The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How much increase in dough size for Bulk Ferment

DanAyo's picture

How much increase in dough size for Bulk Ferment

I'm playing with a recipe and working on a formula. I think I'm clear on the proof timing. I check the dough and push the rise until it is ready or just a little before that time. I err on the early side, because the oven spring takes care of the rest.

But I'm not sure how to determine the Bulk Ferment. Not so much the time, but the condition of the dough. I've been letting the dough rise to about 2/3 or so, but I'm only do that because I don't know better.


Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

It's better judged by the condition of the dough. When aerated, billowy and there are visible signs of bubbles just beneath the surface, it's done. You will also notice a slight change in the feel of the dough.

DanAyo's picture

You said, "You will also notice a slight change in the feel of the dough."  By slight change, do you mean the dough is slightly drier or what? I want to be sure I understand.

Also when you mention aerated, billowy and bubbles are you referring to high hydration only or can I expect this with drier doughs also? I'm working on a dough that is 70 - 75% hydration.

Thanks Abe,


Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

It's difficult to describe but I shall try. Let's say I'm working on a dough which is getting into the upper end of hydration (70-75% would be an example with a large percentage being bread flour), it's a long bulk ferment and I'm spreading out the stretch and folds. At some point (and this is where I believe the bulk ferment is done) the dough feels different. You can feel the dough is full of gas bubbles and the stretch and folds will have become more gentle otherwise you're at risk of tearing the strands. It also looks puffy and you can see bubbles in the skin of the dough.

70-75% hydration I would say is a good range where this will be easier to identify - even 65% is fine. I don't really go dryer and rarely go higher in hydration unless I'm using a lot of wholegrain.

I'm only giving my experience. I'm sure, as it is with all aspects of bread baking, there will be a different ideal level of fermentation and signs depending on the dough. I'm talking about your regular white or country bread style loaves.

Hope this helps. And I hope others chime in to and give their ideas and perhaps more in depth knowledge when it comes to types of dough.

My pleasure Dan

hreik's picture

helpful for me was watching Trevor Wilson's videos.  Start with the one about making holey bread with 65% hydration (I think it's how to get open crumb from a stiff dough).  Then watch the one on mixing a wet dough.  I say this not b/c he tells you how long, but so you see what Lechem was talking about.  The dough gets very silky, smooth and easy to handle (assuming is largely AP or bread flour) and when the dough gets to that consistency you can tell it's ready for bench rest and shaping.


DanAyo's picture

Is the goal of a Bulk Ferment to ferment the dough near maximum rise similar to the proof?

What are the differences (if any) to watch for in a room temp ferment and a retarded ferment? I assume the above advice deals with Bench Bulk.


tgrayson's picture

Max rise is more of a limitation on how long you can bulk ferment. If you wanted to, you could ferment to half-rise, punch down, half-rise again, punch down, half-rise again, punch down then shape and proof. In effect, this is what you do when you're using stretch and folds.

There is nothing magic in a max rise, since you're just going to deflate the dough before shaping it, but the cumulative time spent in bulk fermentation affects the flavor of the dough and the amount of aeration.

Colin2's picture

"billowy" is the word I think of.  Puffy, a little like a down comforter.

sirrith's picture

Does anyone have photos of their dough in a glass container when it's finished bulk fermenting, so that we can use the bubble matrix as a reference? I always tend to err on the side of caution and I think I'm under fermenting my dough. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I generally go by feel. There will be appoint of under and over but I don't think there is an exact level for the bulk ferment as there will be a range. Better to err on the side of caution then to go over. Stay within the range and concentrate on getting the final proof more exact which is more difficult to judge IMO.

Here is a good site with lots of explanations with every recipe. I'm sure you have heard of it. 

About a third of the way down it shows you the dough at the end of the bulk ferment. It's the photo just below the paragraph:

At the end of bulk fermentation your dough should have risen anywhere between 20% and 50%, should show some bubbles on top, sides and the edge of the dough where it meets the bowl should be slightly domed showing strength. In the photo below you can see all these signs.

This is what I look for and by the way it feels too.

dabrownman's picture

can be, different with every recipe. A white SD isn't the same a a whole rye one and every one in between is different too.  A panettone recipe may call for  a tripling in volume where a whole wheat loaf may call for 50% .  It all depends on what you you are trying to accomplish with the final crumb.

Bulk ferment is there to allow the wee beasties time to grow, multiply and create flavors unique to LAB and yeast and to have enough of them to proof the loaf within a reasonable amount of time.  So, the longer it is, the more microbes you have and the more flavor you have.  The longer the bulk the less time will be needed for final proof if the bulk wasn't so long it exhausted the food supply or the protease enzymes didn't break down the gluten.  Usually the longer the bulk the more folks handle it and the more they handle it the smaller the holes in the crumb in general.  The first couple of hours you can pretty much do as many stretch or slap and folds as you want without harming the crumb but after that you need to be gentle and much more sparse with the handling - if you want big holes in the crumb.

Some breads like panettone that have long bulk ferments have a lot of added sugar for food and a tripling of volume won't deplete the food supply.  The extra acid keeps the protease in check and the gluten in good shape and you don't want large holes in the crumb anyway.

So the right amount of bulk ferment depends on the bread being made and what you want out if it.