Is there any reason to not divide the dough before the bulk rise? I do it with slack doughs and it doesn't appear to make a difference.
...is it still a bulk rise? I never thought of dividing before the bulk rise. What benefit do you get? I don't really know a solid answer to your question, but here are some thoughts. If you divide the dough before the bulk rise, you may end up with variances between the pieces. If it is all allowed to rise in one lump, it will all be the same dough. The differences that could develop may cause one lump to be more or less active than the rest, or even cause all the lumps to have different activity levels from each other. That could throw off baking times or result in over/under proofing. However, if you are already doing this, and it doesn't make any noticeable difference, then theoretical problems are obviously no problem to you. I guess it comes back to the question of convenience. What is convenient for you to do? If there is some real benefit to you of dividing the dough earlier, I can think of no reason not to.
large mass fermentation. Mostly to do with the thermodynamical properties of a larger mass of dough versus a smaller one. More here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/33734/large-mass-fermentation
Interesting! I am not qualified to give any advice on the matter, but there are a couple of items which might come in to play. We are told that 80% of the quality of the dough is developed during the bulk fermentation. Part of that development is the multiplication of our friendly microbes and a parallel development and capture of their by product, CO2. Another desired result of the process is the continuation of hydrating the flours in the recipe.
When the dough is divided prior to the fermentation period, the total surface area is increased a considerable degree. I'm not sure of all the Physics involved, but It seems to me that this increased surface area would also increase the 'loss rate' of moisture and gases from the dough. I'll leave it to the experts to elaborate. David (dmsnyder) has commented on the "Mass Effect' he learned about at SFBI, perhaps he might be able to give us some sound advice. (In fact, "Dough Size and it's Effects on Fermentation" sounds like a treatise that would make interesting reading!)
Another consideration, all things being equal, is that this method seems like it would take up much more space in the cooler.
(I always find something to think about at TFL)
I always divide my doughs before I retard them overnight in the refrigerator. Since I sell my breads, its much more practical. I place the individual portions in square 8-cup plastic containers with lid, they can be stacked easily and take less space than round bowls. Also, dividing the dough before the bulk rise minimizes handling (and possible degassing) afterwards.
The idea that for the benefits of a bulk rise there has to be a considerable bulk? If this were the case, every bread prepared as a single loaf would taste less good than one from a batch of several. There are some strange bread baking myths around...
another reason that could be helpful here is that sometimes you may want to have different additives to the dough.
One half may be say a nut, the other half, another seed.
I have done this before the bulk rise.
During bulk fermentation is when you normally do your stretch and folds (at 20-30 minute intervals) in order to align the gluten strands in the dough. Dividing the dough is usually done at the conclusion of bulk fermentation. And retardation in the fridge is usually done shortly after dividing and shaping---in bannetons or bread baking pans or whatever you use to hold the final dough.