Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
COOKING APPARATUS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/146984
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Cooking apparatus has a cooking surface (14) arranged to move from a start position to an end position during a cooking process and plurality of separate container structures (15) for use on the cooking surface to contain a foodstuff during the cooking process which move with the cooking surface. A transport arrangement removes a container structure from the cooking surface when it reaches the end position and returns it to the surface at the start position. The arrangement includes a support (20) to support a container structure in a position spaced above the cooking surface. The support is moveable between the start and end positions. A drive (19) propels the support to and fro between the start and end positions and lifting apparatus (24) at the start and end positions lifts a cooking structure off the cooking surface and lower it onto the support and vice versa.

Inventors:
BALDWIN, Christopher James (201 Burnley Road, Cliviger, Lancashire BB10 4SP, BB10 4SP, GB)
Application Number:
GB2016/050690
Publication Date:
September 22, 2016
Filing Date:
March 14, 2016
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
SUGDEN LIMITED (Factory Lane, BarrowfordNelson, Lancashire BB9 6ES, BB9 6ES, GB)
International Classes:
A21B1/42; A21B5/00; A21B7/00
Domestic Patent References:
1989-08-10
Foreign References:
GB894448A1962-04-18
FR2970841A12012-08-03
US3494305A1970-02-10
GB1118314A1968-06-26
US4854226A1989-08-08
GB279181A1927-10-26
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WILSON GUNN (5th Floor, Blackfriars HouseThe Parsonag, Manchester Lancashire M3 2JA, M3 2JA, GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. Cooking apparatus comprising a cooking surface arranged to move from a start position to an end position during a cooking process, a plurality of separate container structures for use on the cooking surface to contain a foodstuff during the cooking process, the container structures being arranged to move with the cooking surface during the cooking process, and a transport arrangement arranged to remove a container structure from the cooking surface when it reaches the end position and return it to the cooking surface at the start position, wherein the transport arrangement comprises:

a support arranged to support a container structure in a position spaced above the cooking surface, the support being moveable between the start and end positions;

a drive for propelling the support to and fro between the start and end positions;

lifting apparatus at the end positon arranged to lift a cooking structure off the cooking surface and lower it onto the support; and

lifting apparatus at the start position arranged to lift a cooking structure off the support and lower it onto the cooking surface.

2. Cooking apparatus as claimed in clam 1 wherein the cooking surface is an endless hotplate.

3. Cooking apparatus as claimed in either claim 1 or 2 wherein the cooking surface is substantially flat.

4. Cooking apparatus as claimed in either claim 1 or 2 wherein the cooking surface comprises one or more depressions.

5. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim wherein at least one of the separate container structures comprises a plurality of containers for containing foodstuff during a cooking process.

6. Cooking apparatus as claimed in claim 5 wherein at least one of the containers comprises one or more cups for containing a bread product.

7. Cooking apparatus as claimed in of clams 1 to 3 wherein at least one of the separate container structures comprises one or more walls forming a closed shape for containing a batter on the cooking surface.

8. Cooking apparatus as claimed in claim 7 wherein the closed shape is substantially circular, square or rectangular.

9. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim wherein all the container structures are substantially identical. 10. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the lifting apparatus comprises one or more actuators.

11. Cooking apparatus as claimed any preceding claim wherein the drive propels the support and any container structure supported thereon in a path which is substantially parallel to the cooking surface. 12. Cooking apparatus as claimed in claim 11 wherein the drive propels the support and any container structure supported thereon in a substantially linear path.

13. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the drive comprises a linear actuator.

14. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the drive comprises an endless belt. 15. Cooking apparatus as claimed in claim 14 wherein the drive comprises a pair of spaced apart, endless belts and a container structure may be supported between the belts.

16. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim comprising an additional drive for moving container structures synchronously with the cooking surface. 17. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim comprising sufficient container structures to substantially cover the cooking surface between the start and end positions.

18. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim comprising a depositor for depositing ingredient to be cooked onto the cooking surface and/or onto a container structure.

19. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim comprising a grill for cooking the top of food product on the cooking surface.

20. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim comprising a prover.

21. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim comprising a second moving cooking surface, and arranged to transfer a foodstuff being cooked from one cooking surface to the other.

22. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim comprising a controller arranged to operate it automatically.

23. Cooking apparatus as claimed in claim 22 wherein the controller is arranged to, in sequence: operate the lifting apparatus at the end position to lift a container structure off the end position on the cooking surface; operate the drive to propel the support to the end position so that it is beneath the container structure; operate the lifting apparatus at the end position to lower the container structure onto the support; operate the drive to move the support to the start position; operate the lifting apparatus at the start position to lift the container structure off the support; operate the drive to move the support towards to end position so that it is no longer under the container structure; and operate the lifting apparatus to lower the container structure onto the cooking surface at the start position.

24. Cooking apparatus as claimed in claim 23 wherein the controller is arranged to repeat the process successively to return container structures to the start position as they reach the end positon.

25. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any preceding claim arranged to produce crumpets.

26. Cooking apparatus as claimed in any of claims 1 to 24 arranged to produce English muffins.

27. Cooking apparatus as claimed in either claim 25 or 26 which can be used to cook a different type of product when container structures are removed or changed for different container structures.

Description:
COOKING APPARATUS

Technical Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to cooking apparatus, and particularly, but not exclusively, to cooking apparatus for the continuous production of morning goods. Background to the Invention

Some foodstuffs are cooked on a heated surface, known as a hotplate. These include so-called "morning goods" such as crumpets, English muffins, pancakes and potato cakes. Pancakes and potato cakes are cooked by depositing prepared ingredients directly onto a hotplate. The product is turned during the cooking process in order to cook both sides. Crumpets and English muffins are cooked with the aid of an additional container, used together with a hotplate. In the case of crumpets, a ring is placed onto the hotplate and batter is introduced into the ring. The ring contains the batter whilst it cooks. When the batter has solidified sufficiently the ring can be removed. The top of the crumpet may be cooked by placing it under a grill. With English muffins, a hotplate is used with circular depressions or cups formed in the surface. Dough is placed into the cups and a container placed over each cup to form an enclosed space in which the muffin is cooked. After a first cooking period the container is removed and the muffin is turned out onto a second, flat, hotplate to finish cooking.

Mass production of morning goods is performed by specifically designed apparatus which includes a continuous, moving hotplate. Ingredients are deposited at one end of the hotplate and cooked product is removed from the other end of the hotplate. The hotplate is formed from a series of metal plates supported between two parallel chains which are driven in an endless loop. When built to a sufficient scale apparatus of this type enables many thousands of products to be produced per hour. However, apparatus is designed specifically for the production of a particular product. For the production of crumpets, for example, crumpet rings are fixed to a second endless loop structure which runs in conjunction with an endless hotplate. The rings are arranged to travel on and with the surface of the hotplate during part their journey around the loop. During this stage batter is introduced into the rings. At a later stage the path of the rings around their loop causes them to lift off the hotplate and they then progress back to their starting point, coming into contact with the hotplate again. Similarly, to produce English muffins, the containers used to enclose muffins as they cook are provided on a second endless loop structure.

Apparatus of this specialist type represents a significant investment for food manufacturing businesses. To produce different types of product it is necessary to invest in different apparatus for the production of each product. For smaller manufacturers this is often not economic.

Embodiments of the present invention have been made in consideration of this problem.

Summary of the Invention

According to the present invention there is provided cooking apparatus comprising a cooking surface arranged to move from a start position to an end position during a cooking process, a plurality of separate container structures for use on the cooking surface to contain a foodstuff during the cooking process, the container structures being arranged to move with the cooking surface during the cooking process, and a transport arrangement arranged to remove a container structure from the cooking surface when it reaches the end position and return it to the cooking surface at the start position, wherein the transport arrangement comprises:

a support arranged to support a container structure in a position spaced above the cooking surface, the support being moveable between the start and end positions;

a drive for propelling the support to and fro between the start and end positions;

lifting apparatus at the end position arranged to lift a cooking structure off the cooking surface and lower it onto the support; and

lifting apparatus at the start position arranged to lift a cooking structure off the support and lower it onto the cooking surface.

