Sourdough Transformation



Hi everyone,


  I would love to set up a bakery and bake sourdough bread.How do i convert my year old starter into a batch starter mix for about 200 loaves daily?


Yours comments would be welcomed

153 users have voted.


Muff 2010 April 28

Quit throwing any away, was my first thought.

You already know how to feed your starter, so just do that. Take one part starter, one part flour, one part water, and combine. Adjust for consistency if necessary. In a day or so you have three times as much starter.

Repeat. Now you have nine times as much. Next time, 27 times, then 81 times, then 243 times, why, in no time at all you'll be awash in the stuff.

But once you have your starter and are comfortable with your process you will have to scale up production in a practical way. That can be harder. Once a dough has been mixed you have to adapt to its needs (refrigeration is an immeasurable benefit) and so you want to be sure you can handle the amount you have coming at you or quality will suffer.

In a commercial setting we expect an experienced baker to be able to scale off and  round up 20 or so loaves in a few minutes -say five minutes, give or take. Twenty is about the number of one pound loaves that you get from what we call a "gallon" of dough (the amount of dough that takes a gallon, or eight pounds, of water.) We're expected to have the finished product weigh very close to the printed label's declaration. If it says 16 ounces on the label it has to be within a quarter of an ounce if the weights and measures guys are checking.

After the dough has been rounded it may be allowed to have more age (especially true of richer doughs) or we may be able to start right in molding it. It shouldn't take more than another five minutes to do that by hand.

So let's say you've been practicing and are starting to feel pretty productive, and you want to make sixty loaves of bread. You'd probably mix about a gallon of dough to start, follow it with another gallon in half an hour, and again in another half hour. That would give you a little breathing room between the doughs in case the phone rang. As you made up the first one the second would be getting ready, and so on. As the dough pieces get made up they probably would go into the fridge, buying you a little more wiggle room.

If you've done that through three gallons of dough, more than enough to make 60 loaves, then you are ready to start baking it all. So you need to have an oven big enough to handle that load, or a good part of it, without crowding. As you finish up the initial bake you can start getting the next ready, and so on. Scaling it up isn't that hard;, it just takes longer and requires somewhat more "internal organization"- you have to be paying attention. You can scale up quantities (do larger, two to three gallon batches at a time) or you can extend the time frame, but when push comes to shove you're going to have your hands on each piece of dough multiple times and it takes time and practice and it can become tedious drudgery.

As much as I love making bread I'm glad that my day is broken up with my other chores, which include making pastry, cutting cookies,mixing, doing pies,making candies, running the ovens, even throwing freight and loading the dishwasher, ordering supplies and ordering people around- some days I'm just a traffic cop, or maybe a ground-traffic controller, trying to make sure everybody's in the right place at the right time and everybody has what they need to do whatever it is they do. I think I'd have a problem if I tried to make a living on 200 loaves of bread a day.

A little quick arithmetic- if you can sell 200 loaves a day at three bucks each you have cash flow of $600. Take out 25% for the cost of ingredients, which would leave you with $450. Another 7% for packaging, leaves you with $408. Pay yourself $20.00/hour or $160/day if you can get done in eight hours, leaves you with $232. Deduct $1000/month per employee for insurance (standard month is 173 1/3/hours per month, or $5.7x/hour, or $45/day, so that leaves $187/day for rent, utilities, business insurance,  depreciation, professional fees, delivery vehicles, maintenance, advertising, social security self employment and ss matching, unemployment taxes, and all that. Figure out if that's enough.

Then decide if you can live on $800/week after taxes and provide for your retirement and have any time to spend with friends and family. (A week of vacation is a 2% raise, by the way, and if you have to replace yourself for a week you have to hire a replacement, if there is one. Weekends, which are very nice, are best if there are two days together.)

(You may live in a higher- or lower- rent district than a $3.00/loaf area, but other costs probably keep pace one way or the other too.)

Which is why I don't work for myself, although at one time in a life far away I did, and it was invaluable experience. Just go into it with your eyes wide open and be sure you have an alternative lined up. I was lucky in that when I developed pneumonia from exhaustion I was able to turn the bakery I was running back to its owners and take a job a month later that paid well enough to pay off my debts in a couple or three years- my capital outlay was nil and I didn't have to file BK, but we still owed good money to good people (our suppliers), and they all got all of it.

