Before you start a baking program, you should carefully weigh your options. Here's what you need to know.
In-house baking is a sure way to differentiate your restaurant from your competition. What better way to create a lasting impression than with the aroma and taste of fresh baked goods? Before launching a program, you've got a number of equipment choices to consider.
First things first: A mixer is needed to mix doughs, batters and other ingredients for baked goods. Often a typical kitchen mixer will suffice, but it may not be powerful enough to mix heavy doughs, which require a dough mixer or spiral mixer, named for the way the mixing and kneading action is done. Large operations producing a lot of rolls or bread may need a specialty spiral mixer. A typical kitchen mixer is usually supplied with a wire whip and paddle attachments. The paddle attachment will work fine for cake batters, but a dough hook may be needed for mixing dough. The dough hook will give full mixing action, even to the sides of the mixing bowl, while mixing the dough with a kneading action. A pastry knife attachment may also be warranted if making pie crusts or flaky breads, which need shortening cut into the flour mixture. A new heavy-duty 60-quart mixer will set you back more than $11,000.
Dough for small batches of sheet cookies or biscuits is rolled out with a rolling pin and hand-cut to the shape desired. Larger restaurants may choose a mechanical dough roller, called a sheeter, which consists of a series of motorized rolling pins onto which dough is loaded by hand or, for larger applications, by conveyor. A wide variety of sheeters is available, from small tabletop units that deliver the rolled dough onto a worktable to machines with landing conveyors five or more feet in length. Some larger, more deluxe models have cutter attachments that can automatically cut shapes like triangles for croissants while sheeting the dough. The more sophisticated the machinery, the more training the staff will need.
If you are producing a lot of breads and rolls, a dough divider may be beneficial. It divides batches of dough 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 equal-sized “balls” to be baked off as rolls. Most restaurants require only a manual tabletop divider.
Yeast breads require proofing, which involves warming the dough to activate the yeast and cause the bread to rise. Dough will rise most rapidly at temperatures of about 100°-110°F. A commercial proofer is essentially a warming cabinet with a thermostat. Most have humidity control, which helps keep the dough from drying out.
In a small restaurant, an oven-sized proofer mounted under a deck or convection oven is a way to save space. These proofers, offered by several manufacturers, use the otherwise wasted space beneath the oven as well as keeping the proofer in close proximity to the oven.
Ovens are the heart of any baking program. Make your purchase count by matching the size and the equipment features to your operation. In general, you should avoid using the same oven for roasting and baking, or you may end up with unwanted taste transfers.
A deck oven is a must for any real baking. Newer quality ovens provide even heat because of good burner design, insulation and precise thermostats. These ovens have high-quality heating elements at the top and bottom with separate controls, and low deck heights to minimize top-to-bottom temperature differences.
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 producing breads and pizzas. 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. Good deck ovens can be costly: Depending on the size and features, they can run from several thousand dollars to well over $20,000.
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, convection ovens are the best choice for many products like cookies, pies and cakes. 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 turning the fan on. Expect to pay $6,000 for a single-deck convection oven.
Since baking involves a number of steps, the equipment layout must be geared to the work flow. It is important to consider the relationships of the various groups of equipment, especially with other equipment in the kitchen, such as mixers or ovens that may be used for general food production requirements as well. Plenty of table space will be needed to accommodate different processes. Finished hot products will need a place to cool. Standard mobile racks or butterfly racks, especially designed for cooling baked goods, are flexible and can be maneuvered around the kitchen. And don't forget cleanup. Plan for the added load on the pot washer, since each step in the process results in soiled utensils, containers and pans.
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. Bendall can be reached at 301-926-8181.