The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Causes of spreading?

Bakingmadtoo's picture

Causes of spreading?

Hi again, I need to pick your brains. I am starting to get a bit discouraged now. I seem to consistently bake loaves that spread too much. I don't believe that they are over proofed. They don't collapse and they do get lots of spring, but they spread out too much when I bake. The crumb is also coming out really lovely.

This morning's loaf had filled the banneton and turned out beautifully, the dough felt lovely and slashed really well. It didn't lose any volume at all when I slashed it.

However, it has still spread out more than up. I preheat my oven, but really only to temperature, as hot as it will go, which is around 250c. I am using Lacloche, which I do not preheat. Baking covered at around 225c for 20-25 minutes, then uncovered until it is the colour I want.  I usually spray the inside of the lid with water.

I know the problem is happening in the first 20 minutes, the shape is set when I remove the cover.

I have three thoughts, the first is that the oven is simply not hot enough when I put the dough in, giving it more chance to spread. However, lots of people bake from cold start, so it must be possible to get good spring this way. I don't want to preheat Lacloche, I know I will burn myself and I think I might crack it putting cold dough into a very hot Lacloche.  Also, I have had some great loaves come out with this method, so it can't be the method per se.

The second thought is my shaping. Could it be that my i am not getting enough tension to hold the shape?

The third thought is that I tend to bake a smaller loaf, and I am wondering if the extra space in Lacloche means it has the space to spread, so it does. But again, I have also had beautiful small loaves that have not spread.

I will add a picture when my bread is cool enough to touch. But, could any of these thoughts be right? And are there other things that I should be considering. Any thoughts would be welcome as it is really disheartening at the moment.

You will see from today's photo when I load it that there was hardly any ear formed as if it spread and set before it could.

Bakingmadtoo's picture

Here to show the problem clearly, I have shown the loaf in comparison to the banneton it was proofed in. It had actually risen slightly above the banneton when I turned it out, and as I say, did not lose height before going into the oven, but as you can see it came out lower than the banneton. I am not entirely certain that the pictures are demonstrating how bad the problem is, it is often worse than this, but this loaf really got to me as it looked so promising going into the oven!

Sean McFarlane's picture
Sean McFarlane

Honestly what you are describing isn't really a bad thing, just a result of the hyddration of your dough.  If you want a dough to go more up, just lower your hydration.

The loaf you show in the picture looks absolutly yummy!

Bakingmadtoo's picture

Sean, thank you. I could try lowering the hydration.  I think that loaf is about 68%, so I didn't think it should spread that much. I am certainly going to try lowering the hydration on some of the higher hydration recipes I have tried as the problem is worse then.

ananda's picture

Hi Bakingmadtoo,

I would recommend you check out what temperature your oven actually runs at using an internal oven thermometer which is cheap to buy.   You can move it around your oven too, to see how evenly the heat is distributed.   Additionally, I would ensure your oven is properly pre-heated if you do not want to pre-heat your LaCloche.

The other area you may want to look at is the time given to your dough in bulk.   If you are struggling to shape the dough tightly enough then you may need to extend bulk time in order to further strengthen the dough.   This may mean you then need to look at final proof time, as you may find it necessary to reduce this.

Best wishes


Bakingmadtoo's picture

Thanks Andy. I have checked that my oven runs at the correct temperature. It is pretty accurate, but having given more thought to the problem today, I think the longer preheat may be the problem as I have turned out nice loaves using the same method. It is therefore possible that the variable may have been that I let my oven preheat for longer, it is also possible that I didn't turn it down to 225c on those loaves. (The wisdom of copious notes would have helped here!).

What you say about bulk proofing time is very interesting and is certainly something that I could play around with. I had not made a connection between bulk proof time and dough strength before. It is very difficult to know whether my shaping is tight enough or not, I have watched numerous videos and read everything I can, but of course nothing is a substitute for being taught hands on. I suspect my shaping could be tighter.

kygin's picture

When I want a taller loaf rather than a broader one, I score three times across the dough rather than down the length.  This still allows for good oven spring, but if the dough is well cloaked, scoring this way contains the it so it doesn't spread widthwise.  Try it on your next loaf and see if that solves the problem.

Bakingmadtoo's picture

Thanks Kgin, I had not considered the effects of the scoring! I am certainly getting a lot of suggestions to try out. I suppose I should change just one thing at a time to see the difference it makes. The temptation is to try all the suggestions!

pongze's picture

Kygin's on the right track there.  Your scoring is what will determine how your loaf behaves as it cooks.  All other things being equal, the way you score with make a big difference in the shape of your loaf.  If you would like your loaf to rise up rather than spread out, do a hashtag type score (#) like the miche on the front page.  You will probably see tremendous rise in the top square/rectangle of the loaf.  Can't say I seen that type of scoring on an oval loaf before, though.  I think you're being too hard on yourself, though.  That is a fantastic looking loaf.

Bakingmadtoo's picture

Thank you for you input and kind comment ( honestly the pictures don't show the full story). I will definitely try a different score pattern, although that of itself is a challenge at the moment as my scoring still needs a lot of work!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I subtract some time off the final rise making it shorter, usually the amount of time it takes to heat up the Dutch Oven (DO)  so...  try under proofing just a little bit.  I agree with the above comments on scoring, you can get a different "look" but for your loaf, baking, score, etc.  the loaf looks just as it should be.  I don't think you can improve on it.  

Comparing the outside dimensions of the banneton to the bread can be deceiving and isn't fair to yourself or that lovely loaf that's getting a bashing. Try comparing pictures of the raw newly shaped dough to the baked loaf.  

Sure is a lovely loaf!  No doubt about it.  Accept it and be proud.  :)

btw... Dough should not rise too high above the edges of the banneton, they are designed to stack on rims to save space while the dough is rising, handy to know if you have no place for 20 proofing baskets at the same time.  

Bakingmadtoo's picture

Hi Mini, you are right about comparing with the banneton of course, but that is also why the spread doesn't look so bad in the pictures, because of course it was much narrower going into the cooker because it was the width of the internal dimension. It was the only way it could give some idea of the problem.

I have to say it was not my intention for the dough to rise above the banneton. The poor loaf, the dough seemed too small to be divided into two, but too big for the banneton undivided. I divided it once then put it back together, then divided it again, then finally put it back together again. I was very undecided! It is a wonder it didn't just pancake completely on me to punish me for messing about with it so much!

I will try a little less proofing time next time too. Thanks for the ideas.