Just like bread, kneading techniques have seen deep changes since the ‘60s. First, what are the main stages in this process? Kneading techniques typically comprise of three main stages: mixing, extension and aeration.
Mixing consists of mixing in flour, water and sourdough (if applicable), through a rotating movement in the ingredients, until the dough takes shape and consistency. During the extension, the dough is lifted on a continuous basis to the head of the kneader from right to left or vice versa. This continuous pickup and lifting movement gives good plasticity to the dough.
For aeration, the full load of dough is lifted up and swiftly folded forward. After resting for a certain period of time, the operations are repeated.
Innovations Of The Past
Imagine that up to the end of the 19th century, these very physical movements were performed by the bakers themselves, and only in 1880 did E Mahot, a French engineer, manage to reproduce these movements with the ‘Victorieux’ kneader. This machine was manufactured up to 1964, and equipped mainly the larger bakeries due to its high price.
Manufacturing of this kneader stopped with the development of the Mahot M.B., which is still manufactured till the present day in France by the VMI company. A similar process is also used by Artofex, a Swiss manufacturer.
If yesterday these kneaders were the symbol of the mechanisation of kneading, today they represent the old tradition of hand kneading. The left arm is equipped with a special tool that lifts the dough up, while the right arm (which is a mixing arm with two steel points) is designed to stretch the dough. It works mainly through extension and shearing, allowing for the development of a soft dough, which does not get overheated.
Baking In The Present
With the evolution of kneading in the ‘60s, Mahot and Artofex machines have lost their prestige since similar dough texture quality, with reduced kneading time is obtained with a fork mixer.
Then, we know the evolution of global bread consumption and the appetence which has developed for white, soft bread, and with it intensified kneading and the use of chemical additives.
But for some years now, this trend has changed and consumers, in addition to quality bread that is good for one’s health, demand a return to more ‘natural’ breadmaking. The additives used to thicken the dough and make it rise, often gluten powder concentrations, have not been very popular, as testified by the development of the gluten-free trend.
This is why more and more professionals, or at least artisans, are coming back to ‘old-style’ or ‘traditional’ bread—purposely less developed with a thick, fatty and tasty crumb, even if they contain air bubbles.
The taste and light weight of the bread, and even its digestibility, can only be obtained through long fermentation, and careful baking, without excessive heat, to give the bread a genuine crust with a golden colour. It is the slight caramelisation of the crust which significantly contributes to developing the taste of the crumb.
Hence, a new market niche in the market has been carved for beater arm kneaders, and this also explains why many bakers like the fork mixers so much. These machines, however, are restricted to ‘higher end’ bakeries with very good profitability, who can afford to have a specific kneader to showcase for special breads, with significantly longer kneading and fermenting times.
Continuing To Maintain Profitability
Obviously, most craft bakers, and more and more industrial bakers, are seeking to strike the right balance between profitability of their production tools, and the best quality possible of bread.
A number of industrialists today are equipped with automated or semi-automated systems, and these consist of fork kneaders for soft, slow kneading and adapted to the production of baguettes, croissants, buns, milk bread, with all types of flour (low or high gluten contents), etc.
Should therefore the science of kneading stop its progress and come back to processes that do guarantee natural and tasty products, but yet are so time-consuming?
The industry has been on the search for solutions that combine quality production and ongoing gains in productivity and profitability. One example is VMI’s leitmotiv. The results of its industrial customers are an example, with some of their products comparable with the best high street bakeries.
How can a kneader knead faster and for a shorter period of time, while allowing the manufacturer to reduce chemical additives? Rather than promoting ‘gluten-free friendly’ marketing concepts or other trendy labels, research has been conducted with agro-food universities to come back to the most natural recipes possible in a minimum period of time. These do not include the addition of proteins, which in a way, very modestly contributes to reducing gluten intolerance or the development of other allergies.
An outcome of the Pleasure European project, and in partnership with an English bread manufacturer, the Continuum for example was created with the introduction of vacuum which proved efficient on the quality of the crumb, taking into account new formulations required for healthier products.
Another example, Kneadster, a brand-new double tool kneader, produces the same results as a VMI fork kneader, while guaranteeing shorter kneading time. The work on the shape of tools was decisive, and today allows the kneader to blow in a great quantity of air through natural air intake and produce significant oxygenation of the dough without overheating and without altering the taste of the bread, which is what intensified kneading is blamed for today.
If the last century was that of mechanisation and then industrialisation of the bakery, future developments will be oriented towards a better mastery of kneading, such as seeking to model the mix in machines for example.
These ‘smart’ machines equipped with decision-making tools, will also be instrumental to mastering the kneading unit as a whole, guaranteeing quality, productivity, and also traceability, health benefits and repeatability, and requiring that it adapts to all quality levels of raw materials available in the world, to achieve the same results.