The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Unpredictable Oven Spring Issues with Whole Grain Breads

jtziolkowski's picture

Unpredictable Oven Spring Issues with Whole Grain Breads

I am a home baker regular baking approximately 6+ loaves of whole grain breads per week.  I use Peter Reinhart's delayed fermentation method  exclusively and I am having issues with my oven spring...or lack there of.  It's totally unpredictable...I baked three anadama loaves last night and each of the two rises went as planned, yet when I put them into the oven...nothing.  The night before, however, I baked two loaves, both of which sprung nicely in the oven. In short, my oven spring has been consistently inconsistent and I do not know why. 

Here is some general information about the process:

Room temp in my house is usually right around 76 degrees

Soaker is kept at room temp for 10 - 12 hours

Biga refrigerated for approx. 10 hrs (two additional hours at room temperature to take the chill off before final dough mixing_

Use King Arthur whole wheat flour exclusively

My yeast is kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator and is only a month of two old

I use 9"x5" loaf pans

First rise usually lasts approximately 45 - 50 mins to achieve recommended rise of 1.5x's original volume

Final rise in the pan usually takes no longer than 50 mins until i press the dough with my finger and it slowly springs back (sometimes a hint of the indentation remains)

I do not use vital wheat gluten

I have noticed that when I make breads such as challah or brioche which include eggs and milk that the oven spring is usually significant

I have been baking for more than three years now with no formal training whatsoever.  In the past, a loaf here or there that did not spring was not the end of the world, however, I now have a number or people for whom I bake a loaf of bread per week and I cannot be giving out whole grain bricks!! Please help!

gama's picture

A well-sprung matrix of the crumb is mostly made by expansion of water vapor and the gas already produced by the yeast during fermentation / final proof, not the gas produced by the yeast once loaded into the oven (yeast activity is complete by 130 degrees but volume increases until 180 degrees).  So, due to this and the fact that you are evaluating your final proof with both volume and the finger spring test, you should be able to tell that your yeast is dead or activity is low before loading into the oven.  Your final proofs are usually about the same size/volume?

KA whole wheat flour is a known-quantity, nothing weird there of course.

My guess would be gluten development, hydration, final dough temp, or acidity.

Regarding gluten development and final dough temperature, do you mix based on time alone or do you do any kind of "window paning" to see how developed your final dough mix is?  Do you monitor the temperature of the final dough during / just after mixing?  This gets overlooked and makes a big difference in the elasticity of the dough.  If the final dough is sticky and hard to handle, it's likely been overdeveloped... which is pretty easy to do if the dough is too cold.  If your dough starts to release water during mixing (instead of incorporating it), then it's definitely overmixed.  In the other direction, do you do an autolyse of the flour in the final dough mix?  Do you withhold some of the flour for the final dough mixture until you know you need it?  If you don't have the hydration right, you might be able to tell by the dough being very elastic and not extensible (can you shape it easily?).  Dough that is too elastic will still be "springy" to the touch but will not allow enough expansion from the yeast to actually have a nice crumb.

Also, if the temperature of your household fridge is really low (below 40), acetic acid production is increased.  If this goes on long enough, the acidity that normally brings flavor to the bread can adversely affect yeast activity (no matter how much you use).

jtziolkowski's picture


First...thank you for taking the time to respond.  I know that numerous other people have posted similar threads in the past.  I have been caught up in my 3 year olds first real halloween and some pre-thanksgiving dinners with the in-laws.  

In any case...

As far as the yeast activity, my final proofs are about the same size and volume.  In addition, I have also tested my yeast to make sure it is alive and well by putting it in warm water with a pinch of foamed right up.  

When I read your info about gluten development and dough temperature, some light bulbs began to go off in my head.  For starters, I have gotten out of the habit of window paning...simply because I have been under the impression that if you are mixing whole wheat dough by hand (which I do exclusively) that it is almost impossible to overdeveloped the gluten.  As such I will knead for a minimum of 10 mins and sometimes when I am working with a triple batch, up to 15 minutes.  Looking back on my efforts however, I know that frequently the dough will "all of the sudden" transform from a nice springy elastic mass into something that becomes VERY STICKY and almost matter how much flour I add to it.  Naively, I will usually continue to knead thinking that some extra elbow grease will be the solution.   Sometimes too, I will be under a time crunch and will begin kneading the final dough before it has come to room those situations I will actually knead longer thinking that the kneading activity will bring it to the proper room temperature.  If what you say is true (and I don't doubt it for a second), then I have been overdeveloping the gluten which is sometimes compounded by the fact that I am working with pre-doughs that have not properly come to room temperature.  

The only time autolyse comes into play is for the predoughs...usually for anywhere from 8 to 10 hours.  As such, I do not autolyse the flour in the final dough.  Based on Reinhart's instructions, all of the hydration has been added to the soaker and biga doughs.  Once I am finished putting the final dough together, I will let it rest for 5 mins before kneading one more time and shaping it for the first rise.  Also to answer your question about adding flour during the final doughs...I only add flour as needed...I try to get the final dough to the proper hydration within the first five mins or so of the kneading process.

Another light bulb just went wonder I have not had the same oven spring issues with doughs that have a lot of enrichments (ie WW challah or WW cinnamon raisin bread) will take longer to develop the gluten in those type of doughs and if I am employing the same 10 minute timeframe, the gluten is not developing as quickly as it is in my doughs with far fewer enrichments???  Does that logic make sense?  Obviously the solution is to get back to my window paning roots.  


I have a loaf of Broom Bread (WW flour, oat bran, flax seed) on the rise as we speak.  it took my seven mins to achieve a good window which point I let it rest for five mins before final shaping and panning.  I will keep you posted on the outcome.

Thank you again for your insight.  You have caused me to take a more thorough look at my processes which I definitely feel good about...





Nickisafoodie's picture
  1. your house is warm at 76 degrees and thus yeast ferments fast.  Try 8 hours on your soaker rather than 10-12
  2. biga at 8-10 hours is fine
  3. take dough out of fridge when you turn on your oven to preheat - so dough is only out 45 min to 1 hour before going in the oven.  much has been written on how you can go direct from fridge to over without adverse effects (see Hamelman "Bread").  leaving it out for 45-60 min is fun, but 2 hours is likely allowing overproofing, especially if you are already 10 hours in fridge.

Thus methinks your issues are driven by overproofing and thus no spring, or inconsistent results.  shorten it up and see what happens...

Good luck!!

jtziolkowski's picture
jtziolkowski are right.  Overproofing/overdevelopment of the gluten I believe are the culprits.  I have spent some time analyzing the process an I am hoping that with some small adjustments that I can get back to some consistent results.

Thanks again.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

would improve your results taming the enzyme activity.  Do you put the salt in the soakers?  If not, try it. 

nicodvb's picture

As for eggs I can tell you what I was tought: the emulsifiers (lecithin) present in the yolks make the dough more extensible and cause a superior oven spring. The more eggs the more rise. Try the same sweet dough with and without a couple of eggs and you'll see :-)

Once I made a brioche with 8 yolks and it more than quadrupled in the oven.