The use of a plurality of separate, unconnected, container structures allows the container structures to be made of a sufficiently small size that that can be relatively easily replaced with container structures of a different type or removed entirely form the apparatus to enable it to be configured for the manufacture of a different type of product. This allows a single installation to be used to produce more than one type of product, and so reduces the investment required in apparatus. Provision of the transport arrangement enables the apparatus to operate a continuous process by moving container structures from the end position back to the start position for re-use. Provision of lifting apparatus enables the transport arrangement to be positioned above and parallel to the moving cooking surface which minimises the space required for return of container structures to the start position. The cooking surface may be endless. It may be formed in a loop. It may be a hotplate. An endless hotplate may be formed by a plurality of individual metal plates. The plates may have a substantially flat cooking surface. Such a surface is suitable for cooking pancakes and crumpets. Or the plates may have a surface comprising one or more depressions. Such a surface is suitable for cooking English muffins.

The apparatus may comprise a heater to heat the cooking surface. The heater may comprise burners.

Each separate container structure may comprise a plurality of containers for containing foodstuff during a cooking process. So, each container structure may be arranged to contain foodstuff to form a plurality of individual products. Each container structure may comprise at least 24 containers.

At least one of the separate container structures may comprises one or more walls forming a closed shape for containing a batter on the cooking surface. A wall may be formed into a substantially circular shape to form a ring, but could be in any other regular or irregular shape including a square, rectangle, oval, crescent, star or cross shape. The container structure may comprise a plate through which a plurality of apertures is formed, with a wall defining a closed shape supported in each aperture. Container structures of this type are suitable for the production of crumpets.

At least one of the containers comprised in a container structure may be a cup for containing a bread product. Container structures of this type are suitable for the production of English muffins, with the cup being used to enclose a muffin sitting in a depression on a hotplate. The container structures may all be substantially identical. Or the apparatus may be provided with one or more different container structures.

The transport arrangement may be arranged to move each container structure separately. The lifting apparatus may comprise one or more actuators. Suitable actuators include piston and cylinder devices. These could be operated hydraulically or pneumatically. In one arrangement a pair of lift cylinders is associated with the start position and a pair of lift cylinders is associated with the end position.

The drive may be arranged to propel the support and any container structure supported thereon in a path which is substantially parallel to the cooking surface. The path may be spaced above the cooking surface. The drive may be arranged to propel the support and any container structure supported thereon in a substantially linear path.

The drive may comprises a linear actuator. The drive may comprise an endless belt. The drive may comprise a pair of spaced apart endless belts and a container structure may be supported between the belts.

An additional drive may be provided for moving container structures synchronously with the cooking surface.

The support may form a carriage.

Sufficient container structures may be provided to substantially cover the cooking surface between the start and end positions.

The cooking apparatus may comprise a depositor for depositing ingredient to be cooked onto the cooking surface and/or onto a container structure. The cooking apparatus may comprise a grill for cooking the top of food product on the cooking surface.

The cooking apparatus may comprise a prover.

The cooking apparatus may comprise a second moving cooking surface. In this case it may arranged to transfer a foodstuff being cooked from one cooking surface to the other. The foodstuff may be inverted as it transfers from one surface to the other, so as to cook both sides of the foodstuff.

The cooking apparatus may comprise a controller arranged to operate it automatically. The controller may be arranged to, in sequence:

operate the lifting apparatus at the end position to lift a container structure off the end position on the cooking surface;

operate the drive to propel the support to the end position so that it is beneath the container structure;

operate the lifting apparatus at the end position to lower the container structure onto the support;

operate the drive to move the support to the start position;

operate the lifting apparatus at the start position to lift the container structure off the support;

operate the drive to move the support towards to end position so that it is no longer under the container structure; and

operate the lifting apparatus to lower the container structure onto the cooking surface at the start position. The controller may be arranged to repeat the process successively to return container structures to the start position as they reach the end positon.

