The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Do you allow your sourdough to double during bulk fermentation?

Syd's picture

Do you allow your sourdough to double during bulk fermentation?

Was wondering what everyone else does: do you allow your sourdough to double during bulk fermentation?  I always have, but had really good results with a much shorter ferment this past weekend and now am questioning my past techniques. 


I have always puzzled over recipes that talk about a DDT of 76F and then a bulk ferment of only 2 and a half hours.  It always amazed me how on earth they managed to double in that time.  (I have always taken it for granted that recipes implied the dough should double during bulk ferment.  Now I am thinking  I have been mistaken).  And this coming from recipes where people say their starter matures in 8 to 12 hours.  I have a much more vigorous starter:  it will double in 3, triple in 4 -5 and force its way out of a wire clamp jar in 6 hours.  I usually only use a small amount of starter in my recipes (not more than 15% of the total flour comes from the starter).  However, I live in a very warm climate and our kitchen is always somewhere between 27 and 31 degrees C.  Even under those warm conditions with my vigorous starter I can't match the optimistic proofing times of most recipes. 


This got me thinking that perhaps not every recipe meant for the dough to double during bulk fermentation.   So this past weekend I gave a new light rye loaf I have been working on a 2 and a  half  hour bulk ferment.  My dough temp after mixing was 26C which is about 76F.  I let it ferment at room temp for 2 and a half hours.  Shaped it, let it rise until 3/4 risen and then retarded it for 10 hours.  The result was delicious.  Mild but full of flavour.  The crust, especially, was intensely flavoured.  I can't wait to try again this weekend.


The advantages of not letting it double during the bulk ferment seem to be: 

It produces a milder sourdough, which is what I like.  No overt tang but full of flavour.

It is easier to shape.  No huge fermentation bubbles to shape around and the gluten hasn't started to degrade as it often can with very long bulk fermentations. 

I can't seem to find any disadvantages.  It certainly didn't compromise flavour but perhaps I did make up for it with the longish retard.  The only thing I wasn't satisfied with was the height of the loaf.  Even though the crumb was tender and full of the right sized holes, it slumped a little and didn't stand up as high and proud as my white sourdough boules usually do.  I can only attribute this to the 20 percent rye flour in the recipe.  (I have only very recently begun to work with rye and shaping it is a whole different ball game).  Perhaps I should have baked straight from the fridge as I always do.  I find baking from the fridge allows the dough to keep its shape better.  Perhaps I should have included some ascorbic acid or added an extra fold during bulk ferment. 


Anyway, that is my story and I was just wondering what everybody elses opinions on the bulk ferment were.  Is it at all necessary for the dough to double?  I always do with my yeasted loaves but I think that is necessary for flavour development and it doesn't seem to interfere with shaping.  Sourdough can be much more delicate, though (especially rye breads).  The length of the fermentation will also depend on the dough temp and the room temp where the bulk fermentation takes place.  But is there a guide as to how much the dough should increase in volume?  Would love to hear your thoughts/experiences.


Ford's picture

I believe that long fermentation of sourdough is detrimental to the structure of the bread.  The gluten hydrolyzes with long term contact with the acidic water.  Besides, sourdough does not need the long bulk fermentation to develop the flavor.   Much of the flavor has been developed in the mature starter itself.

In my opinion there is no wrong way to make the bread, as long as it suits the baker.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

or those using commercial yeast.

Sourdoughs vary and take normally longer so it isn't wise to degas when the loaf has finally reached "double."  I plan that the loaf will reach "double" after the oven spring.  So it should go into the oven before it "doubles." "Double" with a sourdough might imply... over proofed.

I judge a sourdough bulk rise by the gas content and it should slowly increase as time goes by.  The rising wheat dough should be interrupted with folds to strengthen the surface tension and one feels how the dough is getting springy and spongy inside as the dough gets softer and the outside skin gets tighter.  

At first the folds are easy.  The sourdough is getting a few folds and it starts to rise.  As time and folds progress, I feel and see the dough putting up a resistance and if pushed too far, it will tear.  I don't want it to tear.  (If I have tearing and little rising the dough is either too dry or the yeasts are too weak to raise the loaf before the enzymes break it down.  Then the starter needs work.)  I want to test the resistance and then stop.  I know I am close to my last fold when the dough feels this way and so I let the dough rest 10 minutes and do a final shape and keep a close eye on it.  When the dough passes a poke test and isn't quite doubled (doubled from the original dough size when mixed) I make a quick decision about slashing and bake the thing. 



CelesteU's picture

I agree w/Mini....I definitely don't allow it to double.  I let it go to about 20-30% increase, or three/four hours at 74-78 degrees (my usual ambient kitchen temp).  I try not to degas it very much when shaping, then it might increase another 25%--40% in size during the shaped rise.  But I always get serious oven spring this way......

G-man's picture

Hi there Syd,

I personally don't wait for my dough to double to shape it or to start baking, but that's because of the way my starter tends to behave when I have it on a good feeding schedule. See, once my starter starts displaying signs of action it tends to pick up steam pretty rapidly. Thus, once I notice that a dough is rising I have a limited amount of time before it needs to go in the oven or I risk overproofing. If this happens during the bulk ferment I'm in trouble, and I've lost otherwise good dough this way. Over time I've noticed that this behavior tends to correspond nicely with how long my oven takes to preheat when it has a pan full of water and a baking stone in it.

Because of how my starter behaves I always retard my bulk ferment in the refrigerator overnight or at least 6 hours. It never doubles during this time, usually just spreads out to fill the bottom of my proofing bucket. From there I let it sit on the counter for about an hour before I shape it.

StuartG's picture

I've read doubling is fine and read that only going to 75% is fine too.

I've had good results with both.  Just recently though, I've had some really good sourdough where I went over doubling (was a serendipitous accident where we were out shopping too long).

Having said that, I also have a vigourous starter which can bulk ferment double rise in a little over 2 hours.  Indoor temp is about 25C.

dabrownman's picture

For SD I don't usually let the dough double during fermentation on the counter even though yesterday I did and now wish I wouldn't have.  I would rather let it sit on the counter for an hour after S&F's finish and then do a 12 hour or more retard on it and let it finish its fermentation and doubling in the cold.  I think the sour comes out more the flavor of the bread is better but I go for sour too and like it.  I also don't like doing S&F's an hour after the initial mixing takes place and has rested.  So it is about 20 minutes of slap and folds, then an hour of S& F's every 15 minutes and then one hour of fermentation on the counter before hitting the fridge for me.  This is the norm for summers in Phoenix,  In winter, we let the dough sit on the counter for 2 hours before retarding

suave's picture

Doubling is a faulty concept in general - there are more doughs (and starters) that don't double then those that do.

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

Hi all. Happy Wednesday!

This is a great thread. As you can see or is about five years old. But most of the posters are still around. I'd be interested to hear if any of you bakers have modified your practice if you feel like sharing. 

There is so much information on this site I barely read anything else these days.  Thanks to all!


Jean -'s picture
Jean - Delightf...

I've been making most of my sourdough loaves these days as sandwich loaves in loaf tins because my husband prefers the regular shape for fitting into the toaster every morning. I make enough dough for two loaves and divide the dough equally into two containers for the bulk rise. I always let it double, but at this moment I'm experimenting by letting one of the loaves go to 2.5 times. If I prefer that loaf for any reason, I'll come back and let you know. 

mutantspace's picture

i think ive been bulk fermenting for too long.

I mix levain into dough then mix for 30 minutes. Then rest for 30 minutes. Then S and F every 30 minutes over 1st 2 hours and then leave to rest for 3.5 - 4.5 hours in a glass bowl in a microwave with steamed water so temperature is pretty constant at around 75F.

I wait until its full of bubbles and risen alot, then take it out preshape, leave for 20 minutes, shape and into banneton for proofing which is usually about 70 - 90 minutes. I do get oven spring, my crumb is irregular but could probably get better on both. What i have noticed is that my dough after bulk definitely deflates and there is no amount of light shaping i can do to prevent that (i use scraper for pre-shape and light envelope folding and pulling on dry counter to create surface tension on dough). My total bulk time from adding levain to preshape is over 6 - 7 hours.

Basically ive been letting it double in size as ive been looking at bubble count through glass bowl and gently pushing down on top of dough with wet hand to see if its billowy. When its like an air bed i take it out. 

Question is am i letting it go too long and as mini oven and dabrownman suggest should i take it out earlier and look to getting the dough to the 100% stage (that i basically have in bulk stage) by the baking stage.

I always thought a good rest after 4 x S and F to give the dough time to develop was a good idea now im thinking im better off doing more S and F (perhaps and hour apart after 4 initial 30 minutes ones ) until the dough is full of tension, is taut, and then take out and preshape and give it longer to bench rest before shaping and proofing. Am i correct. If i stopped bulking too early could i make up for it in a longer proof? Oh and i dont retard my dough i go for it in one day after making up a levain the night before and letting that ferment for 12 hours before adding to dough the following day. 

any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

If i stopped bulking too early could i make up for it in a longer proof?

Probably not.  Depends on what you want in a crumb.  Trying to make up for it usually results in a dense crumb with lots of big bubbles in the upper section of the loaf, often called the "baker's bedroom" if the bubbles are big enough.  If you feel large pockets of gas in the proofed loaf, it might be wise to deflate and count that rising as part of the bulk rise.  Then reshape and proof again.  

mutantspace's picture

my issue is really about the bulk length...i think ive been approaching it all wrong - ive been trying to get the dough to a maximum state of bubbles, which makes it very billowy and sometimes having gas bubbles on the surface of it (which i then release onto counter and preshape, shape and proof the result of which is a smaller ball of dough in a banneton)

i thought that the more bubbles (which i guess in turn means rise) i can get in bulk the better oven spring ill get. I always thought my issue lay in over proofing after shaping and so have been concentrating on that area of my bread making. With my last sourdough i dropped the bulk time from an average of 7.5 hours (from mix to preshape) to 6 hours and while the spring wasnt as high (probably due to a 45% wholegrain dough and a messy shaping) as the last bread the crumb was better...above is a starting to think i should reduce down again to 3.5 - 4 hours....

what do you think. flavour is right and the crumb is light but i think it could be much better....what do you think