The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Timing of bulk fermentation, shaping and final proofing

dsadowsk's picture

Timing of bulk fermentation, shaping and final proofing

Your standard recipe calls for shaping when the dough has risen to approx. twice its size during bulk fermentation (more or less depending on the recipe) and then perhaps an hour of final proof, usually ended according to the poke test.

If you were to look at this as a single extended fermentation, interrupted somewhere along the line by shaping, it raises the question why shaping is placed where it is. Could shaping be done earlier, with a longer final proof, or later, with a shorter proof? What are the tradeoffs made either way? Is it the redistribution of food for the yeasties that dictates when shaping is done? Are there recipes that manipulate when shaping is done in order to achieve a particular result?

If I happen to shape a particular dough too early or too late, I generally figure that I can make up for it on the other side by shortening or lengthening the final proof, so long as I don't underproof or overproof the dough. I simply proof until the poke test tells me to stop. Am I living in a doughy dreamland, risking dire consequences for my loaves if I don't shape when the dough is exactly doubled?

I'd be interested in the perspectives of all you knowledgeable folks.

richkaimd's picture

Years of baking suggests to me that there's a lot of leeway in the rising/fermentation process.  I wish I knew more about gluten development on the chemical level.  I think that's where your answer lies.  I don't have my Bread Science here with me.  It might help.  I hope someone else can make some scientific sense of your good question.

Bakingmadtoo's picture

This is a question I would love an answer to. I hope someone knows. I have been wondering about this lately. There are a few recipes I would like to try that call for a long bulk ferment and shorter final rise, I would rather work the other way, as I like to bake first thing in the morning, when my electric is much cheaper. I would like to know what difference would be made if the total rising times are the same over all?

adri's picture

There are a lot of recipes with no bulk fermentation at all. (german style sponge, yeast biga, IDY directly in dough (My mother uses this for some cake like pastry))

In German style Sourdough we create a sponge that might have up to a third of the flour in it that we ferment entirely (18 hours). The "bulk" fermentation then is more or less the time the dough is in the mixer, maybe 10 minutes more.
It creates a quite sour/tangy flavour, even when done with spelt or wheat. At the end of the sponge fermentation, the MOs start to starve.

For this year's New Year's Eve party I made my baguettes with up to 14 hours of warm bulk fermentation (I just used 8g/1ts starter for 3 baguettes). Even tough I used rye starter for my wheat baguettes they came out mild but with a fruity taste. I guess it is because 1st it was a warm rise and 2nd the MOs always had enough to eat.

Happy New Year; my guests are coming every minute :p

dabrownman's picture

hard and fast rules when it comes to bread making.  I have made all kinds of SD or YW breads either shaping after bulk ferment and before retarding, or shaping them after retarding.  Or shaped them before or after retarding with no bulk ferment at all.   They all seem to work just fine so long as the yeast and Lab have something to eat for as long as necessary before baking.  I do things differently depending on the time of year.

In the AZ summer with the kitchen at 84 F - no bulk fermenting is required before retarding regardless of when the dough is shaped - before or after.  In the winter, with kitchen temperatures of 64 F,  I might let the dough either bulk ferment or ferment in the basket shaped for an hour and half before retarding. 

It all seems to work out fine in the end.

Xenophon's picture

I've also been wondering about this.  Don't pretend to have any clearcut answer but I noticed the following:

When basically mixing the dough, then letting it rest for 20 minutes, kneading it and final shaping followed by letting it proof for an extended period of time:

- This works better with sourdough culture than when using normal (instant) yeast.

- Better final result (crumb structure) with high proportion rye doughs, presumably because there's little gluten there to develop anyway and stretching/folding (which is not done) has less impact.

- Better results if you don't push hydration to the upper limits, else the loaf will end up flattening out or you have to bake in a tin.

- You need to really watch that the outer surface doesn't dry out here, I usually apply a bit of oil and cover with plastic film.

With rye the couple of attempts I've made the results were good, with whole wheat or white flour things worked well but the crumb structure was less homogenous (irregular holes) and the bottom tended to be denser than the middle/top.  Presumably this is due to the absence of stretching/folding which not only reinforces gluten structure but also redistributes the fermentation gases (it's those gas bubbles that make the crumb).  And manipulating the shaped dough was trickier.

These are just a couple of empirical observations, I don't pretend to actually know what I'm doing and ymmv.  Usually I stick to a 3-step build with sourdough culture.

Many ways lead to Rome :-)  and I think experimentation is great.  BTW:  I second the poster who recommended the 'bread science' book, really useful in giving some insight in the chemical background and the underlying processes.

Bakingmadtoo's picture

Thank you for your responses, it is very helpful. I will go ahead with the recipes I want to try, with a shorter bulk ferment and long final proof. I will also keep an eye out for the bread science book.

dsadowsk's picture

Normally on TFL  if four people respond to a question, five completely differing opinions will be expressed. That there is consensus on any subject just seems wrong, and fills me with dread. 

I'd better go to Costco and purchase their full line of end-of-civilization items, and build myself a fallout shelter to boot.

Thank you all for your contributions (I think).

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I think even a high rye, when reworked or folded after a short, yet noticeable rise, contributes to a more even crumb structure.  Every time shaping or folding is done, gas bubbles are increased.    This naturally affects the crumb.

What is a bulk rise?  It is a rise before a final dough shaping.  Any rise after shaping is not called a bulk rise.

Can there be more than one bulk rise?  Yes.   Can there be no bulk rise?  Yes    

  • Don't forget equipment to build an earth oven.
twcinnh's picture

Here is a link to "Bread Science":

breadsong's picture

It is an interesting question you ask!
In Advanced Bread and Pastry, by Michel Suas, there is some really good information in the chapter on fermentation; the chapter section entitled ‘Relationship between Fermentation and Dough Handling’ describes how dough strength developed during mixing affects the length of bulk fermentation.
Emily Buehler's chapter on fermentation in Bread Science (another really good book!) talks about how to tell if the dough is sufficiently fermented in bulk, and the effects of dividing the dough too soon.
I've wondered, also, about the optimal time to divide the dough, and how to tell when the dough's bulk fermentation is complete; it was good to re-read these chapters today with these questions, yours and mine, in mind; thanks for your thought-provoking post.
:^) breadsong

Yerffej's picture

While I realize that there are many not so valid "traditions" and answers like, "that's the way it's done", there IS good reason for the timing of bulk fermentation followed by scaling, preshaping, resting, final shaping and final proofing.  Rather than writing many paragraphs on the subject, the best learning experience would be to make a bread that you know well and have made many times,  only this time,  change the timing.  Cut the bulk fermentation short on one bake and then let it go too long on another.  The negative effects will become readily apparent.

The test of whether or not bulk fermentation is complete is not the doubling of the dough but rather the dough looking up and saying, "I am ready".


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

berries just said such a thing.  They have been waiting overnight in the fridge for a big event.

Yerffej's picture

I love when it grains talk.