Last Friday I had the privilege of starting the pilgrimage to the Upper peninsula of Michigan to watch my Niece graduate at the top of her HS class. Wanting to add something to the celebration I offered to bake the bread for what turned out to be a fairly large party (100+-). In an earlier post I have talked about my preparations and plans for this bake of what turned out to be 16 loaves.
I am following up with this post so that any of you who feel compelled to undertake a larger group party perhaps will garner some insight into the details of the challenge.
After consulting with Mike Avery, I decided to take his advice and use a recipe that uses a Poolish with a 12 hour ferment at room temps. I mixed the 20 loaf batch of Poolish in three equal smaller batches in my 5 quart KA mixer the morning of departure. Starting at 6:00AM I dumped each successive batch into a new, clean 5 Gallon paint bucket. It started out at roughly 1/4 full which I marked on the side of the bucket. I should say I used cold water to give myself a little breathing room in the projected 12 hour ferment time. Thinking if I started with cold water I would slow down the fermentation while the temp slowly raised. Arriving in Houghton MI some 10 hours later, the Poolish was expanded 300% and was still active after 10 hours. I was glad I hadn't bought the 3 gallon bucket which seemed like it would be large enough :>)
I had premeasured the flours, yeast and salt into plastic zip lock bags that was the correct amount for 4 loaf batches. I decided to make a more complex mix than straight white French bread by using a blend of WW and a small amount of rye. Since my sister lives in the City (boy that's a stretch) I guessed that she has chlorinated water so I brought a gallon of my well water, just in case. There are many possible variables and I was trying to trim the possible calamities down to a minimum.
I tried to time the final dough assembly to one hour intervals to match the baking intervals. That is, 2 loaves baked for 30 minutes, times 2 equals 4 loaves per hour and each dough batch gave me 4 - 770 gram loaves. Gee, it looks so good on paper! Mike suggested that I do final proofing on parchment and skip the couche all together, which I did. I didn't do a long bulk ferment due to the fact that the Poolish is in itself a long ferment so I started forming my Batards after the first batch had fermented for 1 hour. Next, I sprayed the Batards lightly with olive oil and covered with plastic film for the final proof of about 1 hour. Preheated the oven/stone to 425F and into the oven for 30 minutes. I checked the first batch for temp just to be sure and they were 207F at 30 minutes and nicely browned.
Managing the production flow from mix/ferment/form/proof and bake was more of a challenge than I would of thought. I kept up with the timing but after the first batch was in the oven I was busy continuously for the next 4 hours. The last batch came out at around 3:AM my time and was the end of a long day which had started at 5:30AM the day before. I had taken 2 of my own cooling racks along since most people only have need for one. By the time the 3 racks were full, the first 4 loaves were mostly cool and I turned them over on the table to continue cooling.
I might of been able to bake 4 loaves on 2 shelves using the convection settings on this oven and shortened my time up by half. Honestly I wasn't willing to experiment and possibly not get get the expected results which would result in slowing me down. I don't have any experience using convection and I know there are changes that must be made in temp and time also some people have mentioned that they only use the fan for a short time. Some day I would like to play around with this method but this time I'll stick to what I know works.
I also took along 2 loaves of Sunflower Seed bread (thanks sourdough-guy) and a loaf of my basic Sourdough for the family to munch on the night we got in. The Sunflower was a huge hit as usual. Later that day (Saturday), throngs of hungry party guests arrived and consumed mass quantities of carbs and ribs and such. The bread was a big hit since there isn't much in the way of artisan bread available in the way far North of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Mini- I did get a chance to drive through Ontonagon and wave HI to your old stomping grounds. Also my sister ordered Pasties for lunch one day that were the best I've had. The crust was perfect and delicious, mmmm good! I may have to try my hand at that one of these days.
Over all, my efforts were appreciated not so much for the cost savings but for the unusual and delicious flavor of fresh baked bread. I shared with several people how I learned to bake here at The Fresh Loaf and invited them to join us in the pursuit of good bread. Most everyone was surprised that I have only been baking for a few Months and in fact, so am I. This forum is like a fast paced college course where nobody gets irritated if you raise your hand to ask a question. Thanks to everyone who has helped me get as far as I have in such short order!