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If I am making pie dough, for instance, is there a reason to prefer doing things in batches, besides it being more manageable for my tools/hands? This would help answer this question (two good answers which differ on this point). Obviously, you want to divide the bulk into portions at the end, i.e. for the pies. But why sooner?

I always figured that following the directions all-at-once until the end ensured that the final product, by whatever multiplier, is consistent throughout.

I'm assuming that when baking in large quantities, we are measuring by weight, not volume, so accuracy shouldn't be an issue.

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Looking back at this, I still think there is a better, more systematic answer out there. It looks like the question can't really be answered appropriately unless you divide the answers according to types of baking, which is maybe a sign of a bad question. This is beyond my level, but there are other ways of baking beyond yeast doughs and pie crusts, right? (@Luls) And there seems to be confusion about the risks in working in fats and working in moisture when working with large batches. –  Matt Broerman Mar 24 '11 at 20:56
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2 Answers

When making pie crust, you want to a) keep your fat(s) cold and b) avoid over-working the dough, both of which are difficult to do when working in large batches. Cold fat, evenly distributed throughout the dough, will steam and melt away during baking; that leaves the air pockets in the crust that cause flakiness. Developing the gluten in your dough is necessary for a strong, elastic crust, but if you develop too much gluten, your crust will become brittle and tough. Working in small batches allows you to thoroughly combine the flour and fat until you've reached the "pea" stage, and then incorporate your water just enough to bring the dough together for gentle rolling. The best thing you can do to pie crust is to handle it as little as possible.

If you're using a large food processor or stand mixer to "knead" bread dough, you could get away with making more than one or two loaves at a time because you want to develop your gluten to a much greater degree than you do with pie crust. Be sure, however, that you mix/sift together your dry ingredients thoroughly before adding the liquid components of your dough whether you're kneading by hand or machine.

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Overworking fat into flour doesn't lead to toughness, actually quite the opposite. When fat is worked into flour it's coating the components that create gluten (glutenin= strength & Gliadin=elasticity). These two components only link up in the presence of moisture. When the fat is worked finely into flour it produces a "mealy" dough, one in which the gluten doesn't easily form and when it's baked will produce a crust/product that just crumbles or shatters. Toughness in doughs is from too much agitation (mixing, rolling, folding, kneading) of the dough once a liquid is introduced. –  Darin Sehnert Jul 21 '10 at 4:10
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@Darin Sehnert I know to stop incorporating the fat into the flour once I reach the "pea" stage because going beyond that point causes the fat to become too warm, and warm fat leads to a loss of flakiness. I've always thought that a lack of flakiness implied toughness. You're saying that the actual over-working/toughening begins after the addition of the water needed to bring the fat-flour "peas" together for rolling, and that I'm conflating the issue of warm fat and tough crust? –  Iuls Jul 21 '10 at 5:08
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Yes, you're doing things right but just misunderstanding what's actually going on. It's possible to overwork the fat without toughening the dough...this will result in the mealiness I described. Overworking the dough after the addition of liquid will create toughness. Dry ingredients alone could be stirred/mixed all day long without any affect on texture. –  Darin Sehnert Jul 21 '10 at 11:57
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Batches. With pastry it is very important to keep everything cold. Unless you have access (as I do) to a walk-in fridge with enough room to work in, you need to work in batches.

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