The Fresh Loaf

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Final Sourdough proofing and size

Syd-a's picture

Final Sourdough proofing and size

So, as I scientist I am always experimenting in theory then embark on the big experiment. So I am considering taking half of my planned sourdough bread tomorrow to make 1 boule and then a lot of smaller (80g) rolls.

The dough goes through the same process of course, but will just take half of it at the final shaping stage  (see below) and divide into smaller balls. Big question: Is the proofing time the same irrespective of size? Will the dough proof quicker in smaller balls?

Thanks for all help as usual


1. Mix together all ingredients.

2. Leave 10 min

3. Knead 15 sec

4. Leave 10 min

5. Knead 15 sec

6. Leave 30 min

7. Knead 15 sec

8. Leave 1 hour

9. Knead 15 sec

10. Leave 1 hour

11. Knead 15 sec

12. Leave 2 hours

13. Divide dough into 2 or 3 pieces

14. Leave 15 min

15. Shape dough 

16. Leave about 4 hours

17. Bake


Cob's picture

With yeasted dough, smaller batches of dough rise quicker as you'll know, due to mass with less dough to aerate. SD should not be any different. With my small dinner rolls (80-100g), final proof is a third (20 mins at least at ambient temp) that of a 1lb loaf until 1.75x.

I cannot see how 80g rolls will take as long as one large 1lb loaf, I'd cut the time by over a half in the same conditions, and watch it from there. Let us know how you go because I'd be really interested to see if it was any different. Were it more convenient (time-efficient) to cut rolls, I'd make pure SD more often!



MisterTT's picture

you need to make a big batch dough for it. Separate batches won't do.

Shape 5 rolls 80 g each, 5 rolls 160 g each and say 5 small loaves 300 g each. You have to shape them very quickly, or get someone to help you. Proof them in the same conditions and - here's the catch - wait until they are overproofed, since it is really the only objective test.

If your theory is correct than the time it takes for the shaped rolls or bread to overproof will be a function of the mass of the aforementioned breads. I do not expect the relationship to be linear. Since most bacterial populations increase in numbers exponentially, you would probably be looking at an exponential curve if you plot mass against overproof time.

Could you get away with fewer rolls, so you don't need to make so much dough just to overproof it? Sure, probably, but that might not turn out to be that objective. Dough pieces of the same mass will still not proof at exactly the same rate, so you will need to watch each roll or loaf individually and take the mean time of overproofing.

Good luck if you try it :)

Syd-a's picture

Thanks Cob and MisterTT 

Some really smart thoughts. I believed they could/should proof quicker after shaping, but as I have never done it i was unsure what might happen. I am also still very much learning sourdough and proofing, when it is under or over proofed.

The final proof after shaping is 4h and that worked quite well last time. That was with a dough of 500g. So theory dictates about 1h 20min for proofing smaller rolls with the same dough. The plan is to only separate the dough at the final proofing and shaping stage as per my protocol below. This is the Dan Lepard way and is a different way to many I believe with very short kneads and longer proofs at room temperature only.

I am looking forward to doing this tomorrow and I hope something can be learnt from this. I love the idea of smaller crusty SD rolls that can be frozen and taken out easily for soups and luxurious sandwiches. 


MisterTT's picture

I think that theory does not dictate such a short proofing time even for small rolls. The key thing to understand here is that the relationship of proofing time and dough mass is not linear! Even if was linear, there's no way to find the coefficients of this relationship without a good deal of data. I think that the relationship between mass and proofing time should be exponential in nature, because the yeasts release gas while consuming food and multiplying, and bacterial populations do tend to increase exponentially if abundant food is available.

However, it's probably smarter to underestimate, as you've done. If they don't proof that quick you can always proof some more.

Syd-a's picture

Thanks MisterTT

I will just see tomorrow what happens, very exciting I have to say.

Thanks once again for your help


Cob's picture

If we knew the speed of fermentation, we could calculate final rise times, but it's not as logical as that because after each successive period, yeasts will have multiplied and with each successive period, a new generation will be borne, at what rate we could not be exact. I'm sure those scientists are still working on that and keeping it top secret. As one will note, aeration speeds up with time and not at the offset: explanatory.

As for wild yeasts, one is sure it's even more complex.


It's never, as you will have noticed working with baker's yeast, as simple a formula as per X gram of dough needs Y mins resting because you cannot know rate of yeast regeneration.

A single yeast cell can and will regenerate and multiply to lift dough. (Not in good time, perhaps!) But, in what time, well, that comes with experience. That's why it never bothers me freezing fresh yeast, even if some has died off, as long as there is some life in there, it will multiply and aerate my dough. :)

So, how has it gone?

MisterTT's picture

is pretty trivial to determine. I can assure you that no scientists are sitting on such a "discovery". When I was in my third year of applied math studies, we had a class called mathematical models in which bacterial population multiplication models were studied and, frankly, they are very simple - you just take a logistic model, use the temperature, acidity, food levels as parameters, measure the initial condition - how many yeast cells are there at the onset of fermentation - and you can determine with good accuracy how many yeast cells will there be at an arbitrary moment of time.

This is the pure theoretic approach, of course, and it is not always ideal (if you want to work out the problems, see here under section "fermentation").

More applied-math style modelling can be used to have a more adaptable model. For example, see these articles:

phaz's picture

pretty sure growth rates can be determined, and have been. probably not exact, but very very close. but that's when grown in a highly controlled environment. considering the amount of variation in the food source alone, different flours, even different batches we home bakers may use, very close turns out to be more like somewhere in the ballpark. the small roll proofing comparison, I once split my dough in half to make a small loaf and a couple small baguettes. half was the loaf, split the other half for the 2 baguettes. I though the baguettes went a little quicker, but not by much over the 8 hrs or so I left them, less than an hour, and that's what I thought, no measurements at the time to prove anything. different environment may have different results. I guess the important thing is to keep an eye on things and catch them when they are ready.

Cob's picture

Well, no that's the point. It's not exact, though rough times can gauged.

Luckily with sourdough there's no urgency. Breezy baking.

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

Andy... as a scientist...

How do you compare proofing times for large/small dough mass?

What is the metric by which you determine that a particular dough is "proofed" so that you can compare proof times for large/small dough masses?

If it's by volume. How do you determine volume? It's not trivial to determine the volume of a shaped piece of dough.

If it's by volume, are you using "doubling" as the threshold for measurement of proof time?

I'm curious about your experiments. Let us know what you find.


MisterTT's picture

The most objective way of doing it is to overproof the dough, because it is the most obvious state that it could be in. If you'd want to gauge expansion by volume you're going to have problems just because of the non-uniform density which renders volume very difficult to interpret.

However, you could probably use a tall container of a simple shape (say, a cylinder) and measure how many times has the dough expanded at one time or another.

But gauging when the dough is "fully proofed", that is ready for baking is, in my opinion, impossible to do objectively. Each person will see the "perfect" moment at a different, and even if it off by mere minutes you'll have a dilemma - which moment is the true one?

Cob's picture

Maths is not my strong point but I'll give it a read. Something for the morning perhaps with an espresso!

Gauging volume is always difficult when loaf has been shaped outside a tin/vessel. There are better non-visual indicators. But rough timings are important for new bakers who do not now what to look for, let alone understand why something.

Experience is a baker's best bet. And a dash of daring, frankly.