What does it take to make an award-winning bread? The winner of a recent contest tells you how.

As vice president of innovation for Roman Meal, Patrick Finney’s job is to create new products. Over the years, he has spearheaded the development of new varieties of breads and other whole grain products to take the Tacoma, Wash.-based company to the next level.
    When the California Raisin Marketing Board announced its best raisin bread contest, Finney naturally applied. In the end, he took the grand prize in the commercial category for his unique Salsa Latina Raisin Bread. Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery asked him to talk about the contest and the art of innovation.

SF&WB: Why did you enter the contest, and how did you come up with the formula for Salsa Latina Raisin Bread?

Patrick Finney:We received a flyer from the California Raisin Marketing Board, which described “America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest” and felt personally and professionally challenged by the description of the contest. We immediately thought of formulating all-natural raisin breads using 100% whole grains “in order to make it easier for consumers to add whole grains to their lives,” which is Roman Meal’s mission.
    Many of us at Roman Meal Co. love and value raisins as the delicious and highly nutritious food they are in themselves and have routinely formulated them here or at home in foods ranging from trail mix, rice pudding and sweet and savory salads, to raisin breads, sports snack bars, hot breakfast cereals and more. Those recipes contain significant amounts of raisins and other dehydrated fruits or vegetables, nuts and other exotic ingredients and thus can be classified as “sweet and savory” foods.
    And since during recent years we have formulated breads with various international flavors and ingredients, including Italian, Greek, Mexican and others, in a brain storming session, we quickly honed in on various “savory” international raisin bread varieties. We decided that we simply had to accept the challenge to enter the contest with a savory raisin bread.
SF&WB: What flavor profile were you trying to achieve with your product?

Finney: Since, by rule, U.S. raisin breads must contain a minimum of 50% of the flour weight as raisins, all raisin bread varieties are inherently sweet, especially so when additional sugars are added to the dough. After that brainstorming session, we believed we could create a wonderful flavor profile by combining sweet raisins with the savory international bread formula in our arsenal.
    Next, we evaluated three distinct raisin bread varieties for taste, texture and ease of production and settled on a classical salsa flavor profile, which combines California sundried tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, roasted onions and whole corn grits. Another key to the flavor was to balance the profile of the bread by replacing the sugar in the formula with ground raisins and adding just enough cayenne pepper powder to accentuate its savory side, which resulted in “Salsa Latina Raisin Bread.” 
SF&WB:What type of texture were you trying to achieve with the product?

Finney: At the outset, we knew that the bread structure would be dense because it would need to support at least 50% of the flour weight in raisins, as well as, significant amounts of fresh jalapeño peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and whole corn grits. But since we wanted the bread to be soft and smooth to the mouth, rather than “fighting” the density issue, we chose to accentuate it by formulating with a strong-protein, 100% whole white wheat flour and enough vital wheat gluten so the high water absorption of the dough would result in a very soft-and-smooth crumb grain. And we decided at the outset that we were not going to formulate with any chemical “baking aids.” That is to say, we had decided to make the bread “all-natural” as well as 100% whole grain, and that decision resulted in our only real challenge to achieving our texture profile.
SFW&B:What were the other challenges in developing and making the product?

Finney:To remain true to our commitment to make it easier for consumers to add whole grains to their lives, we challenged ourselves to formulate with 100% whole wheat and corn. Very dense, yet soft and smooth, texture can be a challenge for most 100% whole grain bread varieties since that combination normally results in squatty loaves with inadequate loaf volume. Thus, we designed the bread to be baked in a comparatively long pan, but narrow pan with a greater side-to-width ratio so that the inherent structure of the bread would be supported by the pan sides. In addition, rather than “fighting” the minimal oven-spring, which the all-natural, 100% whole grain formula forecast as being low to none at all, we used pan tops in a Pullman, mini-sandwich producing pan.     

SF&WB:Describe final bake off in Manhattan, Kan. Were you confident that you might win the contest?

Finney: For me, the final bake off at the American Institute of Baking (AIB) in Manhattan, Kan. was absolutely thrilling. Since I grew up in Manhattan, worked for many years in the Grain Science Department and the USDA/ARS (Agricultural Research Service) Hard Wheat Quality Laboratory at Kansas State University, and while directing the Soft Wheat Quality Laboratory, I also had given a number of lectures at AIB. The excitement I felt as I flew into Kansas City and drove over the magnificent flint hills on my way to Manhattan late in the afternoon, the evening before the bake off, reminded me of the nervous tension and thrill one feels prior to competing in athletics.
    Every bit as rewarding as competing in the bake off itself was the experience of meeting the other contestants, the California Marketing Board members, the judges and the AIB staff. Although I was very hopeful that we might win the contest, the afternoon after the 20 bread varieties were out of the ovens, as I sampled the magnificent loaves on display, I knew we’d be fortunate if we were to win.                
SF&WB:What are your plans to commercialize the product?

Finney: The Roman Meal marketing and sales team has begun showing the bread to various sized commercial bakers. “Ease of production” is a relative concept. Some bakers could easily produce it. Others could not or would not because of its rather unusual formulation and pan configuration. We baked the “Salsa Latina Raisin Bread” as a 3.6-lb. sandwich-type loaf (24 slices) and divided and packaged it into three, eight-slice Japanese-like “kin” (about 1.2 lb/”kin,” with eight, 68 g. slices). This variety, as well as others in the bread line, can also be produced in a smaller 1-lb. pan. We know some bakers are responding to the increased demand for smaller loaves by consumers, especially baby boomers who are at the heart of Roman Meal’s target.
    Thus, we visualize marketing the tightly double-wrapped loaves to high-end retailers who recognize that a majority of health-conscious women 50-64 [years in age] consider Roman Meal to be the leader in developing whole grain breads and other products for the marketplace. All three sweet-n-savory raisin bread varieties are based on a single 100% whole grain formula. In addition to the “Salsa Latina” variety, we are offering “Roasted Almond Mocha” and “Asiago Pesto Italiano” varieties. When formulated with or without raisins, these breads are great sandwich makers.
SF&WB:Do you have plans to enter next year?

Finney: Oh, for sure, we definitely plan to enter the contest next year. Without a doubt each of us at Roman Meal Co. realizes this win is truly an honor. Frankly, I was moved to tears the evening we won, unable to sleep well that night in Manhattan as I reflected on the win. However, that being said, when I reflect on the long history of the Matthaei family bakery business going all the way back to Marburg, Germany, to the late 1600s, and the creation and success of the Roman Meal brand for nearly a century in the U.S., I realize that what made the win possible was the wisdom of the family history, the strength of the Roman Meal Co.’s heritage and the wisdom of intra-departmental collaboration.

For more on Roman Meal, visitwww.romanmeal.com.For more on the California Raisin Marketing Board, go towww.loveyourraisins.com.