Dough Trough Sourdough

Graham's picture

Dough Trough
Bannetons in Trough

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.

BannetonsOne 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.


RecipeOur 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.

Dough in TroughSpelt Loaf

Thank you Lars from WP Reedy for lending your dough trough!
Bannetons – Cane and Plastic –  The Sourdough Shop
Graham Prichard is CEO of the Artisan Baker Association. 
Email: [email protected]

© 20 May 2008


Maedi's picture
Maedi 2009 October 19

I wasn't going to embarass him, but he deserves to be shown off! Like everything Graham does, he had put a lot of passion, creativity & raw energy into that day. Here's a video snapshot:

rossnroller 2009 October 20

Fascinating, post ,Graham. I had no idea that early commercial breadbaking made use of a wooden trough like that.

Probably because my back's been in spasm for over a week (arrrggghhh!!), I couldn't help thinking that making bread in a trough like that must be hell? How did the bakers of olde cope? Did they end their working lives bent double? Hurts just thinking about it...

TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2009 October 20

The pain is compounded by the fact that the dough mixed in the Trough of Olde could easily have been 10 times more. There must have been a minimum height stipulation because I'm purty sure I can't reach the dough.

Great job, Graham! Thanks, Maedi, for the sneak peek. ;)

doughman 2009 October 21

Boy, that looks like back breaking work there.  It makes me wonder what the typical dough weight was when these troughs were used back then.  By the way, I found a link of a French baker mixing dough by hand using another type of wooden trough.  As you can see the total weight of the dough is probably the same weight as the baker, and he is not breaking a sweat.

Keith888 2012 October 16

There was a dough trough at William Anglus Food Trade Colledge in Melbourne.

It had a top on it and used as a bench.

That was around 1972 when I did my apprenticeship.

I even used the woodfired oven that was there.

Not shore if any of that is still there.

Anybody who we thought deserved it was put in the trough and the top back on.

Left them in there for an hour or more.

Mischeivous apprentices in those days and we got up to alsorts of hell.

CaperAsh 2013 April 1

from the first (short promo) clip, here is the expanded version with more trough work.

Around 9 mins the trough work begins:

I note that he is a short, stocky type of person, and not all that old, and that also he is bending over, but apparently without back problems, albeit I also note that he is not so much lifting the dough vertically and


Notes (since I speak halfway decent French):

33 kg flour, 20 kg water

He always adds starter along with the mix (I used to do this but changed).

At the beginning, he gets a very wet mix presumably to equally distribute and break in the starter. Then he pulls in all remaining dry flour from each end.

He does more side-to-side action and pushing down from above rather than lifting. When he lifts, it is mainly from one side to the other.

it took 3 minutes in the video, but not sure how much was cut. Probably it took about 10 minutes in actual life, albeit 5 minutes is certainly possible. ( I usually mix 1o kg by hand and it takes about 5 mins of hand mixing in a 23 litre bucket.)

19-22C is his preferred temperature. Clearly it would be much harder to mix this amount by hand if around 10C.


I think he waited about 3 hours until 11 am, but not sure when it started.

Gluten is rolled up like snails at the beginning, and the soaking/proofing stage allows them to stretch out. (15 min in video).

Blond guy saying that since harvest there are natural periods of expansion and contraction in the grain, and we are somewhat continuing that. Milling, for example, is a significant expansion; now during proofing there is a type of contraction as it comes together again. (?!?) Anyway... I think he is also saying that you want to get it into the oven before the final expansion has gone to far and it runs out of steam (the word 'force' in the vid).

After additional bucket-proofing, the trough becomes the work table, scale is placed inside, and he scales. Efficient use of space here. So obviously the trough is at the right height for him. I have read of some people having troughs that can be raised and lowered hydraulically so that the dough is tipped out onto a work table  (having been raised to do this) whereas it is lower during mixing so as not to strain the back.

Note the simplicity of the cloth lining the baskets, not sewn in, just white tea towels or thick sheets it seems. Nuttin' fancy.

19 mins: Bakes Tuesday and Friday. On Tuesday about 100-115 kg of bread in 2 baking sessions. 50 kg on Friday. And that is his only professional life. 12 ha of land are needed to make 200 kg per week.  Some philosophical remarks I didn't catch to do with him not having the right land yet.

20 min: they are discussing old types of wheat. In the intro he talks about how modern wheat as been bred to function well in the post-industrial revolutionary age so the old varieties have been largely lost. (I am mainly using Red Fife which Meunerie Milanaise and Speerville offer in my East Coast/Maritime part of Canada and am very happy with it, despite the cost. Indeed, I prefer it to spelt.)

22 mins mentioned how the gluten has been 'hyper-trophee', i.e. hyper-emphasised. Which is true. Industrial baguettes have very strong gluten in finely refined flours; it's an 'artificial' gluten (unnatural) which we cannot tolerate. The molecules are macro-giant sized and we cannot digest them. Also, the white flour is super refined with no germ or bran at all to the point there is no nourishment in it. So modern bread is just a support for what you put on it. If you just ate bread today, after a couple of weeks you would be extremely sick.

28 min - back to the oven. He opens the sealed door (to keep in steam from bread I presume)

"Now it get's serious; time to taste!  The women say they are hungry!"

29:30 detailed discussion of the subtleties of taste ' palette des references' and difficulty of talking about something for which there is no vocabulary such as that developed for wine.

30-31: it is much harder for intellectuals, for scientists, to appreciate what is simple, to accept moment by moment with what is happening; that is what determines whether society evolves, or it devolves. Because the Earth is the mother of plants, animals, and Man, so one has to tune in. It's very simple. (More French philosophizing. That's what good food does: it turns every peasant into an articulate philosopher!)

32.39 - look like about 1 kg loaves, nice bubbles, but not spectacular rise. This I find is often the case with room temperature, esp. Southern/summer temperature doughs. Retarding boosts oven spring. But what really matters is not vertical lift but ideal 'rubbery'resilience' of the dough once cooled after baking. If that is right, so is flavour, aroma and everything else since it means you have ideal fermentation levels but before too much gluten (and other) break down.


Anyway, I am interested in setting up a trough. I run a very small organic bakery in Cape Breton using all organic flour, natural starters, quite a few (Nutrimill) fresh-ground flours added in, in 4' * 3' brick oven. I usually make about 90 loaves which is about 40 kg. I would like to do a little more but the market will not support it (low population zone and most people here are really into white yeast bread stuff so it is taking a while to convert them - I make a lot of loaf pan breads which I find are better as an introduction and after 6 months they might try a hearth loaf!).

A friend of mine might be starting a farm on 160 acres and he has invited me to relocate on the property in which case I will have a new bakery, including part of it I suspect partly underground with constant temperatures and humidity, and a large trough. I tend to make about 7-10 different recipes, each mixed by hand in a 23 litre bucket so even if I wanted to make all one type, I would still have to do about 7 mixes, so that being the case, why not make different recipes? That said, I do find something appealing about only having 2-3 doughs, and putting more care into different shapes, sizes etc. rather than formulas. Or maybe it's just I like the idea of mixing up 50 + loaves in 10 minutes by hand in a trough. I don't know why, but I find it VERY appealing and hope I can get to do it one day.



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