The Fresh Loaf

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Opinions on how best to incorporate a machine mixer into sourdough process?

NotBadBread's picture

Opinions on how best to incorporate a machine mixer into sourdough process?


I am thinking about increasing my output of loaves per week for my fledgling micro-bakery. I did 8 loaves the other night, and it was pretty difficult to do it all by hand-- particularly the initial mix. I've done a good deal of searching through old TFL posts for answers to the below-- I apologize in advance if I've missed a crucial one!  

Note that I'm not looking for advice on particular mixers per se (although if you feel compelled to offer great advice in this regard, by all means, go for it :)

1) I know you can definitely do the entire process by hand. This TFL user, Mike Avery, posted about doing 200(!) loaves in one night entirely by hand for a farmer's market. That said, if I wanted to do a larger quantity (say, 30-50 loaves in one go) with at least a little help from a mixer, how do you recommend going about it? Initial mix by machine only? Initial mix + final mix to passed windowpane test? Something else?

2) I watched this video from Proof Bread with great interest. He mixes to what appears to me to be just about a windowpane, maybe a little short of that (although he doesn't pull a pane in the video, the dough is starting to pull away from the side of the mixing bowl). Or perhaps that's wrong, and the dough isn't close to passing a windowpane test? Is what's shown in the video how dough looks simply when it's been fully mixed properly in a mixer? Then he portions the dough for BF. He does 3 sets of S&F's. There was another fragment of a TFL post about mixers that also mentioned a similar process (mix to quite a bit of dough strength, and then do 3 sets of S&F's). It surprises me that the mixer is used to build so much dough strength and then the dough is also given several S&F's. When I'm doing this all by hand, I'm only doing 2 more sets of S&F's during the BF but still getting good results. Is what's shown in that video a fairly common approach to using a mixer in the artisanal sourdough process?

3) Lastly, and this is a little outside the scope of this post, but for anyone who watched the Proof Bread video... I was amazed by how 'jiggly' his dough looks as he's portioning it for BF. When my dough gets to that state, I usually think it's about time to end BF and pre-shape! Just curious if anyone else had a similar reaction, or not.

Thanks very much for any and all insights.


Danni3ll3's picture

Long but great. 

I’m about to sit down to dinner but I make 12 loaves every weekend and I use a KitchenAid Pro Line mixer. Have a peek at some of the recipes in my blog to get an idea of how I proceed. I’ll give you more details on how I manage the batches later. 

Danni3ll3's picture

That I do that might help you. 

  • my batches make 3 loaves of 750-800 g each so I make 4 batches to make 12 loaves. This doesn’t overtax my mixer. 

  • I mix a batch for the autolyse and then transfer the dough to an oiled Cambro bucket. Then I’m mix the next batch. I’m usually done this in about a half hour. 

  • After the autolyse, I put one batch of dough back in the mixer, add the salt, yogurt if using and the starter. I’m experimenting right now with putting all the ingredients in at the beginning. I had success with that but need to experiment more. I mixed on speed two for about 10 minutes. Normally, I just add the salt, yogurt and starter, mix for 8 minutes and then put the rest of the ingredients and mix for another 2-3 minutes. Then the dough goes back into the oiled bucket. It takes an hour to get through all the four batches. 
  • I leave my dough on the counter in cool room temperature while mixing so that the first batch doesn’t get too much of a head start on the last batch. When they are all done, I put them in the oven with the lights on. This creates a nice warm spot. 

  • I do coil folds right in the bucket. Easier than doing anything else. And yes, the coils folds are needed. The dough it still quite loose after the mixer and this really strengthens it. Coil folds are done 2 x 30 minutes intervals and then 2x45 minutes intervals. 
  • I then let the dough rise about 30%. Depending on the recipe or the day, it can be from an extra 30 minutes to a couple of hours or more. 

  • I preshape the dough and let it rest on the counter a half hour. Sometimes the last couple of batches haven’t hit 30% so I’ll give them a bit of extra bull time but more often than not, I can shape all of them at the same time. I guess I should mention I number my buckets so I know which batch was done first, second and so on. 

  • Then I shape the dough and pop them into bannetons seam side down.  I cover the bannetons with plastic bowls covers and they go into y to be fridge. My family knows that I need to top two shelves of the basement fridge when I make dough. 

  • I have 6 3-quart cast iron dutch ovens. They get preheated for an hour at 475F convection mode. The dough is taken out of the fridge and tipped out on the counter (cornmeal on the counter to prevent sticking). I put parchment paper in the pots and drop the dough seam side up on top. I don’t need to score with seam side up. 

  • I pop the pots with lids on back into the oven; 3 top shelf, 3 bottom shelf. I also stagger the pots do they heat can circulate freely. I set the temperature at 450F and bake for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, I pull all the pots out onto metal racks, remove the lids and go awesome or damn, and place the pots back in the oven putting the previous pots that were on the top rack to the bottom rack and vice versa. This helps with preventing burnt bottom. I close the door and set the temp at 425F for 22 minutes. This dropping the temp also helps at preventing burnt bottoms as well as using convection mode right through. 

  • When done, the loaves are placed onto racks to cool. Gently rubbing the bottom of the loaves helps loosen the parchment paper if it’s stuck. By the way, the parchment paper is reusable for several bakes. 

  • I reheat the pots to 475F and repeat the above for the next 6 loaves. 

If you have any other questions feel free to ask. Im just a home baker that bakes for friends and donates the money to a local soup kitchen. 

