In Nuremberg, traditional Elisen gingerbread biscuits are just as much part of Christmas as the Christmas tree or “Silent Night.” To this day, they are made according to original recipes from the seventeenth century. At that time, the local gingerbread bakers agreed on a purity regulation for their sweet products. Since then, Elisen gingerbread biscuits have not been allowed to contain more than 10 percent flour, and the finest varieties do not use any flour at all. A visit to the Fraunholz gingerbread workshop in the run-up to Christmas shows how much tradition is still invested in the gingerbread production process.
In the foodstuffs industry in general, milling, stirring, mixing and kneading are often performed by sophisticated machinery. At the Fraunholz gingerbread bakery in Nuremberg, however, these processes are conducted on a smaller scale and involve a lot of manual work. The question of how these processes and activities can be done best and most efficiently is also at the heart of discussions in Nuremberg every 18 months, when experts in mechanical process engineering gather at POWTECH, the leading trade fair for mechanical processing. Whether your interest is in pulverising, separating, mixing or combining, the exhibitors at POWTECH offer the latest systems and solutions for activities that mankind has been performing since ancient times – for example, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Today these processes are used in a wide range of industries, including in chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing, the non-metallic minerals sector, recycling, nanotechnology and foodstuffs production.
The idyllic environment of the Christmas-cookie bakery? Not quite. Nevertheless, there is a friendly family atmosphere in the air.
But let’s get back to gingerbread production. The entire production process takes place in the pink-coloured ground floor of an apartment block in the district of St. Johannis in Nuremberg. The biscuits are produced, packed and picked in a single room. At peak periods like the run-up to Christmas, a team of just 20 people hurry to and fro between the baking sheets, workbenches and machines. The idyllic environment of a Christmas-cookie bakery? Not really – it’s far too busy and hectic. Nevertheless, there is a friendly family atmosphere in the air. Owner Günter Fraunholz addresses all his staff by their first name, and with great passion he explains the production steps at each station. As he does so, we come across a large number of mechanical processes that are always a feature of the POWTECH trade fair.
Pulverising and mixing
The cutter is a nondescript tub at the end of the room where the Fraunholz staff load the raw ingredients for pulverising and mixing. Almonds, hazelnuts and spices are then ground down by rotating blades and simultaneously mixed. What proportion of each ingredient does the mix contain? That remains a family secret. However, Günter Fraunholz assures us that there is no flour in his gingerbread biscuits. Instead, he relies on a greater proportion of various nuts.
The powdery or granular mixture is still far removed from being a gingerbread biscuit yet, because the dry ingredients need honey and egg white to bind them. In the next step, stirring produces a pasty mass, or as someone who is not a process engineer would say: the dough.
At Fraunholz, the machine for shaping the biscuits is still operated by hand and looks like a mixture of a large piping bag and punch. It places precise portions of perfectly shaped drops of dough onto the baking wafers using a lever action. Fraunholz also produces biscuits without the typical baking wafers, so they do not contain any flour at all and are intended for people with allergies.
Strictly speaking, baking is not a mechanical process, but it is still absolutely essential to produce the biscuits! Following baking, the biscuits are cooled on large trays.
Chocolate or sugar glaze? For the first variant, the biscuits are sent through a “curtain” of chocolate. In the chocolate machine, a kind of blow-dryer ensures that the chocolate is distributed evenly. The freshly chocolate-coated biscuits are then sent to a drying section on a conveyor belt. The sugar glaze, on the other hand, is applied by staff in traditional fashion using a brush.
These are tried and tested processes that have been perfected over hundreds of years and find their way into every gingerbread biscuit between the wafer and the chocolate glaze. When process engineers from all over the world gather once again in Nuremberg for the POWTECH trade fair to learn about the processing of powders, granules, bulk solids and liquids in April, the discussions will centre around the same processes. Except that they are on a much larger, or in the case of nanotechnology, a much smaller scale.