The cooking apparatus may be arranged to produce crumpets. The cooking apparatus may be arranged to produce English muffins. The cooking apparatus may be arranged so that it can produce a different type of product when the container structures are removed or changed for different container structures, and/or the nature of the cooking surface is changed.

Detailed Description of the Invention

In order that the invention may be more clearly understood, embodiments thereof will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, of which:

Figure 1 is a side elevation of apparatus for producing crumpets;

Figure 2 is an end elevation of the apparatus of figure 1 ;

Figure 3 is an enlargement of apparatus of figure 1;

Figure 4 is a perspective view of a ring plate of the apparatus of figure 1;

Figure 5 is a side view of the ring plate of figure 4 mounted on a drive chain of the apparatus of figure 1 ;

Figure 6 is an end view of the ring plate of figure 4 mounted on two drive chains of the apparatus of figure 1 ;

Figure 7 is a plan view of the ring plate of figure 6;

Figure 8 is a partial perspective view of the ring plate of figure 7;

Figure 9 is a perspective view of part of the apparatus of figure 1; Figure 10 is a an end view of part of the apparatus of figure 1 showing a ring plate mounted on drive chains;

Figure 11 is a corresponding view to figure 10 but with the ring plate raised by lift cylinders; Figure 12 is a corresponding view to figure 10 but with the ring plate supported on a transport carriage;

Figure 13 is a perspective view of part of one end the apparatus of figure 1; Figure 14 is a perspective view of part of the opposite end of the apparatus of figure i;

Figure 15 is a side elevation of the apparatus of figure 1 reconfigured for the production of potato cakes; and

Figure 16 is a side elevation of apparatus for the production of English muffins.

In what follows like reference numerals are employed to denote like parts of the illustrated apparatus throughout. The terms up, down, left, right, and like terms, are used to refer to the apparatus in the orientation in which it is illustrated but should not be taken as otherwise limiting. It will be appreciated that the apparatus can be installed in different configurations and still achieve the same desired result.

Figures 1 to 14 illustrate a plant for the production of crumpets. In a domestic environment crumpets are cooked by pouring batter into one or more greased crumpet rings placed onto a greased hotplate. The crumpet ring is generally cylindrical in shape and serves to contain the batter whilst it cooks and solidifies and the crumpet becomes self-supporting. When the crumpet is cooked the crumpet ring is removed and the crumpet lifted off the hotplate.

The apparatus illustrated in Figures 1 to 14 enables crumpets to be mass produced, automatically. Various components of the apparatus are supported on a metal framework, generally 1. The framework comprises a number of uprights supporting a canopy 2 which is connected to extraction apparatus for extracting hot air, cooking fumes and the like from the environment of the apparatus.

The uprights also support two, substantially parallel, spaced apart generally horizontal rails 3 which generally define an elongate production line of the plant. The production line has an input end with a start position towards the left hand side of the apparatus as illustrated in Figures 1, 3 and 9 and as shown in Figure 14. The opposite end of the production line is a take-off end with a finish position. The take-off end is towards the right hand side of the apparatus illustrated in Figures 1, 3 and 9 and is shown in Figure 13. Towards the input end of the production line a transverse shaft 4 is rotatably mounted to the framework and supports a sprocket 5 at each of its opposite ends, each sprocket lying outside the horizontal rail 3 of the framework 1. Spaced from the transverse shaft 4, in the direction of the take-off end of the production line, is a second transverse shaft 6, substantially parallel to the first transverse shaft 4. The second transverse shaft also supports a sprocket 7 at each of its opposite ends. The second transverse shaft is shorter than the first transverse shaft so that the sprockets 7 are positioned adjacent but within the horizontal rails 3 of the framework 1. At the take-off end of the production line each horizontal rail 3 rotatably supports a short transverse shaft 8 extending from one side of the rail to the other and supporting an inner sprocket 9 to the inside of the rail and an outer sprocket 10 to the outside of the rail. The two short shafts 8 lie on substantially the same axis. The outer sprockets 9 and the inner sprockets 10 are positioned relative to the horizontal rail 3 in a corresponding position to the sprockets 5 on the first transverse shaft 4 and sprockets 7 on the second transverse shaft 6 respectively. A drive unit 11 is mounted to the framework and arranged to rotate one of the two short shafts 8 at the take-off end of the production line. A respective endless drive chain extends around each sprocket at one end of the line and around the corresponding sprocket at the opposite end of the line. Thus, there are two, substantially parallel, inner drive chains 12, and two substantially parallel outer drive chains 13. The various sprockets are positioned so that a length of each drive chain extends substantially parallel to, but slightly above (although spaced to one side or the other of) the horizontal rails 3. By virtue of the transverse shafts 4 and 6 towards the input end of the line it will be appreciated that operation of the drive unit 11 will cause all four drive chains to move, advancing along the production line at the same rate.

