The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bulk fermentation and proofing

bobku's picture

Bulk fermentation and proofing

I finally have been getting some decent loaves thanks to everyone advice. I have been bulk fermenting in a clear bowl  (best advice I ever recieved and would recommend for every beginner) and not keeping track of time at all  just going by the amount and size of holes in the dough viewed thorugh the bottom of the bowl. Can anyone tell me what the effect and signs of over fermented dough would be. If an experienced baker would judge the dough to be done fermenting after roughly 3.5 hours and I let the dough ferment for about 6 hours what would be the probable results. Could they both still proof correctly and pass the poke test and turn out fine, what would be the subtle differences if any

dwcoleman's picture

Fallen dough would be the first sign of overfermentation for me.  An effect to the dough could be less/no oven spring when baked due to lack of CO2 trapped in the dough.  Also depending on fermentation times you could end up with a sweet bread that's not so sweet for instance..  

This is mentioned in ITJB by Norm where they would use one sweet dough for multiple breads.  A 1h fermentation would make a sweet loaf, 2h would make a slightly less sweet loaf, 4h could make a plain loaf.  I haven't had a chance to test this myself so that I can use this method.

bobku's picture

It seems that there is a large time window for fermentation and as long as it is not under fermented there is a lot a leeway on the other end mostly effecting flavor but still producing an acceptable loaf. So I guess for the beginner it would better to error on the side of slight over fermenting as long as it passes poke test bread should be ok. Just trying to get a handle on all this, I know experience will answer most of my questions. Ultimately the dough will dictate the timing

Doc.Dough's picture

Unless you add sugar to the dough, there is only about 10% total sugar (dry flour weight basis) after the dough is hydrated and the amylase enzymes get done doing their thing on the damaged starch. If you are using a yeast that can metabolize many different types of sugar it is possible to use them all (I am under the impression that yeasts which can use more than one type of sugar start with their "favorite" and work down the hierarchy until they can't use what is left).  In a San Francisco sourdough the lactobacillus consumes only maltose (~8%) and the yeast consumes only glucose and various glucofructans which make up only about 2.5% of the dry flour weight.  The yeast population is growing at an exponential rate during both bulk fermentation and proofing.  When the sugar runs out the yeast stop replicating (in a sourdough the LAB stops replicating when the pH gets down to about 3.8 but continues to consume maltose, leak glucose, and make acid down to ~pH 3.6).  If you are not ready for the oven when that happens it is too late.  Even if you are ready, but the gluten has degraded to the point where it won't hold CO2 any more, the loaf will still collapse in the oven.  Sourdough is perhaps a little more forgiving since the LAB does throw off a little glucose which the yeast can use, even late in the game.

Davo's picture

The thing between bulk fermentation and the proof phase is the loaf shaping (and scaling, if you are making multiple loaves.

If your bulk fermentation proceeds until there is little food left, when you shape the loaf it will deflate a bit, and further proofing won't have enough food to help with rise. Also, if it's over fermented, the dough will be runny/oozy and won;t take the degree of stretching that you give it during shaping - you'll get no tension in it.

Personally I go opposite to comments above - so long as I have put in plenty of french folds and Stretch and folds and got good gluten development, I don't really care if the bulk feremented dough has doubled - I'd rather it under than over fermented, because I can still work with it. What is more critical to me is that at the point the proof is over and I bake it, it's appropriately ripe. I mostly retard shaped loaves for about 22 hours (to fit baking into a working week), which is another reason not to let the bulk ferment go too long - it can mean that you pull sloppy loaves from the fridge. You can always delay the bake and warm them up for an extra hour, but you can't make it go backwards! There is no curious case of redeeming overproofed loaves...