The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Beginner Questions about proofing, loaf size and the "shape" of oven spring

Quigley's picture

Beginner Questions about proofing, loaf size and the "shape" of oven spring

Hello everybody.  I’m new to the world of making (not eating!) sourdough bread, having only baked it three times, and have been reading through this site and various other internet blogs, websites, and videos to try and learn as much as possible.  After receiving Tartine Bread for Christmas, I started my own starter, and subsequently started a second one a week later using the pineapple juice method as described here by Debra Wink.  I admittedly have never seen someone else’s starter, and am still unsure of what exactly the sights and smells are supposed to be, but 3 bakes and 58 days later, I think I know enough to be dangerous and ask questions!  Forgive me while I stumble over how in the world to ask you the right thing! 

Does anybody have any insight into how much the diameter of a given loaf can impact the shape of the oven spring?  The first time I baked (4 weeks ago), I failed miserably at transferring the round to the dutch oven but the loaf still rose and came out baked nicely.  The second round was transferred beautifully (don’t even talk to me about scoring right now) and came out nice and round with a lovely even rise and dome shape.  This first time, I also did a poor job of sizing the loaves equally, and the second loaf was probably only 8.5 inches in diameter where the rest have been over 10.  Ever since (3 weeks ago and last week), the dough still gets a nice rise, and good hole structure, but the rounds have a much more linear fall from the central peak to the edge, instead of being a full-figured dome shape, I’d describe them as more “conical”.   

A factor of the baking that I’ve noticed the last two times was the tendency for the dough to get extremely relaxed during the rest period, and spread out quite a bit in the pan upon transferring.  When this happened the first time, I thought that my shaping was to blame, and also considered that I had let the bread ferment 2 hours longer, and rest an hour longer in the name of flavor development, which may have caused over-proofing?  The second loaf was even more relaxed and “oozy” than the first, but both still rose on the oven, albeit their diameters were quite large, and the rise didn’t seem as dramatic as the first time.

The third time, I cut the fermentation back to the original amount of time, the final rise by 1.5 hours, and I seemed to still notice a pretty significant relaxation of the dough prior to baking.  I invested much care and attention to shaping this time around, and think I did a good job of that, so my initial perception was that I may still be proofing for too long.  These loaves rose very well, had a nice round shape, but exhibited the same sort of triangular peaking that I’d seen before after the relaxation upon transferring the dough.

Whew, I am really rambling here, and the more I put it into words, it sounds like I’m just letting the dough over-proof, but as I don’t know enough to tell before, and am only speculating I am still a little curious about how I managed to get such a nice shape the first time, and am seeing the conical shape now. 

I’ve seen vague mentions online that the fermentation and proofing times are drastically overestimated in the Tartine book, so if that’s the case, confirmation, and maybe some insight would be nice to bolster my confidence and assist in my planning for next time!

Please let me know if there’s more information that I need to provide to help people understand what I’m trying to say and thank you for your help!  Matt

cranbo's picture

Final shape & "ooziness" of any bread has to do with many factors including:

  • the hydration of the final dough
  • the type of flour
  • amount of pre-ferment (sourdough, starter, etc) in the final dough
  • baking container and dough volume
  • shaping technique 

Hydration is pretty obvious: wet means more oozy. Hydration is also influenced by ambient humidity. 

Different flours absorb water at different rates. Don't know what flour you are using but flour brand (e.g., King Arthur, Central Milling, General Mills, etc) and brand (all-purpose, Bread Flour, etc). does make a significant difference in shaping.

More pre-ferment in your final dough means ooziness is more likely. The longer sourdough ferments, the wetter/more oozy it becomes. 

Your baking pan and the amount of dough in your recipe make a difference. If your loaves are too flat, you may need to increase amount of dough you use in your baking pan (dutch oven, etc). Too big a pan will cause your dough to potentially spread out more, especially when it's wet. 

Getting a tight skin on the outside of the finished dough before final proofing is key to good shape when baking. 

Welcome to TFL and hope this helps!


Quigley's picture

Thank you for your reply.  I have a couple of clarifications to make, and follow-up questions to some of the things you mentioned.

To clarify, I believe the hydration is around 77%.  100g of evenly mixed King Arthur Bread and King Arthur Whole Wheat go into the leaven the night before, along with 100g of water and about a tablespoon of starter.  The dough is made in the morning with 750 grams of water (I have been adding 50 of it with the salt after a 1 hour autolyse), 900 grams of King Arthur Bread and 100 grams of King Arthur Whole Wheat.  This means there is 200 grams of leaven (preferment?) in the final dough.  

My first follow-up question is, based on descriptions in the book, the leaven should raise about 20% overnight, but I see much more than that in the 12 or so hours between when I make it and when it is used in the morning, probably more like 100%.  How does the maturity of the leaven affect the development, proofing, and fermenting of the final dough?  If I am going to wait 12 hours, do I need to use less starter?  If I am going to use the current recipe, do I need to build the dough closer to the creation of leaven?

The dutch oven is the Lodge combo cooker that the book calls for.  I'm a sucker for instructions sometimes.  I think it's a 10-1/4" diameter.  I havent tried to bake without it, but I do get a bunch of steam out of it when I take the lid off after about 25 minutes.

Does that mean I should be going for a 10-1/4" loaf?  Do I want or need a gap around the edge of the loaf when baking?

The shaping technique I use is to do a stretch from all 4 sides folded into the middle on a cutting board followed by flipping it over and doing a sort of rolling and pulling motion to stretch the skin on top as I pull the dough towards me  few times.  I don't really know what it's called, but I see people doing it in videos, and I try to mimic!

Oh, one last question.  You mentioned ambient humidty can have an impact on hydration.  The first (and best) result I got occured on a rainy day.  Logic would tell me that a rainy day would increase the hydration of a dough, is that correct?

Thanks again for your reply!  Matt

cranbo's picture

The speed of your leaven is related to how active your culture is and your ambient air temps. If your leaven is growing too fast, you can slow it down somewhat by keeping it in a cooler place, or just letting less time elapse between when you make the leaven and when you bake. So yes, if you wait 12 hours, you may want to use less starter. Maturity of leaven affects mostly fermentation times, but also affects flavor somewhat. 

Having more dough for your boule shape may be appropriate if you want it to spread less for your dutch oven. Can't really help you there, maybe experiment scaling your recipe up slightly. You are making 1 or 2 loaves with those Tartine quantities? The original recipe is scaled for 2 loaves.

Yes, humidity will increase dough hydration. In very humid weather, you may want to scale back the amount of water you use.

Davo's picture

Words like "oozing" and "more relaxed" sound an awful lot like overproofing to me.

Some of the best advice I got I reckon from an expert was that while it's very tempting to let the final proof go a bit more to get a buit more size out of the loaf, and more flavour, ultimately you will not get the best result, as the loaf will flatten and actually have less volume. When the loaf goes in it should still be rising. If you never baked it and just watched it get to its biggest volume and then fall, that biggest volume point is overproofed. You (generally) want the biggest overall rise, which means after baking, not before baking.

Best way for me to judge is a combination of size in banettons for a known loaf weight and hydration, plus the poke test: wet or flour a fingertip, poke it inabout 1 cm or so. If it springs back quickly and fully it's under. If it doesn't spring back at all, it's over. If it springs back slowly, and not all the way, it's (for me) about right - though others will have developed their own "springyness" scale for optimising the result. The time to this point depends on so many barely controlled variables that it can vary, so be careful of working to a strict time schedule. Just to highlight: I do 4-loaf batches, and retard in the fridge. in may last batch, just because of loaves sitting in slightly different positions in the fridge (two nearer the panel at the back that delivers the coldness), two were baked after a 45 min warm-up following an  overnight retard, while the other two required over 2 hours out of the fridge to get to the same point. these were all from one bulk dough, weighed evenly and treated pretty much identically.

Using the fridge can slightly compromise the poke test, especially if you rotate loaves in and out while waiting for the oven to free up from the first batch. For instance a loaf at maturity can be put in the fridge and the slight tautness that comes with the cold can make it spring more - which doesn;t mean it suddenly wnet backwards! But it's a pretty good indicator.

Quigley's picture

Hi Davo, this is really good information, and you brought up a couple of things I have been wondering about!

I read here a bit ago, maybe even from you, about the poke test, so I tried to use that the last time I baked.  I definitely noticed a springyness at the beginning of the proofing stage that seemed to slow down as time went on.  Overall the dough seemed extremely airy and delicate the entire proofing time.  So light to the touch in fact, that I was a little nervous about poking it. It would come back pretty quickly at the beginning to just a small divot that would get a bit wrinkly and eventually even out.  By the end the divot stopped evening out, and I could see a bit of a mark afterwards.  Does this mean I probably went too long?

The refrigeration point you make is definitely something I had been wondering about.  Based on your description, it seems like I have sort of a "pause" button for some or all of the loaves that will allow me to control the proofing to match eachother and also help me schedule my baking process.  If I am going to proof two (or 4) loaves is there a preferred or ideal point in the process for the loaves to go in or come out of the fridge?  Is it better to retard in the fridge the proof, or proof in the fridge, then retard?  Perhaps this is a preference that I'll have to decide for myself.  

Thank you, Matt

sunyfun's picture

I am not going to get technical with what or why, because there are plenty of folks here that will be able to explains things in those terms for you.  This is what I do and have had success with the Tartine recipe. A quick solution for your smaller loaves is to use a smaller dutch oven to bake them.

I usually make 2 loaves with the Tartine Country Bread recipe and I retard the shaped boules only 8-12 hrs. I preheat my dutch oven for an hour (sometimes less.) I shape my boules and place them seam-side down on reuseable parchment sheets in a ceramic bowl that has the same diameter (across the top) as my dutch oven. I bake straight from the fridge and  I stopped slashing with anything sharp and have just clipped around the top with a pair of scissors--I know it sounds silly--but it allows for the loaf to bloom with the oven spring.  I do not do the poke test unless I have only left it in the fridge for a few hours, but after 8-12 hrs in the fridge-I know that it is fine,even if it doesn't even look any different than when I placed it in the fridge (you won't get that double in size look).

I bake the boule with the cover on for 20 minutes and off for about 10-15 minutes --I take it out when it reads 205-208 degrees. I get great oven spring and a dome-shaped boules. Try baking straight from the fridge and see if it makes a difference.


Davo's picture

Yes if it doesn;t come back at all it's gone too far. The dough should still feel a bit resilient when it hits the heat. I often thought I was baking too early until I saw some film from a SD bakery - they were turning over a heap of loaves onto a large peel, and those loaves were way more resilient that mine - they didn't sag/flatten while sitting on the peel much at all, whereas mine would have started flattening out considerably. I think people get this notion that "the longer the better", but there is a point where it definitely goes too far.

Yes the fridge gives you a pause. To fit in baking mid week, I mix bread dough from a levain one night, and after mixing/kneading bulk ferment and scale/shape loaves and place in banettons, and place in the fridge (it takes a bit of shuffling leftovers, chutney, mayo and other nameless things that haunt the fridge to get 4 large banettons in!). I bake the next night about 20 hrs or so later, after I get home from work. Others prefer to retard the bulk fermentation, then take out cool dough, shape and prove. But this would mean that I would be taking out of fridge on bake night, and waiting a potentially loooong time before baking... So I do as I described.

If it's a weekend I'll let the loaves prove while still warm a little before retarding (say Fri or Sat night), so that with a say 8 hr (instead of 20 hr) retard, they are still close to bake-ready on retreival from fridge, but it's an inexact science. Ideally I get them so that they are just short of ripe and need just a bit of warming up (while the oven heats), but don't take longer than oven warm-up time.

Quigley's picture

So it sounds like I can potentially retard it for anywhere from just a couple, all the way to 20 or more hours.  This is good news, because that work stuff you mentioned happens to me too, so it's nice to know it's possible to do this during the week.  I think my schedule this weekend dictates a wait towards the longer end of that range, so I'm hoping to have two feremented and shaped loaves ready for the fridge by early afternoon Saturday, with baking occuring Sunday morning.  I'll post my results here!  Matt

Quigley's picture

Ok, so I modified my process to include approximately 20 hours of fridge time, and thought I'd share some pictures of my results.  I am very happy with the way they came out, both in looks and in flavor, but I have a question about the crumb.  In the picture I posted of the crumb, you might see that the openness seems somewhat concentrated in the middle with a 3/4" or so area around the edge that is less open.  The texture of the crumb and flavor are still very good in that section, but I'm curious whether that type of distribution of density could be attributed to the fridge time?  I didn't leave them out much at all prior to baking, would that or any other factor impact the way bubbles distribute upon baking?

 Side Views

Isometric Views



Davo's picture

Good looking result - great crust! But yeah, personally I don't like massive holes like that - mind you some people think that's fantastic; ech to their own. Maybe there was some effect of retarding that arrested the rise around the edges more than in the middle, where fermentation could have continued a little longer in the fridge due to thermal intertia in the more insulated inner. But this doesn't happen to me... Other possibilities - maybe you had some air holes enveloped in the centre of the dough? Did the dough stick a bit when you transferred from whatever you proved in to the baking set-up - if so could you hcae "sheared" the  dough through the middle a bit (I find that if the dough really sticks in the  banetton and hangs of the skin before dropping out I get a huge hole under the top crust, beause of this "shearing")? Really I don't know what happened here. Sometimes patterns occur in the bread for no apparent reason - identically shaped and proved loaves can come out a little differently. But if you have me that bread and some olive oil I wouldn't be quibbling too much!