Supported between the inner drive chains 12 are a plurality of transverse, elongate, substantially flat plates 14, with a substantially flat surface, arranged side by side to each other with a small space between each plate. These plates form an endless hotplate extending between the two horizontal rails 3. Operation of the drive 11 causes the hotplate to advance along the production line in an endless fashion. Heating apparatus such as gas burners (not shown) is provided beneath the plates 14 exposed to the top of the apparatus and arranged to heat the plates to enable food product to be cooked on the plates. As the drive 11 operates it will be appreciated that as a particular plate 14 forming part of the upper surface of a hotplate reaches the take-off end of the production line it will travel back along the underside of the line to the input end of the line and again form part of the exposed upper hotplate surface. The apparatus also comprises a plurality of container structures in the form of ring plates 15. Each ring plate 15 comprises a generally elongate, rectangular metal plate. In a region of the metal plate, spaced inwardly from each of its opposite shorter sides, there is an array of substantially square apertures. In the illustrated example an array of three by eight apertures is provided. Each aperture supports a substantially cylindrical metal ring 16, the axis of each ring 16 extending substantially perpendicularly to the plane of the plate 15. The rings each extend above and below the plate 15 and their opposed axial edges lie substantially in the same respective planes. The long sides of the ring plates are dimensioned so the ring plates can extend from a position overlying one of the outer drive chains 13 across the production line to overlie the outer chain 13 on its opposite side.

Alternate links of each outer chain 13 are provided with a fitting supporting a tapered spigot 17. Each spigot has a generally circular cross-section and tapers from a base to a shoulder at which its diameter reduces sharply to form a smaller "pip" of reduced diameter at its tip. The spigots 17 are arranged so as to be upwardly directed from the upper length of the outer chains 13 extending along the production line. The ring plates 15 are provided with corresponding tapered apertures 18 (in the illustrated example there are five along each opposite shorter side) for receiving the spigots 17, thereby to mount the ring plate to the outer drive chains 13. The array of rectangular apertures in the ring plates 15 is sized and positioned to overlie the hotplate between the inner drive chains 12, with each horizontal row of apertures positioned over a single elongate rectangular plate 14 forming the hotplate. The ring plates are configured so that the when they are placed onto the hotplate with the spigots 17 received into the apertures 18 in the ring plate, the lower edges of the rings 16 contact the surface of the hotplate. As the chains 12, 13 are driven, the ring plates 15 will move synchronously with the plates 14 forming the hotplate along the production line.

Spaced from the outside edge of, and running substantially parallel to, each outside chain 13 is a linear actuator 19. Each linear actuator is operative to drive a ring plate support 20 to and fro along the length of the actuator, which extends over substantially all of the length of the production line. Each actuator comprises an endless belt running between rollers positioned at each opposite end of each actuator with the rollers of one actuator being connected to the other by a transverse shaft 21 so that the two actuators 19 operate synchronously. The ring plate supports 20 each extend inwardly over, and spaced above, the outer chains 13, and each support three upwardly directed tapered spigots 23 , similar to those of the outer chains 13. The spigots 23 on the supports 20 are positioned and arranged to be received into the tapered apertures 18 of a ring plate 15 so that the ring plate is supported between the two ring plate supports 20 for movement to and fro along the production line by the linear actuators 19. Towards each opposite end of the line are provided a respective pair of lift cylinders 24, one cylinder being placed just inside each inner chain 12 and operable to raise and lower lift pistons in the cylinders to drive lift rods 25 between a lower position in which the ends of the rods are disposed below the upper surface of the side rails 3 of the framework and an upper position in which the upper surface of the rods extends above the level of the spigots 23 on the ring plate supports mounted to the linear actuators 19. The ends of the lift rods are provided with substantially circular discs towards the centre of which is provided a raised substantially conical portion 26, arranged to be received into further apertures 27 in the ring plates 15. Mounted over the input end of the production line are a ring cleaner 28, ring oiler

22 and depositor 30. Over the take-off end of the line there is a gas fired grill 31.

