112kg hand kneaded in Darwin


This post is about my hand mixing and baking 112kg of dough while I was in Darwin. While this will not seem a big deal for anyone who has worked professionally it is a big deal for me. I make bread as part of my art practice. As such I’ve always considered it a bit like the dancing bear. It’s not extraordinary that it dances in time, it is extraordinary that it dances AT ALL. I've posted here before about previous works in my Art-Is-An Bread project, this edition in Darwin is the latest in a series. For me it is the baking rather than the art project that is of the most interest in this edition. To find out more about the project look back over my previous posts. I have never made this quantity of dough by hand before, and I'd really rather never have to do it again. 

Palmerston Festival, though Darwin Community Arts, commissioned me to perform one of my bread swap events. Due to the convoluted communications process they at first thought that I would be on site baking and swapping bread. There is no way that I could do this. Instead I convinced Darwin Community Arts to buy a second-hand pizza oven that I could use.


To digress for a moment: The oven will continue to be used for baking for the community dinners run by My Sisters Kitchen http://www.mysisterskitchen.org.au/and for community baking days. These baking days are interesting in their own right as they should allow for a range of people to come together and bake. As of when I left there was interest from Afghanis and Filipinos in baking bread.


The negotiated position with Palmerston Festival was that I would bake around 150 loaves of sourdough bread, take them to the festival and swap them for whatever people reckoned they were worth. I was just left with the question of how to bake that much sourdough bread in the tropics with an oven that could handle 16 loaves at a time.


This is how I did it.


Because even sourdough yeasts work so quickly in these temperatures I decided that I would do a two step build of the starter to get some flavour. For the same reason I used a fairly high percentage of starter.


On Thursday afternoon I mixed up a 1:2 starter with

7 kg flour

14 litres of water.

This was made with water straight out of the tap (so about 25 degrees) and kept in a room that is air conditioned during the day but turned off at night. 

On Friday morning I added another 7 kg of flour. By 2pm it was ripe and by the time I mixed at 4pm it was still active and happy.


The mix was divided into 7 batches of approximately 16kg each. Each mixing box had a couple of kilos of ice and a couple of litres of water added. The oil was included at this stage mainly so I could keep track of where I was up to.

To that icy premix of water and oil was added:

4 kg of starter

8kg of bakers flour.

So in total the mix in each box was:

Flour 8kg

Water 4 litres

Oil 160ml

Starter 4kg (2kg flour 2 litres water)


(160g of salt was added later.)


This was mixed by hand till everything was at least damp. I sprinkled the salt on top at this point.

Once all seven boxes had been mixed to this point the real kneading began back at the first box mixed.


I found that 16kg of dough was more than I could knead effectively and ended up working in 8kg lots.

I did the mixing in three stages, letting the dough rest while I worked on two more boxes before returning to it.

The dough was then bulk proofed in air-conditioning till about 00:30 when I started dividing and forming it.

I started the bench proof at about 1.5 hours but ended up increasing it to nearly 2 hours.

Like all ovens (especially ones that cost $350 and were using kiln shelves borrowed from a secondary school for a sole) it took a while to learn how to drive.

By 9:30 am all the bread was baked and I had time to make some sourdough breakfast pizzas.


The event itself went well with people showing an interest in sourdough bread. Which leaves me asking why there seems to be no bakeries in Darwin that make this sort of loaf.



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108 breads's picture
108 breads 2013 September 17

I am in awe of your accomplishment. It feeds my bakery fantasy as here in my corner right next to Washington, DC we have zero local bakeries and very little in terms of sourdough breads at farmers markets and the Whole Foods. You were brave to take on this task and you and your bread (ha, ha) rose to the ocassion. Feel proud!

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