The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Floating dough check

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Jaydot's picture

Floating dough check

(Yes, well, it's difficult to make an attractive photo of a lump of raw dough in a floury bowl of water :) ).

Does anyone actually use the method of seeing if your dough floats to check if it's ready for baking?

I first read about this in Whitley's book, where he quotes an ancient Russian book that says you simply put the whole doughball in water and once it comes to the surface you can pop in the oven.

Chad Roberson's Tartine book also says that this is a good way to check if you've reached the right point in fermentation.

I put a small lump of dough in a bowl of water after retarded bulk fermentation. It sank, but it floated to the surface half an hour later. That would mean my dough was ready for shaping after that half hour - but surely that would only be true if the temperature of the water in the bowl was identical to the temperature in my bulk fermentation container?

I'm not sure how to put this method to practical use, so I'm very curious if anyone does this.

Syd's picture

An interesting question.  I am pretty sure that such a small amount of water (as long as it hadn't just been taken from the fridge) given an hour or two, would be the same temperature as the ambient temp. You could always do do a check with a probe thermometer.  A larger body of water would take a longer time to warm up/ or down.  But, you are right, if the two temperatures were different, then the rising times would be different.

Something else to consider, though, is the difference in size between the two pieces of dough.  I am not really sure about this, but common sense tells me, a larger mass of dough will take longer to rise than a smaller one.  So while the pea sized piece in the glass of water may be ready for the oven, the larger mass of dough in your container might not.  Perhaps someone more qualified to comment on this could chime in here.

AnnaInMD's picture

but in order to test the big piece of dough, I would submerge it into a vessel holding more water than for just a small test piece, wasn't there something about replacement volume .....

Great idea though, I might try that tonight by filling up the sink.

I learn something here, on TFL, every time I sign on. Wonderful !



AnnaInMD's picture

Does Whitley suggest leaving the dough in water until properly proofed or just to test it ? I would think the latter ....

Jaydot's picture

I'm not at home, so I haven't got the book here. It wasn't Whitley's own suggestion, I believe it was a bit of a tongue in cheek reference to an old Russian method of simply dumping your dough in water (the temperature of a river in summer, if I remember correctly) and waiting till it floated...

AnnaInMD's picture

the Volga ....   :)


Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

I use the floating ball of dough method for this recipe. Reading the comments here I realize I hadn't thought about or accounted for the differences in the masses of the dough fermenting in the open air vs. under water. Still, the small doughball in a glass of water test works well for me on this mixed whole grain bread. 


Jaydot's picture

Thanks for pointing to that post, obviously I missed it!

Looks like I'm going to have to try this in earnest :).

PaddyL's picture

James Beard has a couple of recipes in his book, Beard on Bread, that use the 'floating dough' method for rising.  It sounds fascinating, but I've never had the nerve to try it.

elizasiegel's picture

I used a floating dough method to proof a yeast dough ball for brioche. I got the recipe from a 1972 edition of Grand Diplome Cooking Course cookbook. The method is to disolve the yeast in a few tablespoons of warm water. When the yeast is  disolved, "Stir yeast mixture into about 1/4 cp. of the flour mixture  in a warm bowl to make a soft dough. Roll into a ball, cut a cross in the top to help it rise and drop into a large bowl of warm water (the water should feel just warm to the touch). In the meantime I mixed and kneaded the brioche dough. "When the yeast ball has risen to the surface of the water and has almost doubled in size, drain with a slotted spoon and add to the dough." This was my first attempt at making brioche and it was fabulous!! New fan of homemade brioche and floating yeast balls.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It has dawned on me.  I have used the technique, but the water had baking soda dissolved into it and the dough was already shaped.  They were floating almost half way above the water line when I lifted them out onto parchment.  They got shiny too.  Had great pretzel flavor!

clazar123's picture

I googled "floating dough" and floating bread dough" and get references to fishing and catching carp using bread dough that floats as bait.

Any additional online references? It is a fascinating idea. 

Is this the procedure?

1.Mix dough and place in bowl to rise

2.Break off a small piece and place in a glass of water (it will sink)

3.WHen the small piece of dough in water is floating, the dough in the bowl is adequately risen. Shape,proof and bake. Discard the little piece of dough. 


hart404's picture

I'm pretty sure it's related but recipes I've seen for bagels, which obviously need to be boiled, will tell you that if the bagel does not float immediately, take it out and wait 5 minutes and try again (etc) to give it enough time to proof properly.



Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

I've tried to remember to place the vessel of water in the area where the bread will make its final rise a long time before -- sometimes even the night before, wanting the water to be room temperature of that location. 

Whitley's source instructs (here) the use of cold water and submersion of the entire loaf. Maybe I'll try a long under-cold-water ferment one day to see what happens.

Image excerpted from Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking, by Andrew Whitley, here.

Jaydot's picture

Good grief, you can read the whole book online! I didn't know that! 
Of course I went and checked some of the books on my wishlist, but it seems not all books are available that way... I wonder what or who decides about that?

Anyway, back on topic: thanks for providing the quote. Even handling my small lump of dough was indeed like "catching an eel in a bucket of oil" (as the Dutch saying more or less goes), but I'm definitely going to try it with a whole loaf. One day :).

In the meantime I'll go on experimenting with the small lump in a glass method.

AnnaInMD's picture

Now I have to scrub a bucket, lol.



PMcCool's picture

whether the dough being discussed was a wheaten dough or a rye dough?

Just curious.

Edit: Never mind; I looked it up myself.  It doesn't really say.


