The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Poke test for cold dough?

Litebrite's picture

Poke test for cold dough?

Is the poke test as reliable for cold doughs as it is for room temperature doughs? Or maybe a better question to ask is whether the response you look for during the poke test is different for cold doughs vs. room temperature doughs?

Most of the time, I cold retard dough during the bulk fermentation stage, but if shaped loaves are cold retarded, what is a reliable indicator of proper proofing before baking?

Yerffej's picture

Good question and the answer is not so easy.  Experience is your best guide here, that is, knowing that when you put a particular dough in the refrigerator, when it is at a particular stage of fermentation, that it will be ready to bake at a particular time.  Poking cold dough does work, sort of, as an indicator but the dough is stiff and sluggish and the response to poking is quite muted.  I found that the best solution was to simply "know" that after a given amount of time the dough would be ready and I go directly from the refrigerator to the oven. Or if this cannot be known, take the loaves out and poke test them after they have warmed for an hour or so.


breaducation's picture

I have found the poke test to not be too useful for shaped retarded doughs. A cold dough is a lot stiffer as you probably know and it effects the feel on the poke test significantly.

Judging the bulk fermentation here is very crucial. I've found that if you gauge your bulk fermentation right the dough will be perfect the next morning and can go directly from the fridge to the oven. This is actually the prefered method. If you have to let your dough proof the next morning the results are never as good as going directly from the fridge. There are a couple reasons for this. A cold dough is a stiffer dough and as a result it can hold more gas and gain more volume than one at room temperature. But for this to be an advantage it has to be coming out of the fridge fully proofed.

The other advantage of baking from a cold state is that scoring the stiff dough is significantly easier. In fact, a little trick you can use on any dough, even straight doughs, is to put the dough in the fridge when it is nearing ideal proofing stage to cool it down and stiffen it up. This will allow the baker to get much cleaner ears on their scores.

So how do you judge a perfect bulk when retarding shaped? This is pretty tricky. It requires knowing your dough and your fridge pretty well. You have to find out how much proofing is going to happen while the dough is in the fridge. If your fridge is a little on the warmer side then you will not want quite as active of a dough going in. If your fridge is very cold, near freezing, then you want the dough to be very active going in. I could give you exact temperatures and times for retarding but I think that relying on them would be near useless. You are going to have to do some experimentation in order to really nail it.

My fridge is very cold so my ideal bulk divide point is a dough that is very gassy. By the time it is shaped in the baskets it looks almost like a fully proofed bread. I allow it to get to this state because I know my fridge is going to stop dead in its tracks nearly all fermentation. The result is a great bread with a great crumb. See walnut loaf below.

claudiobr's picture

Your loaf looks incredible! Do you cover your proofing baskets (ex: with a humid towel) or just leave them uncovered in the fridge?

breaducation's picture

Thanks! I usually keep my baskets in plastic bags. If the bread is going to be sitting for 12 hours in the fridge you want it well protected or else it can get very dried out.

Sondelys's picture

  « I could give you exact temperatures and times for retarding but I think that relying on them would be near ... » I would sure appreciate if you could do so . Lease

I would also be grateful if someone could know where I could find informations about characteristics of under fermented dough / over fermented dough in first the bulk fermentation process ( before shaping )  , then ,the signs of over/underproofed (post shaping ) ... what are the clues that never fail ! Thanks

Litebrite's picture

Thank you for your responses.  I think I will try baking straight out of the fridge next time rather than letting the dough proof after cold retardation (although it is much easier to find space to store a lump of dough in the fridge than it is shaped loaves).  It was really helpful to hear that the dough feels fully proofed at the end of the bulk fermentation stage.  I nearly never let the dough get to this stage during bulk fermentation because I am afraid the yeast will run out of juice during the final proof.  I think it is also implicit in this method that the dough is handled very gently after the bulk ferment?


breaducation's picture

I wouldn't go for the fully proofed state on your first try unless you are sure your fridge is really cold. I would shoot for a fairly gassy dough but one that feels like it still has some good strength left and potential left. You definitely want some air in it though. And yes you should handle the dough very delicately at this point.

wally's picture

This is tricky.  Forget the poke test, the dough is cold and isn't going to respond.  My advice is to look for the proof characteristics you find on non-cold proofed breads.  So, you're looking for a certain size increase over a just-shaped loaf; you're also looking at the seams (if you proof seam-side up) to be stressing to the same degree they do with a fully room temp proofed loaf.

It's a lot easier to do bulk proofing in terms of overcoming this problem.  Nonetheless, if you've done enough proofing at room temp you can transfer that knowledge to retarding shaped loaves overnight.

Good luck!


Vishnut's picture

Yep, I agree with wally, the poke test is completely useless on cold doughs and most likely will help you achieve nothing more than an underproofed loaf! I like to check for "hollowness" or presence of air by lightly rapping my fingers on the top of the dough and listening for a dull thump, much like you check for doneness after a loaf is baked.