Bakers now offer a cornucopia of flatbread options, not only in North America, but also throughout the world.

“With globalization and immigration, we have suddenly a very dynamic market,” explained Barry Svenningson, president, Wellbake Equipment, Inc. “Bakeries notice these changing eating habits and are making adjustments to keep their sales. Today, the supermarket shelves carry ciabatta as sandwich bread, sandwich thins, barbari and Indian naan bread varieties, just to mention a few options for replacing the old varieties such as Kaiser and dinner rolls or subs, to a large extent.”

However, product innovation such as Mexican tortillas with superfoods, Scandinavian crackers with dried fruits or the current onslaught of North American pizza snacks adds complexity to the production process.

“The challenges include the extrusion of doughs with the incorporation of seeds such as chia, ancient grains and other ingredients, or with creating gluten-free doughs,” said Uwe Benz, head of Fritsch Technology Center.

Likewise, flatbreads now come in such shapes as hexagon, D-shapes, ellipse and trefoil.

“To produce new varieties of flatbreads, the punching/cutting tool has to be changed,” Mr. Benz said. “On a dough sheet basis, almost every shape can be produced. The sheeting section usually remains the same. The width of the dough sheet can be varied via the folding station. The degree of the reduction is also adjustable.”

Mr. Benz added that handling dough the right way is not an easy task.

“Our SoftProcessing technology is distinctive for its interplay between specific materials, components and functioning principles,” he said. “It allows a high degree of automation and high throughput at the same time while minimizing the stress on the dough over the entire production process.”

AMF Bakery Systems designs its flatbread lines for current and ongoing operational needs.

“Our customers are requiring production equipment be designed with future growth and flexibility in mind,” said Clint Adams, director of sales, U.S. & Canada, AMF Tromp and AMF Den Boer, a part of AMF Bakery Systems. “The markets are changing so fast that space may need to be reserved for future processes such as fermentation rooms, increased resting and additional makeup options.”

While bakers prefer the product characteristics of hand-stretching, market demand often prompts them to explore automation.

“There are still bakers that are hand-stretching to conform to labels, but at AMF Bakery Systems, we help imitate and automate this process with cutters, dockers and the like,” Mr. Adams said. “During pizza production, we can stamp an impression to replicate that hand-stretched appearance while improving line efficiencies.”

When automating, David Moline, vice-president, sales and marketing, Moline Machinery, suggested placing every possible product formulation on the to-do list. That will ultimately determine the flexibility, capacity and even the length of the line, which can be an issue in an existing bakery with a finite footprint.

As a general rule, dedicated lines are shorter but offer higher capacity.

“If you have as much as 10 to 12 additional feet on a makeup table, you have a line that can incorporate many systems such as depositing, cutting stations, trim removal and more,” Mr. Moline said. “It’s pretty darn flexible.”

Formulation also dictates the number and type of components on a line.

“If you’re looking at a thin-crust pizza or a flour tortilla, we’ll approach it with our tri-roll extruder or three-roll former,” Mr. Moline explained. “It results in a very consistent grain structure. It’s high capacity, which is often suited for those kinds of products. If it’s a naan or foodservice flatbread that’s softer and more open grain, we would go right to our Yoga no-stress dough former.”

Koenig’s modular lines can be retrofitted or tailored to create flatbreads with a variety of sizes and thicknesses, according to Richard Breeswine, president and chief executive officer, Koenig Bakery Systems.

“Different cutting tools can create various ovals, rounds, large rounds and other shapes easily,” he said.

Koenig’s Menes-H dough sheeting line can process up to 11,023 lbs of dough an hour and can be combined with other forming stations, seeding units, stamping devices, cutting tools and proofers. The company developed a 3-roll dough sheet former for the Menes-H dough sheeting line and can create soft, large-cell doughs. The side plates and rollers are easy to remove for cleaning, maintenance and changeovers. Meanwhile, its “Twin Sat” double satellite head creates a tension-free dough sheet as it’s reduced in thickness.

Other options allow the dough to rest during the process.

“It is important to give the dough the time it needs,” noted Manuel Hobacher, master baker and head of the Koenig technology center in Austria. “It can make a huge difference to include a longer conveyor belt between dough sheet calibration and cutting the dough sheet into flatbread shape dough pieces. Then the dough has more time to relax, and the shape becomes much nicer and more stable.”

Wellbake introduced its new sheeting line for flatbreads at the recently held International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) and demonstrated why the industry is developing so many versatile ways to produce them.

Mr. Svenningson noted the new Wellbake ADS 1100 sheeting system for flatbreads, pizzas and tortillas features the SoftFeed extruder that is gentle enough to allow scrap dough to return directly to the hopper and mix with fresh dough while retaining the quality. The line’s Wave spreader does not touch the dough. Rather, he said, its three-belt, Z-pass system allows for the gentle processing and relaxation before product forming on the makeup table without the need for intermediate proofing.

Nick Magistrelli, vice-president of sales, Rademaker USA, suggested that mimicking the hand-stretched feel begins with a low-stress dough sheeter to create a tensionless sheet that can easily be manipulated into the desired texture. Some bakers use a “knuckle” docker to create what looks like small finger impressions into the dough prior to baking. Moreover, he said, a cutter can stretch or form irregular shapes, giving the impression of a hand-stretched or artisanal flatbread product.

Moisture content often plays a key role in the makeup process, according to Franco Fusari, co-owner of Minipan. For medium-hydrated doughs, its Raffinatore line uses punch-and-fold technology to sheet the dough to enhance the gluten network and homogenize its cell structure. The approach is totally different for highly hydrated baked goods.

“Extremely gentle handling is a must because if a technology is too aggressive, it may damage the dough and jeopardize the final product,” he said.

To accomplish this, Minipan places small chunks of dough onto a specially designed conveyor to allow the sheet to naturally come together and rest. For gauging and forming, Mr. Franco said the company’s R_Evolution line handles doughs with up to 85% hydration and long fermentations. Those products include the highly popular Italian Pinsa Romana bread, which features a clean label formula and a traditional rectangular shape that makes it an alternative to rounded pizza.

This article is an excerpt from the October 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on flatbread technology, click here.