The various operational elements of the apparatus are controlled by an automatic controller 32. This may be implemented in any suitable way, such as by a programmed control unit or computer. In operation, to produce crumpets, a ring plate is placed onto the input end of the production line at a start position indicated by arrow 33 in Figure 1, so that spigots 17 on the outer chain are received into the apertures 18 in the ring plate. This aligns the transverse rows of rings 16 in the ring plate with respective plates 14 forming the hotplate. The drive 11 is operated to rotate the sprockets 9, 10 in steps in order to advance the continuous hotplate so that a plate 14 of the hotplate moves towards the takeoff end of the line in a series of steps substantially equivalent in size to the spacing of centres of the plates 14 forming the hotplate. The hotplate is advanced to move a first row of rings beneath the ring cleaner 28. The ring cleaner is then arranged to descend in order to bring cleaning heads into contact with the eight rings forming the row of rings and to clean those rings. The ring cleaning heads are then raised and the drive 11 indexes the hotplate by a further step bringing the subsequent row of rings under the ring cleaner and the ring cleaning operation is repeated. As the ring plate progresses under the ring oiler 22 the ring oiler applies cooking oil to the rings and the underlying surface of the hotplate. When the hotplate has been advanced through sufficient steps to bring the ring plate under the depositor, the depositor operates to introduce a measured quantity of the batter into each ring 16. The length of the hotplate and the rate at which it is advanced is arranged so that the crumpets are sufficiently cooked that the ring plate 15 can be removed without them losing their shape by the time the ring plate has advanced to an end position over the lift cylinders 24 towards the take-off end of the hotplate. When the ring plate 15 is positioned over the lift cylinders 24 the lift cylinders are operated to raise the ring plate off the surface of the hotplate to the position illustrated in Figure 11 and as shown by the hotplate indicated by arrow 33 in Figure 9. As the ring plate 15 is raised the crumpets remain on the hotplate. The linear actuators 19 are then operated in order to drive the ring plate supports 20 so that the spigots 23 of the supports lie under the ring plate 15, and aligned with apertures 18 through the ring plate, as illustrated in Figure 11. The lift cylinders 24 are then lowered causing the ring plate to be lowered onto the ring plate supports 20, as shown in Figure 12. The ring plate supports support the ring plate in a position spaced above the outer drive chains 13 and hotplate. The linear actuators 19 are then operated to move the ring plate support 20 in the opposite direction to movement of the hot plate, back towards the start position at the input end of the production line. In this position the ring plate lies over the second pair of lift cylinders 24. These cylinders are operated to raise the ring plate 15, lifting it off the ring plate support 20 into the position shown by arrow 34 of Figure 9. Whilst the ring plate is raised the linear actuators 19 are operated to move the ring plate supports 20 out from under the raised ring plate 15, in the take-off direction of the line. The lift cylinders 24 are then retracted, lowering the ring plate 15 onto the hot plate, and so that spigots 17 on the outer chains 13 are engaged with apertures 18 through the ring plate. The ring plate 15 then advances down the line on the hotplate again repeating the production cycle.

