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Archive for January, 2011

I’ve always admired the mythical black “steel-drivin’” man named John Henry.  He was a testament to the days when work happened on the human-scale and tragically died after outpacing a steam drill.  John Henry also lived at the end of the time period populated by Heroic Artisans.

Why am I talking about John Henry and Heroic Artisans?  Because one common conversation I have at the farmers market related to the bread I produce generally goes as follows:

Customer: Do you use a mixer?

Tater Dave:  Not usually.

Customer:  So you do all of this by HAND?

Tater Dave:  Pretty much.

Customer:  HOW?!

So this is the full answer for all the inquiring minds about how to make so much bread without a stand mixer (KitchenAid or Hobart).

Some quick work is due on your part first though – you need to go find your copy of Betty Crocker, the Joy of Cooking, or some other favorite cookbook with a yeast bread recipe in it.

Got it?  Good.

How much bread does the recipe make?  Maybe two loaves?  If the two loaves fill a 9” x 4” pan, then your recipe makes about 4 lbs of dough.  4 lbs of dough is just about the upper limit of capacity that a standard Kitchen Aide stand mixer can handle.  More than this and it’ll start to burn up the motor on your mixer.

My standard run of bread for the farmers market is 8 lbs of bread.  This is twice the capacity of a regular home stand mixer.  If it’s nearing peak season at the farmers market, then I can increase my run of bread to 16 lbs of dough or four times the capacity of a stand mixer.

In the amount of time taken to prepare 4 lbs of dough in a stand mixer, I could have already prepared either 8 or 16 lbs of dough by hand.  How is this possible?

The mechanics of a stand mixer require the use of a dough hook.  A dough hook only stretches the dough that it is immediately pushing through with a little bit of tug on the outside of the dough ball as it is pushed around the bowl.

The mechanics of hand kneading the dough stretches a greater volume and surface area of the dough with each turn.  Since more of the dough is being worked at a given time, the gluten can develop faster than in a stand mixer.

Also, it will take nearly the same amount of time for the gluten to develop with a standard sandwich loaf of bread whether using a stand mixer or mixing 8-16 lbs of dough by hand.

I need to be able to produce 8-16 lbs of dough on a fairly tight schedule since I’m making dough at a home-production scale.  Why 8-16 lbs of dough?  Because my oven can only hold 8 batards or boules of bread at a go or 4-8 sandwich loaves at a go.  But that conversation can develop on another day.

I can outpace a standard home stand mixer when making 8 to 16 lbs of dough which makes me more like my hero John Henry.  I’m proud of this because it shows where working on the human scale of ability is more productive than at a larger industrial scale.

An investment of several thousand dollars would be needed to find a machine that could out compete my hands in making dough as fast as I’m able.  The scale of dough production I’m currently at with one oven is more than a KitchenAid ($250-$600) but less than a Hobart ($1,500 – $3,000).

Once again, John Henry wins.

As a disclaimer, I will admit, for some of the wetter dough, brownies, and cakes I make, yes I do use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  I’m not saying that a stand mixer doesn’t have a place in the kitchen; it just doesn’t currently have a place in Tater Dave’s production line!

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