Rereading this it sounds very discouraging- it isn't meant to be! But do be sure that you have good business advice, and know what you are getting into. Entrepreneurism is very satisfying, but also very daunting, and at the least have a business plan and somebody who can mentor you business-wise. It'll give you a huge advantage.

Good luck,


ps- The shop I help run  has an annual payroll exclusive of pension and insurance and vacation and personal days of slightly over $450,000/year on annual sales of about $1,200,000, has several full time bakers and decorators and about 8 front end personnel. It's a hoot to be a part of it, and when something goes wrong with the equipment the company (a small grocery chain) has deep enough pockets to just get it fixed. So I get to concentrate on baking and keeping other people concentrating- much more fun for me than the hassles I had as a teensy-tiny independent, and much more lucrative. Nearly as satisfying as owning my own, if not quite. After over 40 years in the business I'm glad to be doing it this way, FWIW.

rossnroller 2010 April 28

Your post makes for illuminating - and sobering - reading. It's clear that small indie bakeries are a labour of love...and a hard labour at that.


Chow 2010 April 28

Gavin, looking at this and your previous post I can see you are keen. I was just wondering how you came to the number of 200 loaves a day? While that is a heap of dough to handle every day is it enough to make you a living? One think about baking is that you will never starve but as Muff says (in his excellent post) think carefully.

I am a self confessed dreamer (how else do you end up baking bread and giving it away as part of a PhD research project into the use of hospitality in participatory art).  From my thinking about similar cunning plans for myself I came to the conclusion that the two ways that a small number of loaves could make reasonable money was as a stand alone add on to an existing café (use their staffing to sell the product and their sandwiches to exhibit the bread) or get around renting retail space in a different way by providing home delivery. I particularly liked this second idea as it would allow for starting by baking at my house and slowly widening the circle of clients as I increased production.

All the best in your ventures.

P.S. there is a notice about a bakery for sale up in the window of the  Himalayan Bakery in Daylesford.

Gavin 2010 April 28


thanks for the reply.


At the moment I am still a student doing a  business degree.

I have been a chef though for 20 years

200 loaves seemed to be about a just above break even point( similiar thinking to the post before this)

200 loaves wholesale at about 3-4$ a pop seemed about a good starting point.

yes it will be a lot of work.


I have a commercial kitchen to work out of though which would be easier.

yes i think I really need a retail/ small cafe to sell out off.

But becuase i have low overheads i thought I may try and get a 200 loaf pre-order( eg Vic markets), and then only make the loaves when I get this order( or if)


But the satisfaction and smell I think are what attracts me.

I fall in love with every loaf


Thanks gavin




Gavin 2010 April 28


Thanks so much for your illumninating and honest look at the bakery industry.


hard dough.

yes to really succeed will take a lot of hard work and effort.

I got the figure of 200 loaves from doing similar calculations as you told me.

I figured i would try and promaote my product and try and get a 200 loaf per-order beofre i go into production.


I will be sure to get some more training before I explore this further.

I have 20 years hospitality rxperienece as a chef.

So I figure the techniques will be new but if i can get a good mentor that wouls be better.



So I will keep you posted but it may be some time.


Thanks gavin








Muff 2010 May 1

Hey Gavin-

You are clearly better prepared than many, in that you have some understanding of business (I didn't!) and you have a place to do the work. Satisfying health department requirements can be very difficult and expensive, and being able to walk into an approved kitchen is a big plus.

But do make sure the kitchen has a suitable oven, and don't overlook that refrigeration thing.

Should you have questions as you go I would be happy to try to address them, if I am able, but there are lots of people on this forum who can do that. I may have some practical commercial experience to draw on, but to tell the truth I have some bad habits and silly ideas, too, so you have to be careful when you listen to me! (I do try to be clear as to what I "know" and what I "think I know".  What I do know is how to keep production happening, which is pretty useful if you want to make a living at it.

Good luck,


Gavin 2010 May 8

Thanks Muff,


I finish my degree in a few months.The baking is one avenue i may enter( or try to enter into)

Business, the figures for baking are not that good when you look at the cost.

But having said that it is something i really enjoy.

At this moment i have a few Dan lepard recipes on the go.

I have modified his simple milk loaf with + 100 buckwheat flour+ wholemeal flour + 100ml milk(500g Flour total)

Then i also have his foccacia loaf on for pizza.



But yes any advice if I go down this way will be appreciated.


thanks gavin

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