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A Beginner's Question!

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ngolovin's picture
ngolovin

A Beginner's Question!

I am back into baking bread after a 20 year break (kids!).  I read the books and they talk about a fermentation step and a proofing step.  Except for the shaping, is there really a difference.  In both cases the dough is rising.  Am I being too simplistic in the way I look at this?  This is more for my understanding than for the actual bread making (though it is alway good to better understand what you are doint!).  Thanks, in advance, for any replies.

proth5's picture
proth5

Well, that's the thing.  Shaped or not.  Bulk ferment or "proof"?

The fermentation step is what gives bread its flavor (and also some of its structure) and it wants to be fairly long and slow.  During this long, slow step the dough will relax quite a bit.  You can see this yourself.  Take a freshly mixed dough - form it into a ball - put it in a large bowl (cover) and let it ferment for a couple of hours.  Certainly it gets larger - but you will notice it does not hold its shape very well.  It will go soft.

We even go so far as to lengthen this bulk ferment by folding (formerly known as "punching down") our dough to equalize temperature, de gas, and redistribute the food for the yeast.

Then we divide (if making multiple loaves from one mix) and shape.  We would very much like the dough to retain this shape.  Yes, we let the dough rise - but not to the same extent that we would in a bulk ferment.  We do not want it relaxed and flabby.  We want to get it in the oven where the heat of the oven will cause the yeast to give one last growth push before dying.

So, can one simply mix/shape/proof and bake?  Certainly.  Mix the dough very thoroughly so that you have destroyed the carotenoid pigments and fully developed the gluten and you have eliminated most of the need for the bulk ferment.  Then shape it, proof it, bake it.  There are certain tradeoffs involved in this process (like flavor and texture) but it can be done.

Probably a longer explanation than you wanted, but I hope it helps.

Happy Baking!

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

I sort of think of bulk fermentation as a mis en place-like process. During this phase we encourage the bugs to multiply by giving them time, and by moving the dough to keep an even temperature and food source for them. We remove the gas they make, as at this stage we don't need it, but their other by-products are all the while adding flavour to the dough. During this time the gluten is also developing further, encouraged by the occasional folds. Once the dough is ready to hold shape, it is as though we have everything lined up to go. So then we divide, pre-shape and then shape the dough, forming a good sheath on the outside. Then, without further disturbance, we let the bugs go to to it, creating gas to puff up the extendable dough 'balloon', the stage we call proofing.

Have you seen David's shaping tutorial?

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/19346/shaping-boule-tutorial-pictures

Cheers, Robyn

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Apologies to the Brothers Grimm...

Depending on the style of bread, there may be one or two or three fermentations/risings. Too few fermentations, and there won't be a reasonable distribution of hole sizes (some too big, others too small). Too many fermentations, and the yeastie-beasties will run out of food to eat. Experience suggests two fermentations is a pretty good compromise that will almost always work, so that's what most procedures call for.

Whether there's one or two or three fermentations, the last one is generally called "proofing". (I don't know of any good reason why this is so, except it's "customary":-) And as shaping disturbs the gas bubbles, shaping needs to be done before the last fermentation.

So custom and experience suggest most breads should be fermented twice, and shaping should occur in between the two fermentations. While we have the name "proofing" for the last/second fermentation, it would be nice if the first fermentation had a simple/memorable name too: since at this point the dough is still all in one big lump rather than divided into pieces for individual loaves, a good name for this other fermentation might be  "bulk rise".

And they all lived happily ever after...

My experience is bread baking terminology is maddeningly inconsistent. If many recipes talk about  "bulk rise" and "proofing", and call both of them "fermentations", that's as good as it will ever get. The squishy terminology is just life; trying to "solve" it probably won't do more than give you a bad headache.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Haven't seen it put into better words - anywhere. 

ngolovin's picture
ngolovin

If it seems I am putting words in someone's "mouth", forgive me. 

To summarize what I am getting from this thread...Kneading starts the gluten network getting established and the first rise (ferment, bulk rise, whatever) is to continue the gluten network development and get our single celled friends woken up.  The second rise (proof, ferment, again, what ever you want to call it) is done after making use of the now stable gluten network by holding the shape the baker gives the dough and to get more texture development.  This is more to get the even distribution of the gas bubbles.  Am I getting this right?

Thanks to all.  I appreciate the education.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

For me, the purpose for and separation of the "bulk rise" and the "proofing" aren't as clear-cut as that. To me it's more a matter of just "dough needs two fermentation/rising periods"  ...and the uses of the two periods overlap a whole lot. Maybe you're trying "too hard" to "make sense" -- providing "reasons" for what's really little more than "coincidences".

Yeast is generally fully woken up before bulk rise even begins (especially if there's an "autolyse" period too, or if you dissolve the yeast in warm water before using it [per "active dry yeast"]).

Also, I attribute the texture development and even distribution of gas bubbles more to the de-gassing between the fermentation/rising periods than to the proofing itself.

 

This is only one person's opinion of course:-)

 

ngolovin's picture
ngolovin

Needing to find a reason for everything is just the Chemist in me coming out!  Thanks for your very instructive response.  I baked a very successful bread this weekend, using everyone's advice.  It must have been good, since it was demolished by my family before I could get the camera! 

 

Maverick's picture
Maverick

Just out of curiosity, what would you call the period after the pre-shape? Is that fermentation or just a rest? I know some fermentation is taking place, but I just wonder what you would deam the common terminology. My brain seems to have forgotten if there was a specific term for that. I guess I should get my old books out again.

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

It is both. Fermentation continues (the continuum starts with prefermentation and ends when heat kills the yeast) and the dough rests during which time it relaxes and can therefore be shaped into loaves without being elastic. Generally referred to as bench rest or bench time.

Maverick's picture
Maverick

Bench rest... that's it. I don't know why the term escaped me. It was bugging me earlier that I couldn't think of the term. Thank you very much.