Bakers from all backgrounds were recently invited to join in and mix dough in a trough at the Food Service Australia Expo, Sydney. Some of the bakers that came could remember their fathers using a trough, and one baker even said that as a kid he was put to work running barefoot up and down the trough to mix muffin dough.
Kids everywhere lost their jobs with the advent of single and two arm mixers. It was very sad but the sweat and grime of little baker’s feet remains and helps preserve the timber of troughs around the world.
Wood splinters are an enemy to dough in the trough. We spent a good half hour wiping down surfaces with a damp rag, and oiling areas that would have contact with flour and water. One of our helpers was HACCP qualified, and I felt confident that splinters would freeze with fear and wouldn’t dare to enter our dough.
Mixing in a trough can take 30 minutes or more using modern baker’s flour and mixing to conventional expectations. I deliberately waited for a crowd to gather, expecting that every 10 minutes a new baker would enthusiastically jump in and take over. This of course did not happen; rather the onlookers became my team of advisors and made very wise comments about the shape of my sweat as it splashed into the dough.
One advisor recalled that the trough was primarily used to ‘combine the ingredients’ rather than completely finish dough: finishing occurred during the long bulk proof stage as the dough sat for hours in the trough. This gave me an excuse to rest at the 15 minute mark and let the dough sit for 10 minutes, then finish with a quick 5 minute mix (the dough was largely spelt flour and was silky smooth after around 20 minutes of mixing).
Another advisor said that the old bakers used to sleep on top of the trough and wait to get pushed off by the rising dough. He said that this practice was eventually banned in the UK because some bakers fell off the trough but remained asleep, and were suffocated by carbon dioxide which flowed over and descended from the trough. It sounded so incredible that it had to be true.
Our recipe (thank you Danubian): 8.5kg spelt four, 6kg firm sourdough leaven (4kg wheat flour + 2 litres water) Total Flour: 12.5kg. Salt: 2% (0.250kg) Water: 55% (6.875 litres…includes 2 litres water in the leaven). We started at 55% hydration but increased this to 60% to 65%. Total Dough: Formulated: 19.625kg; Actual: 20.500kg (approx).
The dough was deliberately formulated under-hydrated because spelt can slacken off considerably during the mix (this dough only slackened a little, and was stiffer than desired even with additional hydration). Finished dough temperature was 24C.
Bulk proof was in the trough for around 3 hours at 24C. The dough was divided out into 700gram to 800gram pieces and shaped into balls. These sat for about 20 minutes then were shaped and placed into bannetons (some balls were combined to make larger loves).
Final proof was within the trough covered with boards for about 2 hours. They could probably have handled a longer proof but there was only 1 hour of oven time left (the trade show was closing) and breaks occurring on the upper side of the dough pieces were starting to scare me (this looked severe partly due to the large amount of skinning – will take plastic sheets next time!). Our deck oven performed well but was not fitted with steam. This created a fairly severe environment for stiff and under-proofed dough, so I cut quite deeply (1-2cm). The deep cutting probably saved my bum because there was a lot of oven spring. Final result was a 'rustic' rather than smoothly finished loaf.
The entire process was eagerly watched by an official from the charity CentaCare, who had organised to distribute our loaves to those in need later that night. Next morning the official stopped me in the car park and said it was fantastic bread, and that she'd had some as toast for breakfast. That was quite a relief. A compliment from the street means a lot to me.
Thank you Lars from WP Reedy for lending your dough trough! www.wpreedy.com.au
Bannetons – Cane and Plastic – The Sourdough Shop 
Graham Prichard is CEO of the Artisan Baker Association . Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 
© 20 May 2008