The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Beginner Questions about proofing, loaf size and the "shape" of oven spring

Quigley's picture

Beginner Questions about proofing, loaf size and the "shape" of oven spring

Hello everybody.  I’m new to the world of making (not eating!) sourdough bread, having only baked it three times, and have been reading through this site and various other internet blogs, websites, and videos to try and learn as much as possible.  After receiving Tartine Bread for Christmas, I started my own starter, and subsequently started a second one a week later using the pineapple juice method as described here by Debra Wink.  I admittedly have never seen someone else’s starter, and am still unsure of what exactly the sights and smells are supposed to be, but 3 bakes and 58 days later, I think I know enough to be dangerous and ask questions!  Forgive me while I stumble over how in the world to ask you the right thing! 

Does anybody have any insight into how much the diameter of a given loaf can impact the shape of the oven spring?  The first time I baked (4 weeks ago), I failed miserably at transferring the round to the dutch oven but the loaf still rose and came out baked nicely.  The second round was transferred beautifully (don’t even talk to me about scoring right now) and came out nice and round with a lovely even rise and dome shape.  This first time, I also did a poor job of sizing the loaves equally, and the second loaf was probably only 8.5 inches in diameter where the rest have been over 10.  Ever since (3 weeks ago and last week), the dough still gets a nice rise, and good hole structure, but the rounds have a much more linear fall from the central peak to the edge, instead of being a full-figured dome shape, I’d describe them as more “conical”.   

A factor of the baking that I’ve noticed the last two times was the tendency for the dough to get extremely relaxed during the rest period, and spread out quite a bit in the pan upon transferring.  When this happened the first time, I thought that my shaping was to blame, and also considered that I had let the bread ferment 2 hours longer, and rest an hour longer in the name of flavor development, which may have caused over-proofing?  The second loaf was even more relaxed and “oozy” than the first, but both still rose on the oven, albeit their diameters were quite large, and the rise didn’t seem as dramatic as the first time.

The third time, I cut the fermentation back to the original amount of time, the final rise by 1.5 hours, and I seemed to still notice a pretty significant relaxation of the dough prior to baking.  I invested much care and attention to shaping this time around, and think I did a good job of that, so my initial perception was that I may still be proofing for too long.  These loaves rose very well, had a nice round shape, but exhibited the same sort of triangular peaking that I’d seen before after the relaxation upon transferring the dough.

Whew, I am really rambling here, and the more I put it into words, it sounds like I’m just letting the dough over-proof, but as I don’t know enough to tell before, and am only speculating I am still a little curious about how I managed to get such a nice shape the first time, and am seeing the conical shape now. 

I’ve seen vague mentions online that the fermentation and proofing times are drastically overestimated in the Tartine book, so if that’s the case, confirmation, and maybe some insight would be nice to bolster my confidence and assist in my planning for next time!

Please let me know if there’s more information that I need to provide to help people understand what I’m trying to say and thank you for your help!  Matt

cranbo's picture

Final shape & "ooziness" of any bread has to do with many factors including:

  • the hydration of the final dough
  • the type of flour
  • amount of pre-ferment (sourdough, starter, etc) in the final dough
  • baking container and dough volume
  • shaping technique 

Hydration is pretty obvious: wet means more oozy. Hydration is also influenced by ambient humidity. 

Different flours absorb water at different rates. Don't know what flour you are using but flour brand (e.g., King Arthur, Central Milling, General Mills, etc) and brand (all-purpose, Bread Flour, etc). does make a significant difference in shaping.

More pre-ferment in your final dough means ooziness is more likely. The longer sourdough ferments, the wetter/more oozy it becomes. 

Your baking pan and the amount of dough in your recipe make a difference. If your loaves are too flat, you may need to increase amount of dough you use in your baking pan (dutch oven, etc). Too big a pan will cause your dough to potentially spread out more, especially when it's wet. 

Getting a tight skin on the outside of the finished dough before final proofing is key to good shape when baking. 

Welcome to TFL and hope this helps!


Quigley's picture

Thank you for your reply.  I have a couple of clarifications to make, and follow-up questions to some of the things you mentioned.

To clarify, I believe the hydration is around 77%.  100g of evenly mixed King Arthur Bread and King Arthur Whole Wheat go into the leaven the night before, along with 100g of water and about a tablespoon of starter.  The dough is made in the morning with 750 grams of water (I have been adding 50 of it with the salt after a 1 hour autolyse), 900 grams of King Arthur Bread and 100 grams of King Arthur Whole Wheat.  This means there is 200 grams of leaven (preferment?) in the final dough.  

My first follow-up question is, based on descriptions in the book, the leaven should raise about 20% overnight, but I see much more than that in the 12 or so hours between when I make it and when it is used in the morning, probably more like 100%.  How does the maturity of the leaven affect the development, proofing, and fermenting of the final dough?  If I am going to wait 12 hours, do I need to use less starter?  If I am going to use the current recipe, do I need to build the dough closer to the creation of leaven?

The dutch oven is the Lodge combo cooker that the book calls for.  I'm a sucker for instructions sometimes.  I think it's a 10-1/4" diameter.  I havent tried to bake without it, but I do get a bunch of steam out of it when I take the lid off after about 25 minutes.

Does that mean I should be going for a 10-1/4" loaf?  Do I want or need a gap around the edge of the loaf when baking?

The shaping technique I use is to do a stretch from all 4 sides folded into the middle on a cutting board followed by flipping it over and doing a sort of rolling and pulling motion to stretch the skin on top as I pull the dough towards me  few times.  I don't really know what it's called, but I see people doing it in videos, and I try to mimic!

Oh, one last question.  You mentioned ambient humidty can have an impact on hydration.  The first (and best) result I got occured on a rainy day.  Logic would tell me that a rainy day would increase the hydration of a dough, is that correct?

Thanks again for your reply!  Matt

cranbo's picture

The speed of your leaven is related to how active your culture is and your ambient air temps. If your leaven is growing too fast, you can slow it down somewhat by keeping it in a cooler place, or just letting less time elapse between when you make the leaven and when you bake. So yes, if you wait 12 hours, you may want to use less starter. Maturity of leaven affects mostly fermentation times, but also affects flavor somewhat. 

Having more dough for your boule shape may be appropriate if you want it to spread less for your dutch oven. Can't really help you there, maybe experiment scaling your recipe up slightly. You are making 1 or 2 loaves with those Tartine quantities? The original recipe is scaled for 2 loaves.

Yes, humidity will increase dough hydration. In very humid weather, you may want to scale back the amount of water you use.