and warmed  shells made in Iceland.  I don't want to know where the lettuce is coming from....  Real Artisans don't come cheap when their art comes to $3 each or 3 for $10 :-) 

copyu's picture
copyu

I typed this up moments after you got your first reply. I thought I'd wait a couple of days to see how the discussion panned out, before posting, since I'm pretty busy and can't enter a long back-and-forth discussion. I hardly have the time to check my family e-mails...

"I understand what you said and the 'spirit' of your post and largely agree with you—your 'pre-apologizing' was very good, as well! However, you have to remember that, on a forum such as this, people have their own 'definitions' of almost everything.

How does an 'artist'/'artisan' (or an architect?) define a 'machine'?; and how does a 'machine' differ from a 'tool'? A lever is called a machine (in some elementary Physics textbooks) and works (pretty much) on the same principles as a spatula/wooden spoon/scraper/screwdriver/paintbrush/drafting pen...moving something in the correct way to achieve a certain predictable result. Kitchen scales and other gauges such as rulers, measuring cups and spoons have to enter into the discussion, eventually...then we get all the way to ovens...the modern ones are, in every sense of the word, electronically-controlled machines (...unless hand-made and wood-fired, I suppose...fired only by hand-chopped wood?)

Some famous [17th century] artists and scientists even defined the human HAND [and the "human ANIMAL" when they became bolder and less frightened of the Inquisition] as, effectively, animated "machines". What a can of worms! Raw materials production is going to be a 'sensitive' issue here, too...

I had a longish discussion with my cousin, (who actually IS an artisan!) about the meaning of the word 'artisan'. I mentioned to her that in bread and cheese-making, it's a very positive term...not so popular in wine and beer-making, where we now prefer: "micro-brewery" or "small-vintage-winery". Although to me, the term is 'neutral' in furniture and home-building, some people obviously view 'artisanal' in a negative way. A guy on a popular woodworking blog had in his signature line: "Maker of artisanal furniture—but NOT on purpose!" "

I'm glad to see that you have your fire-proof underwear on, at least...(aka 'a sense of humor'.)

Sincere best,

Adam

G-man's picture
G-man

One of the best ways of going over this whole subject was one that I heard as an anecdote from a farmer in my area a couple years ago.

He told a story about going to visit an Amish farming community when he was looking for ways to get away from industrial agriculture. He was surprised by what he found. There was an Amish farmer pulling a cart by a horse over his field, and in the cart was a diesel broadcast spreader for fertilizer. It really didn't fit what folks typically think of as "Amish".

It helped him reach a realization. Everyone draws a line, a point where they say "I'll go this far to achieve my goals, but I'll go no further." Everybody's line is different. Even if two people agree on the same ideology point by point, the distance they will each go in following that ideology is different.

We'd have a lot fewer arguments and hurt feelings if folks would remember that their line won't match someone else's line no matter what, and criticizing them only leads to this sort of thing. I'm guilty of it, too. Just saying.

If you want to sell bread and don't care about how others might perceive your integrity (according to their lines, which you can't know without asking each and every one of them) call your bread whatever helps you sell it.

If you have some definition of artisan that allows use of machines for some steps, great. I'm not aware of what the rules are regarding what bread is called, or even if there are any.

If your definition of artisan doesn't allow any machines at any point in the process, good on you.

proth5's picture
proth5

help myself.  Must.  Wade.  In.

The example of the Amish farmer is quite apt.  But what the original teller does not bring is the nuance of how the Amish decide where to draw the line.

Because I have spent some effort studying this, I would not be surprized at a diesel broadcast spreader.  One of the fundamental goals of the Amish is to keep themselves apart from the world.  The diesel engine does not connect them through electric wires.  It is a machine - and it is not powered by human or animal effort - but it does not tie the farmer to the world's electrical system.  The diesel fuel ties them to the world's supply chain, but with loose enough ties to be allowed.

So when we consider what tools we will use as artisan bakers, we need to consider our goals and our values.

Some bakers want to be totally off the grid.  They would eschew an electric mixer, but not a manual divider.

One of the best offhand comments from "my teacher" comes on this subject.  My teacher was describing how s/he made the decision to purchase an automatic divider.  It was a serrious decision as it was not our friend the mechanical divider, but an electrically powered piece of equipment. S/he described how the baking volume had increased and that the old dividers were not quite up to the volume.  But the line was drawn there.  There would be no shapers.  S/he described how the artisan bakers in his/her charge could remove the divided dough but still stood around the bench - shaping bread - talking and laughing.  It was not the solitary lot of a person feeding dough into a machine.  S/he was trying to foster a certain set of working conditions in the bakery and the talk and laughter was part of it.

Bread is not the artisan.  The baker is the artisan.  What is it that one wishes to create for the baker?  What values does one want to uphold?  How will the technology support or detract from this goal?

I think of this from time to time.

 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

also guessing that the Amish farmer made his own biodiesel :-)