The Bread Basket

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Three national suppliers share the latest products baked up in R&D to meet consumer trends.

Gonnella Baking Company has been producing ciabatta long before it became the trendy artisanal sandwich bread that today’s Americans know and love.

“Some of the pronunciations I used to get would make you laugh. But probably in the last 12 months, it’s gone really mainstream,” says (Dave Gonnella, president of sales for the family-owned business that’s been baking Italian bread since 1886. “There’s been a few national chains that have jumped on ciabatta, advertised it and educated the country about what it is.”

Created in 1982 by a baker in Verona, Veneto, Italy, ciabatta bread is known for its thin crust and its thick, sturdy yet airy interior, created by an open-cell structure that’s meat to stand up to heavy or wet sandwich ingredients.

“Our product has a pre-ferment 24-hour stage, which really makes the difference,” says Gonnella, who describes it as a cross between a French baguette and sourdough. Gonnella Baking still uses the traditional ancient levain method, which starts with a small piece of the previous day’s dough as a base for the next day’s baking. In addition to a specialized proofing process, the dough is gently massaged and stretched before it is cut into a small square roll.

Because ciabatta has a high percentage of water content, its dough is sticky and hard to handle. But the company’s specialized equipment is designed to mimic the made-by-hand process, thereby maintaining that same appearance and texture on the fi nished product.

“Our (proprietary) equipment is very gentle on the stretching and handling of the product; otherwise you would totally de-gas the product, and then you lose all the cell structure,” he says. “That’s why there are very few bakeries that are doing artisan bread at scale. You’ll see the small artisan Mom-and-Pop bakeries, or these huge commercial bakeries, but there’s only a few us of playing in that middle space.”

Gonnella Baking—which specializes in artisan breads, such as brioche, focaccia and pretzel bread—already offers a sandwich-sized ciabatta as well as a ciabatta table bread. But to help independent restaurants capitalize on the hot breakfast trend that’s sweeping the nation—notably at national chain restaurants—the company recently launched a hand-sized, square-shaped ciabatta roll in January 2017. Its smaller size is designed to snuggly fit eggs, sausage patties, bacon, cheese and anything else that would make for a great grab-and-go breakfast creation.

“It’s going to handle any protein you put on it or any sauce or gravy, and it’s not going to break apart or fall apart; so you won’t be wearing it,” he says. “You’re also going to taste the pre-ferment. It has slightly sour undertones because of our formula; but it’s not going to be as pungent as sourdough. It’s a little more subtle because you don’t want to overpower the ingredients.”

The new breakfast size was envisioned by the company’s research and development team specifically in response to the rapid rise of consumer interest in breakfast offerings—particularly, in the on-the-go space. “The feedback from our customers has been excellent. Our clients have seen a lift in breakfast sandwich sales, and they have been able to make a little more with the upgraded costs—because the ciabatta does cost a little more than, say, an English muffin,” he says.

“People will pay for a more premium product because it’s worth the extra cents to them. So while you’re prepping in the morning for lunch, you might be able to catch some extra sales but unlocking your doors a few hours earlier for breakfast.”

While Gonnella Baking offers a regional fresh bread delivery service, the new ciabatta rolls are offered via its national frozen distribution division. Once thawed, the ciabatta rolls boast a 12-day shelf life. “That’s good for artisan bread, which is usually in the range of three to four days,” says Dave Gonnella.

Cases should be stored at room temperature and used throughout the week; so there’s no need to occupy any precious freezer or refrigerator space. “We don’t recommend refrigeration because while it slows mold growth it does have a staling effect,” he says. However, he does recommend re-crisping it via a flattop griddle. ” It really brings the product back to life. It doesn’t need much, just maybe 30 seconds would be huge in giving it that fresh out-of-the- oven taste.”

The Gonnella family has more than 30 family members working at Gonnella Baking Co., and most of them are in sales, which Dave Gonnella believes that gives them a competitive advantage. “So you’re often dealing with an owner of the company directly, which our clients like,” he says. “Especially the chefs because they really like to speak with the owner of the business.”

Trend alert: ‘Clean label’
The numbers don’t lie.
According to Nielsen data from June 2015, two-thirds of U.S. households purchase clean label across the supermarket; 68 percent of global consumers want to recognize every ingredient on the label; and 40 percent want food made with as few ingredients as possible. Finally, consumers are willing to spend 20-30 percent more money when purchasing clean label products.

“It’s about living this healthy and holistic lifestyle, and part of that is what people eat,” says Angie Goldberg, chief marketing officer, who leads the development of Dawn Foods’ newly launched Bakers Truth clean label line of pastry mixes and bases. “Clean label continues to be everywhere in the news, so we launched the Bakers Truth line at the beginning of 2017, driven by consumer trends, and our objective overall is to help our (foodservice) customers meet those consumer demands.”

With global distribution, Dawn Foods supplies a complete line of bakery solutions for foodservice operators that includes bases, icings, glazes, fillings, frozen dough, par-baked and fully baked products and even equipment. Its new Bakers Truth line offers six clean label products: two cream cakes (vanilla and chocolate), two donut mixes (vanilla and spice), a brownie mix and a yeast-raised donut mix. They all perform like traditional products, says Goldberg; but they’re all free from artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners and contain no PHOs or HFCS.