Booda's picture

I've made several of your recipes following this method, and they've all turned out great. When I can't think of something new to bake, I often look at your blog for inspiration. After purchasing my Bosch mixer, and didn't have a clue how to use it, following the above was very helpful. 


NotBadBread's picture

This is very helpful. When do you consider the dough to be "done" with the initial mix? I guess it probably depends on the particular dough, but are there tell-tale signs you've noticed? Since it needs several more coil folds, I assume it's well short of being windowpane-ready when it's done in the mixer (right before bulk ferment starts)?

Have you ever experimented with doing the final retard in the same buckets you bulk ferment in, and then portioning/shaping/baking in quick succession the next day? I ask because the space required to do a final retard with the loaves already shaped and in covered bannetons is obviously quite a bit greater than just retarding big buckets of dough!

Danni3ll3's picture

Do you mean for the autolyse? I wait till there are no dry spots and the dough pulls together in a ball. I tend to keep the hydration low for the autolyse since gluten seems to develop better for me than with a looser dough. I will add water later if needed. 

  • If you mean when I do the 10 minutes of mixing when I add the Levain, well the dough will tend to leave long strands initially and then it starts to round up and mostly pull away from the sides of the bowl. It also depends on hydration. At times, the dough climbs the hook and I usually add a bit more water if that happens. I don’t do the window pane thing but the once or twice I did do it, it wasn’t much of a windows pane. The dough still feels pretty loose at that point. It’s the coil folds that tighten it up. 

  • The only experience I’ve had with bulking in the fridge was following the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (Zoe and a Dr are the authors. They are out of Minneapolis.) where they let the dough double, punch it down and then place in the fridge for days until you want some bread. Then you shape it, let it rise and bake. They use yeast though, not sourdough for the most part.
  • You could bulk in the fridge but you are going to have to allow time for warming up, shaping and final proof the next day. Look for Lazy Loafer’s posts. She has or had a mini home bakery and I believe that is her procedure. She is the one that helped me with the actual baking of the loaves and suggested the rotation and temperatures while baking.  Michaelily is another person who has an actual bakery called Duluth’s Best Bread and has limited space. You might want to ask him about his procedure. 

  • I hope all of this helps a bit in coming up with your plan. 
Danni3ll3's picture

I’m typing on my phone and I’m being too lazy to go back and fix it. 

NotBadBread's picture

those resources! Thanks. Yes, I was referring to the decision about when to end the ~ 10 minute mixing portion of your process. I've never combined mechanical strengthening with manual folds before; that'll be an interesting learning curve, I'm sure.

I'm really going to study the bulk retard concept. In theory it seems like you could put a pretty big bucket of dough into the fridge after it's nearly done with bulk ferment (maybe... 80-90% of the way done?), and then take it out the next day to portion/shape/final proof/bake. Or maybe even just take a portion out ~ 12 hours later, than another portion out ~ 24 hours later... and even a 3rd portion out 1.5 days later?! Hmm.

Danni3ll3's picture

in the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day series. That’s basically what they do but use yeast for the most part. I believe that some of their newer books mention sourdough. Here are what the books look like so you know what to look for. 

Danni3ll3's picture

as I’m mixing my dough today 

  • If making porridge for several batches, put everything in one pot and divide for your batches after it has cooked. 

  • For toasting seeds, if you have just a few kinds in your recipe, put all the same type of seeds in a dry frying pan, toast, let cool and divide by your number of batches. Repeat with the other kinds of seeds. You probably get more even toasting this way.
  • If there are a lot of different seeds that need to be toasted, I measure out what’s needed for one batch and put them all together in a dry frying pan. Repeat as per the number of batches you have. Watch that the smaller seeds don’t burn. 
MichaelLily's picture

Here are a couple of thoughts:

1. I used to mix by hand right when we first moved into our space. My dough is quite wet (~82% hydration) and I was able to mix 10kg of dough successfully in 5 gallon buckets. I was 24 at the time and in good shape so that was doable. I would not try it with a stiffer dough.

2. I found that a 20 qt planetary mixer could do what I could do by hand (10kgs) with a lot less manual effort, and I liked that. We use a 60 qt Hobart now and it is wonderful.

3. I decided not to do stretch and folds one day because I felt like they weren’t doing much in my 3.5 gallon bins of dough. I noticed no difference and haven’t done stretch and folds since (about 5.5 years).

4. You can bulk in the fridge, but there are more variables. It takes a long time for the mass to cool down, and different sized batches will react differently. I have had success on a 2 day timeline doing this but it wasn’t as good as my ordinary room temp bf and overnight retard.

5. We just pack our bannetons in the fridge until midnight when they get baked. They spend about 9-12 hours in the fridge. When I was baking at home, I would get 30-50 loaves packed in an ordinary fridge (there was nothing else in that fridge, and I packed it good!). Overproofing can definitely be a concern so you have to know when to end the bf.

6. In my experience, cutting the bf short always resulted in underproofed, unacceptable loaves, without exception. I was working on a timeline and it is possible that waiting longer in the fridge would have solved the problem.

7. I have never room temp final proofed my regular bread. We can’t because it is too wet and will stick to the basket liners. 

My process and timeline:

8 am: mix dough

~12-12:30 pm divide and shape

1:30-3 put in fridge (I put in fridge immediately once in baskets, but we are making 50-60kg dough so it takes hours to shape)

12 am-6am bake bread

hopefully my anectodal experience gives you some ideas.