Mammoth Bread

So I did another mammoth bake last week, for a Men’s Breakfast event. Couple of things already there I should clarify – when I say ‘mammoth’, I just mean for a domestic environment, and when I say ‘Men’s breakfast’ I’m not talking about partaking of nice bread whilst focusing on near-naked girls girating around a pole.

Glad we cleared that up. On with the bread saga.

Given about 130 menfolk to feed at the Breakfast, I decided that 30 loaves should cover it, and since I’ve only previously presented the Milk Loaf at such events, I figured it was time to bring on the big guns.  That means sourdough, my friends.  Proper, long ferment, hewn-from-granite, gorgeous sourdough – at least I’d only be making one big batch of the same dough, not fannying around with different doughs. How hard could it be?!

30 loaves: that means 30 x 980g of dough, almost 30kg in other words. Since sourdough relies on you building a levain ultimately large enough to raise the entire dough, you have to work backwards from the end-goal, calculate how much levain you need and work out how you long you need to build up that amount of levain. Think in terms of multiplying the weight of levain by 3 with each build – so you might start off with a fully-refreshed starter at 100g, you increase that to 300g in one go, it then needs 12 hours (sometimes less) before you can multiply it again, to 900g, then 12 hours, then 2700g. You get the picture.

Come the day of mixing the final dough, I’d realised that hand-mixing about 30kg of dough was logistically impossible, as I just don’t have any containers THAT big or strong. So decided on building 3 doughs, basically splitting the final amount across 3 containers. Easy, I thought. Yes, until it came to hand-combining the ingredients – my fingers are still aching, trying to get the huge, sticky, beligerent doughs to mix together, talk about hard going!

Have to see about being allowed a floor-mixer for my birthday!  (as if..!)

So, this long ferment stuff I mentioned, I see it not only as being the fact that the levain gets built over the days in the run up to baking, but in having the final dough rest in a cool environment before being finally proved and then baked. That usually means needing to leave the dough overnight somewhere roughly fridge-temperature-ish, then next day you carve off loaf weights according to when each batch can get into what oven space you have. For 30 loaves, I had to do 5 batches, because I only have 12 proving baskets, even though I could bake 8 at a time: are you still with me? 🙂

nyhow, sourdough once again came up smelling of roses (now there’s a mixed metaphor!) because even though batch 1 came out of the cold and got proved 8 hours before batch 5, they ALL rose beautifully in the oven and demonstrated very good crumb structure.

Ah, feet up, smell that bread… lovely.

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