“We really tried to focus on the main claims that are in most demand,” she says. “We wanted a simple and succinct definition with what consumers are most concerned about.”

Development for the new Bakers Truth line began in early 2016. The R&D team aimed to create a clean label product that tastes as identical as possible to Dawn Foods’ historically best-selling products, and Goldberg says feedback from foodservice customers has been extremely positive.

“There is no difference to the end consumer on the clean label product versus the traditional product,” she says, “and I have a lot of customers tell me that they can’t believe these are clean label products.”

For independent restaurants, Goldberg says this line of products comes with a value-added story that should definitely be touted on one’s menu, which will also justify the premium price to the consumer. “Again, research shows that consumers spend 20 to 30 percent more when purchasing clean label across the supermarket, so there’s a value-added component there that consumers are still willing to pay for, and that’s where our (foodservice) customers can capitalize.”

Chefs can easily make high quality treats to menu, such as rich, fudgy brownies with the Brownie Mix by just adding eggs, oil and water to create a batter that is pourable and self-leveling. Just add water and yeast to the Yeast Raised Donut Mix for donuts, fritters, long johns, twists and bismarks that are consistently dependable, light and delicious.

Creme Cake Bases will allow any chef to customize muffins, loaf cakes, ring cakes to create traditional treats or use vanilla or chocolate varieties to build on the flavor. Cake Donut Mixes produce cake donuts that match the high quality, flavor and volume from any Dawn products, providing a consistently ideal star center, soft crumb and a thin golden brown crust.

“There’s a lot of versatility here and there’s a big opportunity to dress it up with high-quality chocolate, natural blueberries, organic fruits and nuts and vegetables,” Goldberg says. “There are a lot of different ways to use this one product to create many different products that can all be very high-end and demand a more premium cost, which would increase revenue and profitability.”

Goldberg says the Bakers Truth line was designed to save chefs time and labor in the kitchen. It was on display at National Restaurant Association’s NRA Show in May as well as the IDDBA Show (International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association) in June, and Goldberg says the response from chefs was “very, very favorable.”

“I think one of the things that’s great about chefs and why I enjoy working with them is their creativity and willingness to try new things,” she says. “That was a big part of it; they want to make people happy and they want to make great food, and these products are designed to help them save time and labor while meeting that consumer demand.”

Trend alert: Ancient methods
As back-to-roots cooking techniques continue to be hot on Millennials’ check lists, Highland Baking Company is seeing success with its extra-moist artisan pull-a-part buns. “They can really be done in almost any flavor. Right now, we’re focused on brioche and potato; we’re just see the most demand in those areas,” says Stu Rosen, fourth-generation bread baker as well as general manager and vice president.

It’s a signature offering from Highland’s frozen national distribution division, and it boasts a distinct difference in taste, texture and feel, according to Rosen. The technique involves baking and proofing the loaves of dough together in one undivided pan, allowing the bread to meld together as it bakes, thus reducing the amount of surface area that’s exposed to heat.

“When you bake something, the more surface area it has, the more heat is applied to it, and the more moisture is baked out of it,” he says. “So when you bake out moisture and heat, you also bake out some flavor.” When pull-apart buns are fully baked, the operator then needs to—you guessed it—pull them apart in order to prep them for service.

“It harkens back to the old-school way of baking, which we see as a huge trend in all areas of baking these days,” he says. To ensure a clean break, Highland Baking also implements proprietary techniques to help create an easier “pull,” thus preventing uneven tears and reducing waste.

As for application, Rosen says pull-apart buns are great for any type of sandwich, but they’re especially wonderful for heavy burgers or ingredients with heavy moisture. “They hold up very well and absorb very, very well when compared with traditional buns,” he says. “But they’re soft and flavorful, and they really can be used for any type of sandwich.”

Rosen also maintains that pull-apart buns offer better plate presentation. “When you bake the pull-apart buns, they square off in essence, like anything baking together,” he says. “So at the same weight, when compared with a regular bun, you get more volume.”

The extra volume does give the appearance of more food, according to Rosen, especially in a to-go container. “And we’re very focused on to-go foods right now and how bread travels because so many independent restaurants are so focused on carry out right now.”

For independent restaurants and restaurant chains, Highland Baking focuses on upscale artisan breads, such as pretzel buns, as well as customized sandwich and table bread solutions. Premium sandwich and burger restaurants are often interested in the pullapart option, said Rosen, who believes the company’s dedication to customization, innovation and on-trend products makes it stand out from competitors.

“Trends are changing more rapidly, and we want to be able to move with the trends as they move,” he says, touting Highland’s ability to try out new products directly on the production line rather than in an R&D lab. “Every week, we’re working on new products, and we develop all of our product on the line, which allows us tremendous speed to market.”

The national frozen distribution division makes up about 80 percent of Highland’s business, while the other 20 percent comes from its fresh delivery service in and around the Chicagoland area. Highland Baking Company was founded in Highland Park, Ill., but it now boasts a 250,000-squarefoot production facility in Northbrook, Ill., as well as a second plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

While preserving its ideals of modest beginnings, Rosen believes the company’s multi-generational family ownership is a huge advantage when it comes to customer service and relations. “It’s no secret, baking,” he says. “It’s just a matter of what you’re willing to do and how flexible you’re willing to be to serve not only the big customers but also the small customers, who may be your biggest customers one day.”

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