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A poor baker's retarder-prover

Larry Winger of Allendale Bakery describes his neat solution to an issue that many small Real Bread bakeries face.

Inside the retarder-prover, Larry Winger

Inside the retarder-prover, Larry Winger

Supposing, like us, that you run a small artisan bakery. You’re eager to develop your fridge dough ferment capacity, but baulk at the extra few hours in the morning it will take to warm the dough back up to working temperature. Then like us at Allendale Bakery, you may be thinking that it’s time to invest in a retarder-prover.

Have you seen the prices of even refurbished ones on eBay, though? Then we found that we couldn’t get an upright retarder-prover into our low-ceilinged bakery anyway. Pythagoras just wouldn’t let the hypotenuse fit, even if we took it in horizontally and tried to move it into a standing position. So we were excited to see a bench retarder-prover advertised, but we simply couldn’t afford the £4000 price tag.

A hunch

We did find a good quality bench refrigerator, though, and purchased it for only £275 plus £95 delivery, because we had a hunch we could do something simpler ourselves. If our idea didn’t work out, we could always use the fridge capacity anyway.

But it seems that our idea does work, even though it is very simple indeed. We bought a pair of electronic timers for a tenner from an eBay shop. We also purchased four, 250 watt aquarium heaters (they’re fully submersible) for a fiver each, and laid them down in two gastronorm pans that each hold six litres of water. We plugged the heaters into a four-gang extension lead, outside the fridge of course, and set it on a timer.

Point proven

One timer now operates the fridge from 4pm until 2am, when it’s switched off. At 4am, the second timer turns on the water heaters, which are thermostatted to their maximum 34ºC. In about an hour, they have turned the fridge into a prover, so that our eight, six kilo bowls of dough are now sitting in a 30ºC environment, where they begin to prove until we start moulding at 6:30am. Any longer and the dough over-proves and exhausts the yeast. Then the timers switch the whole machine off until cooling time again at 4pm. We’ve been making our bread based on this poor baker’s retarder-prover for the past month, and we’re delighted with it!

So, in total, we haven’t quite spent 10% of the cost of a used/refurbished bench retarder-prover, and we’ve got exactly the same capacity as if we had laid out that full £4k. That’s not quite as satisfying as the fact that our system works, but it’s an extra reason to smile!

NB The Real Bread Campaign has published the above for interest only. It is not intended as guidance or a recommendation and we accept no responsibility if you decide to try something along these lines yourself.

Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 7, Spring 2011.

Published Saturday 7 December 2019

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