While few bread bakers would part with their deck oven, a convection or combi oven offers some advantages over the traditional bakery workhorse.

Key among these is versatility, particularly in the case of a combi oven.

“By using convection or steam cooking – or a combination of both – a combi oven offers bakers greater flexibility when the desired result can’t be achieved with just one method of heat transfer,” explains Steve Merritt, managing director of EPP.

The level of control and even heat distribution that fan assistance provides can help produce pastry with an even bake and consistent quality, especially in products that require layers of pastry.

“While you can pretty much bake any sweet or savoury pastry and bread in a high-quality combi oven, one type that particularly thrives is puff pastry,” says Paul Patel, culinary lead at Convotherm .

“As your pastry cooks, the dry heat of the oven will surround the product, browning the exterior pastry, giving a perfect crispy finish. Meanwhile, the humidity from the steam is able to get in between the flaky layers, allowing them to rise much more than in a regular oven.”

Artisan baker Alex Gooch, winner of a 2018 Baking Industry Award for his Slow Roast Tomato, Olive & Marjoram Ciabatta, said he would only use a deck oven for pastries if he was looking for uneven heat distribution, such as caramelising the bottom of a product. He points out that cruffins – a croissant/muffin hybrid – work well in convection ovens and advises that using tins with plenty of space for heat to circulate will help them bake evenly.

“As with all baking it’s worth playing around with a few settings, don’t be afraid to experiment,” he adds. “Every baker is looking for something slightly different in their finished products and that’s why there is so much variety in the world of artisan baking.”

“While you can pretty much bake any sweet or savoury pastry and bread in a high-quality combi oven, one type that particularly thrives is puff pastry.”

And many modern combi ovens offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to controls, though also feature pre-loaded programmes and recipes.

Lee Cogger, brand manager for Venix at Jestic Foodservice Solutions, points out that operators can use preset programmes and then tweak the levels of fan, temperature and humidity to achieve the desired finish and colouration to suit their customers’ preferences.

“For example, if an operator wanted a darker colour to a product they could add more dry heat and a slightly higher temperature, or cook it slightly lower for more of a doughy effect,” he adds. “Furthermore, saving a new recipe involves just two taps on the user-friendly Venix touchscreen.”

Rational ovens such as the iCombi use an ‘intelligent baking process’ that can be used to create a suitable baking environment, depending on what’s being baked.

“All you need to do is select the parameters, such as how brown, crispy or moist you want the product to be, and the iCombi will take care of the overall bake time and temperatures,” explains Rational UK regional corporate chef Theo Bostock. “This means that you will always get the same result, regardless of load quantities.”

There are, however, some products that should not be baked on a convection setting, advices John Ward, bakery expert at Scobie McIntosh.

“When baking custard flans, souffles, cakes and quickbread, we would not recommend the convection setting,” he explains. “This is due to the fan blowing air on these foods as they start out as a batter and set while cooking, which can often create a lopsided product.”

iProductionManager for the Rational  iCombi Pro

Expert view: choosing a convection or combi oven

What factors should a baker consider when thinking of buying or replacing a combi or convection oven? We asked suppliers for their views:

Paul Patel, culinary lead, Convotherm

Bakery operators should not only consider the price and size of a unit, but also how water is applied into the cooking chamber. For specific bakery applications we would recommend water injection ‘spritzer’ models that give much better intense steam for bread and pastry products.

Theo Bostock, regional corporate chef, Rational UK

When replacing a combi steamer, look for new technologies and features that are going to help in the bakery. For example, our iCombi Pro can handle 50% bigger loads and offers shorter baking times compared to the previous model.

Roy Kitley, senior marketing manager, Mono

There are many factors to take in to account including cost, power efficiency, length of warranty, whether the oven has programmable dual-direction fans, the quality of after sales support, the ready availability of spare parts etc, all of which add up to the total lifetime cost of the oven. Also, if you need to network your ovens to manage the assets over multiple locations and to monitor energy consumption, then the ability for the oven to be connected device is essential.

A Venix Burano oven from Jestic

A Venix Burano oven from Jestic

Lee Cogger, Venix brand manager, Jestic Foodservice Solutions

The size and layout of the kitchen plus the availability of power and water will dictate which oven is best suited for your operation. For example, is a compact counter-top model sufficient for your kitchen or do you need the increased capacity offered by a larger combi-oven or rack oven and will it fit? Connecting ovens via the cloud offers operators a number of benefits and is particularly useful for chains who can share new menus to help guarantee quality standards across their estate. Having the right planned preventative maintenance contract in place is almost as vital as choosing the correct equipment when making the initial purchase.

John Ward, bakery expert, Scobie McIntosh

Combination ovens can produce a lot of steam and heat, so it’s vital to ensure there is sufficient overhead extraction. Some advanced combination ovens may have the option for built-in extraction at an additional cost. Almost all combi ovens require a permanent water connection to provide adequate steam during the cooking process. As mains water can sometimes contain limescale and other contaminants, a commercial water softener is usually recommended simply to prevent build-up inside the machine. Limescale can seriously damage combination ovens and not using a water softener can often invalidate the machine’s warranty.