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An automated method to control cookie flour quality

An internationally recognized method helps characterize the water absorption capacity with ease and efficiency. Like many baked products, cookie flavor is an essential aspect of overall quality, as is their texture and appearance.

By Lena Bosc-Bierne, Food Applications & Products Manager, KPM Analytics

Consumers open each package of cookies with expectations that the product they have purchased has these important traits with every bite they take.

However, without tight quality control measures at critical moments of the cookie manufacturing process, the experience immediately becomes an empty promise, which reflects poorly on the product brand.

High-quality products begin with superior quality control

Flour quality is paramount in manufacturing all baked goods and snack foods. Soft wheat flour is preferred to produce cookies because it binds less water than hard wheat flour. Water relationship in cookie dough affects a cookie’s texture, softness and crunch, and overall appearance, which are at the core of product quality and consumer expectations.

Since most cookie recipes are relatively simple – a mixture of water, flour, sugar, fat, salt, or baking powder – the quality of the finished product depends significantly on the flour. From a production perspective, it is crucial to have good water absorption capacity to formulate the dough while also managing dough stickiness. The dough is then divided by volumetric dosers to portion the cookie dough into precise quantities.

At this stage, managing dough consistency and viscosity is critical. During rolling, the dough should show good extensibility. Then for cutting, dough that retreats its shape after cutting (also known as dough elasticity) will negatively impact the finished product size.

There is also a cost-control factor when it comes to cookie flour quality procurement, too. The baking process must remove as much water as possible from the dough to produce a cookie. Flour with a higher water absorption capacity requires a longer baking time and temperature to achieve an ideal final product. Naturally, this process consumes energy, which affects the bakery’s bottom line.

However, there is good news for bakers: Most of these quality variables can be controlled by making extra efforts to understand and manage the water absorption capacity of the flour.

Mastering water absorption control

A flour’s water absorption capacity is often top-of-mind for many manufacturers. Water absorption capacity directly affects the handling process of dough, including its firmness, extensibility, elasticity, and other rheological qualities.

However, even if a flour delivery has similar compositions and rheological properties from one batch to the next, it can still exhibit different performances in the process line. For this reason, analyzing the functional properties of flour before production becomes a significant phase in a cookie producer’s quality control program.

Like all baked products, cookies need water to form a dough. Still, moisture must be removed efficiently during baking to produce the final product. There is a ‘competition’ between three core flour components for this water:

  • Glutenin: A significant protein component in flour that contributes to the elasticity and strength of a dough, which is vital for the final product’s structure.
  • Damaged starch: Ground starch that results from the milling process and affects dough rheology. Finding a balance in damaged starch within flour can help manage sticky dough, cracked products, and similar quality issues.
  • Pentosans: A polysaccharide that influences a dough’s viscosity. Managing this parameter can also provide benefits to improve final product shelf life.

When a baker understands which of these components binds more water, they are better equipped to anticipate final product properties.

Many baked goods and snack food manufacturers have adopted the Solvent Retention Capacity (SRC) Method (AACC method 56-11.02) into their flour quality control measures to measure these characteristics. Developed in the 1990s, the SRC Method benefits cookie and cracker producers.

The SRC method has been a manual process for years, with several successive steps performed in a quality control lab. Many bakeries today still conduct the SRC method on non-standardized equipment, which presents the risk of operator-dependent results through the manual process. This manual method has made the SRC Method challenging to standardize and regulate across multiple production locations.

An automated, internationally recognized SRC solution exists

Cookie producers that make the SRC method an integral part of their quality assurance program led the efforts to develop an automated process. Considering the volume of manual steps of the manual method, quality lab technicians were spending much of their time performing this routine test.

These demands led to the development of automated SRC testing machines. These systems meet standard approvals from the AACC (56-15.01) and, as of 2022, the ICC Standard 186, as a precise alternative to the cookie producer’s usual manual method.

Read the whole article in Baking+Biscuit International, issue 5 – out soon!

Photo: KPM Analytics