Scaling up sourdough bread baking
April 14, 2019 2:36 AM   Subscribe

This week I will be baking a LOT of sourdough bread. Like, 4-6 loaves a day. I have a great starter and I get good results from folding instead of kneading, and a slow cold rise overnight. I've never made more than two loaves at a time though. Can I mix it up as one big batch or is it better to make multiple smaller batches? If the former and I'm quadrupling the flour and water, do I triple the starter too? And would I split it after the autolysing stage before folding, or after folding when forming the loaves?

Any other tips? I'll be using a wood fired oven, and the mixing is by hand, not with a machine, in case it affects your answer. (This is not negotiable; I will have no access to electricity. The cold rise will happen by putting the loaves outside overnight).
posted by lollusc to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
When I've made large batches (though I've never done more than four loaves a batch), I mix it up as one big batch, and then split the dough when forming the loaves.

If you're tripling the water and flour, triple the starter, as well, otherwise your proportions will be off—the flour and water in the starter are included in the calculations for hydration, so not including it will change the consistency of the final dough.
posted by mishafletch at 3:28 AM on April 14

Bread baking scales linearly

But I'm a touch confused. Are you baking one bigger than normal batch or multiple large batches across a week? If it's the second there are some easy techniques that will make your bread better - basically use some excess dough from the day before as your starter rather than a purpose built starter.

You can make it as one big batch, but especially with a wild starter and no refrigeration your day 3-4 loaves might be over fermented.
posted by JPD at 4:03 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

I'm making 4-6 loaves each day most days of the next week.

My question was about whether to make one batch per day or multiple batches per day. Not one batch for the week.

I'm not sure the avantage of using dough from the day before instead of the starter? The hydration would be different, not that adjusting for that is an issue, but why is it better?

Mishafletch, I can adjust for hydration if I change the proportion of starter. The reason I wasn't sure if I should really triple it is that the yeast spreads so rapidly through the new flour/water that I'm sure the yeast in the final dough after rising is not proportional any longer to the amount that went in. It just increases until it is limited by its food source, right? But then again I can't see any disadvantage to using triple the amount of starter either, except that I'll have to keep my starter very well fed to make sure I have enough to harvest like 4-6-ish cups per day.
posted by lollusc at 5:13 AM on April 14

Multiply everything in the recipe, including the starter. After the autolyse you can divide into manageable chunks for kneading and/or folding.

It's probably not a big deal for you at this scale, but as you need more time to divide and shape it's important to factor that into your bulk fermentation schedule, especially if you're flying solo.

If you usually only bake with your starter once a week, you may be able to skip some of the intermediary builds (of you have more than one) because it will be livelier than usual from all the feeding.

Have you baked in a wood fired oven before?
posted by clockwork at 6:39 AM on April 14

Have you baked in a wood fired oven before?

I have not. I am fully expecting some failures in the first couple of days. Any tips on this are welcome too.

Fortunately the person whose oven it is has experience preparing it and assisting with using it for bread making previously, though they do not bake themselves
posted by lollusc at 6:58 AM on April 14

Ok! It's a lot to cover in a comment box, but here goes...

A lot depends on what kind of oven you're dealing with. My wood oven experience comes from repurposing a pizza oven for bread, which comes with it's own set of challenges. With a pizza oven, if you're only doing one round of bread per oven firing, you should be fine. However, if you need to turn the oven more than once, it can get tricky without the extra thermal mass of a purpose built bread oven.

The real tricky part is about making sure the steadily declining oven temp is in sync with the final proof. After you sweep the coals it can be helpful to log temps every 15 min ago you can try to predict what your oven will be like at the end of the proof. A laser thermometer is really helpful, if there are not thermocouples built into the oven. Generally you want your oven temp higher than you would in a conventional oven, since it will drop precipitously during the bake.

If you feel like the oven is running too hot to start the bake, you can repeatedly mop the deck (not too much water or you'll crack the stones) to try to bleed some heat off.

When the bread is running behind the oven you can get into trouble though, so feed your starter well, keep your dough temps up and watch your ambient temperature.

If you are used to the bread in a pot method (or a steam injected bread oven) I find that I push the proof further when baking in a wood fired oven. This helps compensate for the lack of steam and the higher starting temp. Spraying the bread with water before loading helps, but you will get the best results if you can make enough bread to pack the oven. If your friend has more experience with a peel than you do, it might make sense to ask them to load, because you want to get everything packed in tight and get the oven sealed up as quickly as possible. The last loaf in is always the prettiest because it has the benefit of starting in an already steamy oven.

Good luck!
posted by clockwork at 8:05 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Old dough I think provides a more complex flavor than a starter. It's lower hydration so development is a little more slower which leads to more fun fermentation byproducts.
posted by JPD at 10:11 AM on April 14

I agree with JPD that it is better to use a bit of each day's dough and the next day's starter. I also think this is what good bakers do. I can't say how to it in measurements, because I usually eyeball it, and sometimes I fail.
posted by mumimor at 12:32 PM on April 14

posted by lollusc at 8:56 PM on April 23

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