In practice, the apparatus is provided with sufficient ring plates to fill the hotplate, as illustrated in Figure 3. As a ring plate reaches the take-off end of the hot plate it is raised, lowered onto the ring plate support of the linear actuators, returned to the opposite end of the line, where it is raised off the ring plate supports of the linear actuators, the linear actuator is moved back towards the take-off end of the line and the ring plate is lowered back onto the hot plate and used again. Figure 9 shows, indicated by arrow 35, a ring plate 15 travelling along the outer chains 13 (the hotplate is omitted from this view), a ring plate, indicated by arrow 29, supported by the lift cylinders 24 at the take-off end of the line, a ring plate, indicated by arrow 36 supported by the ring plate supports 20 of the linear actuators 19 being moved back towards the input end of the line, as well as a ring plate indicated by arrow 34 supported on the lift cylinders at the input end of the line. The arrangement provided by the lift cylinders and linear actuator for transporting ring plates from one end of the line to the other enables a continuous production process to be performed using separate and removable ring plates. This enables the ring plates to be removed from the apparatus entirely, but relatively easily, enabling the apparatus to be reconfigured to produce different types of product. Figure 15 shows the apparatus reconfigured for the production of pancakes. In this case, the ring plates are removed as pancakes are cooked directly on the hotplate without the need for any containment. The ring plate supports 20 of the linear actuator, positioned over the lift cylinders 24, are used to support a turnover unit 37 which operates to flip pancakes so that they can be cooked on the opposite side. Shown at the input end of the line is an optional sheeter and stamper unit 38 employed where it is desired to prepare potato pancakes.

Figure 16 shows apparatus for production of English muffins. The apparatus comprises a zig zag until and rounder, generally 39, and prover 40. Dough from a mixer (not shown) is delivered to the zig zag unit and rounder 39. This forms the dough into balls and delivers the dough balls to the prover 40. The dough balls travel through the prover 40 during the proving process. The zig zag unit, rounder and prover are all conventional, and so are not described in further detail. Proved dough balls are delivered to cooking apparatus. The cooking apparatus is essentially the same as that illustrated in figures 1 to 14, with the following differences.

Rather than having a substantially flat surface, the plates 14 forming the hotplate are provided with an array of generally circular, flat bottomed depressions for receiving proved dough balls. Rather than ring plates, capping plates are placed onto and travel with the hotplate. The capping plates differ from ring plates in that the rings of the ring plates are replaced with cups. The cups are sized and configured so that a respective cup lies over and caps each depression in the hotplate, thus enclosing a dough ball in the cup, when the capping plate is lowered onto the hotplate. The enclosed spaced effectively forms an oven in which the dough is cooked, with the underside of the dough ball also cooking directly on the heat of the hot plate.

The hotplate is driven in the opposite direction to that of the apparatus of figures 1 to 14, so that proved dough balls are introduced at a start position to the right hand side of the hotplate as shown in figure 16 and travel to the left, towards an end position, as they cook. The linear actuator and lifting cylinders are therefore arranged to remove capping plates from the hotplate at the end position to the left hand end, and move them in a right hand direction as shown in figure 16 to the start position for re-use.

The apparatus further differs to that shown in figure 16 in that a second endless hotplate 41 is provided under the first (upper) hotplate onto which proved dough is deposited. This second endless hotplate is formed with plates having a substantially flat cooking surface. When partially cooked muffins reach the end of the upper hotplate, by which point the cover plates have been removed, they fall out of the depressions in the hotplate and land, inverted, on the second hotplate 41. The second hotplate is driven in the opposite direction to the first, and so the muffins are transported from left to right on the second hotplate, during which time cooking is completed and the muffin is cooked on both sides. Cooked muffins then fall off the end of the second hotplate for further processing.

It will be appreciated that because this embodiment comprises an endless hotplate and the associated container transport arrangement of the apparatus of figures 1 to 14 it is possible for it to be reconfigured relatively easily to produce other types of product. To produce crumpets or pancakes the plates forming the hotplate should be changed for plates with a substantially flat cooking surface. To product crumpets it would also be necessary to substitute the capping plates with ring plates. In each case a depositor would also be required to deposit batter on the hotplate and in the case of pancakes a turnover unit would be installed onto the ring/capping plate supports. Embodiments of the invention provide cooking apparatus that can be relatively easily configured to produce different types of food product, resulting in a much reduced capital investment compared to providing different apparatus for each type of product.

The above embodiments are described by way of example only. Many variations are possible without departing from the scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims.