The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What are the signs that bulk fermentation has gone long enough

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OldWoodenSpoon's picture

What are the signs that bulk fermentation has gone long enough

I have read about the benefits of retarding dough during bulk fermentation in order to prolong that fermentation and thereby enhance flavor, about the signs of over fermentation, and about how longer fermentation is generally better for flavor than shorter or rushed fermentation.  I haven't been able to find any clearly stated way to determine when the bulk fermentation has peaked though.  For sourdough, how can I tell that I better get busy because my dough will soon be heading over the line?  Is it as simple as waiting for the dough to (roughly) double in volume?

How are these signs impacted by the composition of the dough?  Are the signs the same for (all other things being equal) a 30% rye/70% white AP dough as they are for a 100% white AP or a 100% whole wheat dough, and if not, how are they different?

breadsong's picture

In Nancy Silverton's book, Breads from the La Brea Bakery, she describes Fermenting when writing about a sourdough country white loaf, in her chapter called A Lesson In Bread Making, quoted below:
"Whenever you ferment or proof dough, you have to watch it carefully. My recommended time for this first rise is 3.5-4 hours. But the surroundings in which you work could speed or slow this process. A better way to gauge whether the dough is ready is to look at it and touch it. Lay a hand over the loaf. When it is properly fermented this dough should feel cool and slightly flabby on the surface, but the center core should still feel firm, and you should get a sense of the activity of fermentation. (It's difficult to describe this activity, but when you're working with a living thing - this sourdough is alive - there is a palpable internal energy: remember, this is not cookie dough). Finally, when you press on the dough with you fingertip, a slight indentation should linger - the dough shouldn't spring right back, as it does immediately after mixing. Look for the same characteristics later, when the dough has proofed."