The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bulk fermentation

bobku's picture

Bulk fermentation

I think I can tell when my bulf fermentation is done I'm learning how the dough should look and feel, but how can I tell if I have gone to far, it seems that there is a long time frame between dough being complete to over fermentation. Is this the case, for the most part if bulk fermentation is done and I let the dough go for another hour or so am I still in an acceptible range where the dough will be ok? Am I good as long as proofing goes ok?    

PastryPaul's picture

Most formulae offer a time for bulk fermentation, but that time is highly dependant on many factors (ambiant temperature, ambient humidity, etc etc), so it's best used as a guideline only. Most recipes also say something like "or until it doubles." Here are a couple of tricks to help.

Trick 1: If fermenting in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and draw a circle to indicate the size of the dough before fermentation. It will be pretty easy to see when it has doubled.

Trick 2: Use a frementing bucket, a big plastic measuring cup, or a big plastic container. Make sure it is  translucent at least, transparent is better, and large enough to hold the dough after fermentation. If you have 4 cups of unfermented dough, get a 12 cup container. If it has graduations like a measuring cup, great, otherwise mark them up yourself. If it doesn't have a lid, use a shower cap (plastic wrap doesn't stick well to plastic).

With your "fermenting bucket" it will be an easy thing to check for adequate rise. A quick glance will tell you all you need to know.

A last little note which will probably earn me some flack... Primary fermentation is not as finicky as final. If you go a little overboard, you will not destroy your bread. I once got stuck away from home while primary fermentation was going on. My 3-hour fermentation to double became a 5-hour fermentation to nearly triple. The final result, while somewhat different, was in no way bad.

In a professional environment, where product consistency is crucial, dramatic over fermentaion will require steps. For home baking, just enjoy the process, and munch down on the results.



bobku's picture

If I am folding every hour or so, can I still use doubling as a guide, just handle dough gently not to degass to much?

richkaimd's picture

I purchased my fermenting bucket at a reasonable price at a restaurant supply house. 

The bulk rise should meet the volume increase suggested in the recipe.  Make sure you know where your rise started and consider it done when it's met the recipe's requirement, regardless of whatever you did between start to stop (stretching and folding, watching TV, whatever.)  The rising process is intended to mature the gluten while the yeast does its gas formation.

ehanner's picture


Good replies above but I would add this. If you ferment in a good temperature range, say 74F-78F the yeast activity will be consistent with the temperature. You should ferment in a container that you can see through and observe the gas bubbles growing. The volume expansion will be aided by proper gluten development and the flour type (course or fine, whole grain or not) so volume isn't always a reliable indicator of fermentation progress. Watch for 1/4 inch or larger bubbles on the side of the bucket. At first the bubbles will be small and few. At every successive fold the bubbles grow faster and larger, telling you the yeast is getting in gear and performing. This is true of instant or sourdough yeast. If you control the temperature, first with water temp and then hold the ambient temperature during ferment and proof, your results will be consistant.

When the bulk ferment goes to far for any reason, the dough will become slack and sticky. There is no fix for this. This can occur from leaving the dough to long OR because the dough has been fermented at too warm a temperature. The microbiology is very sensitive to climate. The visual clue is when the dome on the top of the dough falls in on itself.

On occasion people who knead in a food processor over work the dough and end up in the same boat. There is no more sticky mess of hard to clean up dough than dough that has "Gone to rags" is the term. White vinegar breaks it slightly and helps in clean up. Voice of experience here, lol.