Jaydot's picture

No, it doesn't say specifically. But I think it's safe to bet that there was a lot of rye in Russian dough back in the 1800's :). And Whitley himself seems quite fond of rye breads too.

Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

I had a bread dough ready for what was to have been an overnight rest in the fridge last evening so I thought, what the heck, why not try this "waterproofing" technique instead? 

I formed loaves from the dough I had just mixed then filled the same plastic tubs I had planned to use for cold ferment, using very cold tap water. The loaves were plunged under the cold water and set into the fridge at (I'm guessing) 38°F.

Grains were about 20% rye, all in the starter and what I call the "sour" which had begun with 100 grams of rye starter, growing by additions of water and rye flour to 500-600 grams over the course of the day. Just under two-thirds of the wheat flour was King Arthur brand all purpose. The other one-third was fresh ground hard red winter wheat berries, ground and whole flax seeds plus some exotic seeds and grains added for textural interest and flavor.


Here's the result:

wet-looking surface of loaves

The loaves floated much faster than I expected (maybe because of all the rye?). Size increased only a little while under water, 50% at most--not double. But, since the loaves floated I figured I'd better bake them. They had more than doubled in size by the time they came out of the oven.

If I make these again the same way I'll write up a recipe on its own blog.

Thanks for bringing up this topic, otherwise I wouldn't have thought of actually doing a cold ferment under water. It works and the bread tastes and looks pretty good too.

Jaydot's picture

Gorgeous loaves!

Were they very slippery when you fished them out of the water? How did you bake them, on a stone? If so, that must have caused quite a cloud of steam :).

I do hope you'll do it again, I'm looking forward to the blogpost!

Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

The loaves firmed up a bit proofing in the cold water, were easy to remove from their water baths. I had a large flat sheet pan with parchment paper and a 500°F oven ready when the first two loaves came out of the water. Since they were so wet I didn't think I'd need steam but I added steam for the second set of loaves--also started on parchment. After the loaves set I removed the sheet pan and finished them on the oven rack, to internal temperature of 205°-210F.

The last loaves went into the fridge for final proof at nine p.m. and came out of the oven at about midnight--much faster than I intended else I'd have gotten photos of the floating proofed loaves. As it was I barely got them all into the oven before they over-proofed.

In my opinion, the bread has remarkable flavor and a super rustic appearance. I gave two of the loaves to my favorite testers this afternoon. If they're as excited about these as I am then I'll work this into a finished recipe.

Janknitz's picture

Peter Reinhart uses this method for bagel dough in ABED.  Seems to ring a bell.  

Matt H's picture
Matt H

Naw, I throw it against the wall, and if it sticks, it's ready. No wait, that's pasta...

Jaydot's picture

... that started my sundaymorning off with a good laugh :).

SallyBR's picture

THe volume of the water will have no effect on the speed of the floating - it's all a matter of density, once the dough gets more "gassy" therefore its density decreases and reaches the  point of being lower than the density of water, it will float.


the only way to change the speed of the "floating" is - altering the population of microrganisms present in the dough or altering the temperature of the surrounding water.   Because the small piece of dough is the exact replica of the population of the full dough, they will ferment at almost exactly the same speed. 


I never use this method to check for fermentation, but if I would, the thing I would be most careful about is the temperature of the water to match the room temperature under which the full dough is proofing.




subfuscpersona's picture

...doesn't seem to increase the dough's hydration. I would have thought the dough would absorb at least some of the water.

No one seems to have commented on this. For those of you who tried this method, why is the dough impervious to it's water bath?

Franko's picture

It's just a test of a small portion of the larger dough to see if the fermentation has produced enough Co2 to show that it's active. Useful if you have doubts about whether your levain is viable or not.


AnnaInMD's picture

dough and it truly works great. But I am not sure I would submerge the whole loaf because the test clump didn't keep its tight shape and got a bit mushy.


Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

For me the ball of dough in the glass of room temperature water seemed to turn almost to slime, didn't hold any kind of shape at all. I then submerged whole loaves into big tubs of very cold tap water which I then placed into the refrigerator. The loaves held their shapes. 

I've only done this a couple of times so I can't really say why results came out as they did but temperature variable between two methods (ball of dough at room temp water vs. loaves of bread refrigerated in chilled water) did seem to play some role.

subfuscpersona's picture

I was especially interested in your experiment letting the dough rise submersed in cold water prior to the final bake. I found it fascinating that the dough appeared to bake up in a manner similar to the same recipe that was given it's final proof the "normal" way.

My guess, like yours, is that having the water *cold* is the crucial variable. Still, I would have expected some water absorption during the time that the dough ball was submersed in water.

Please do continue your experiments and report back to us.

Thanks - SF

dabrownman's picture

enough problems with my bread!! There is no way I am going to drop a loaf in water and leave it there till it floats.  If it was beer, or bourbon, then that would be OK :-)

gypsyb4's picture

Every Christmas my "came over on the boat" Italian family made cookies with a water-rising recipe; they were truly memorable. I am now 65 and have made them for the first time, using my mom's recipe. I put a nice, elastic, shiny dough ball in a pillow case and "put it in water the temperature of the river in summer" and let it rise until double, a few hours. About half the dough had become very wet and taffy-like; I scraped it out of the pillow case, added flour, and kneaded a bit, then made the cookies.  OMG they were just like mom's, grandma's. and auntie's.......I guess I did it right, but it sounds like something different than described here. I can't imagine having put the dough directly in the seems like it would have become like the "egg drop" in egg drop soup!