The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why Recipes are structured the way they are?

slowriser's picture

Why Recipes are structured the way they are?

I am a recent inductee in the world of amateur artisan baking and i have some questions that i have not been able to find an answer to but i never remember to write them down, i just remembered this one while one of my pretty much daily lurking sessions on TFL so i figured i would create an account and see what all the veterans had to say about it. One of the things i don't understand is hard to explain so i will give an some examples. In Tartine bread CR says to bulk ferment for 4 hours, shape, and then proof for 4 hours. Could i do a 7 hour bulk and a 1 hour proof or a 6 hour bulk and a 2 hour proof? Why are specific times given? Are there different functions to the proof and the bulk that i am not understanding? what about a 1 hour bulk and a 7 hour proof? one speculative answer i have come up with is that after the bulk you are supposed to degas the dough and then the proof is to introduce more gas is that correct? why do different recipes break up the bulk and proof into different amounts even though the total amount of fermentation is the same? what am i missing?

WatertownNewbie's picture

Somewhere in this discussion there needs to be a reference to this age-old admonition, so I decided to put it at the forefront.  The four-hour periods that CR refers to are approximations.  Much depends on a varietry of factors that can influence the amount  of time that a particular stage takes.  Temperature is one.  Humidity is another.  Type of flour is another.  Activeness of your starter is yet another.

Tartine goes through what occurs during the various stages of the production of bread.  Other good references that can answer many of your questions (by outlining the steps) are Forkish's FWSY, Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Hamelman's Bread, and Bread Illustrated (by Cook's Illustrated).  Rather than attempt a limited answer to your posting, I am suggesting that you look through one of these books and see whether you find what you are after (and perhaps more).

suave's picture

Think about it his way.  A dough has a total fermentation time by the end of which it attains optimal gluten structure, and develops taste and aroma.  There is also a shorter period of time at the end of fermentation needed to fully inflate degassed and shaped loaf.  That's your proof time.  Total time minus proof time is bulk fermentation time.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Split a freshly mixed and kneaded dough. Make one loaf with one rise, shaping in the begining. The other loaf with two rises, a bulk rise, shape, and final proof.  Bake when each loaf is risen enough for you and compare.  Compare them as they rise watching closely and taking notes. Let them cool completely before slicing so you can compare crumb structure.  

Doing is learning.  

clazar123's picture

You are on the brink of discovering that there are a MILLION different ways to make bread. ALL are correct even if they seem conflicted or counterintuitive. 2 bakers can make the same recipe using the same techniques and have totally different outcomes. How can this be? But it's still ALL BREAD. As noted, there are a lot of factors that go into how a dough will come together and develop-flour attributes, weather, cold/hot hands kneading, kneading technique, etc, etc.   It is good to know about these factors. Start by reading some of the info in the books mentioned. Be ready to RE_LEARN what you thought you knew. I have baked my whole life but when it came to bread I had so many mis-conceptions (like "knead to develop the gluten") that I couldn't or wouldn't learn. I'd skip over info I thought I knew but didn't. So read the beginning of those books and the basics as if you never heard the information before. 

MiniOven's advice is very good-doing is learning. Keep a notebook and make observations. Good bread can be made using MANY different techniques-preferments, straight-through, batter, single rise, multiple rise, natural yeast, retards,etc,etc. Choose the methods and tools/techniques that work for you and the bread you want to make. Design the loaf before you bring out 1 measuring cup. Knowing the ingredients, effect of different techniques, the kitchen environment and predicted outcomes requires a good knowledge base and knowledge doesn't come in a linear fashion. Over time it all comes together so read, bake, take notes and ask a million questions.

A VERY brief answer to your question regarding bulk and proof is: They overlap in what each step does but generally bulk develops flavor by encouraging the growth of the yeast population and prepares the structural elements for final development in the proof. When enough eating and digesting has gone on, the flavor develops and proteins, bits and gels are properly prepared for their final job.  Cold, warmth, pH, and hydration all affect this, as do sugars, fats and additives. When the final loaf is shaped, it has most of the flavor and also has the capability of lifting the dough into the desired crumb before it sets in the heat of the oven.

EDIT: So bulk ferment is flavor and prepping the structural elements such as gluten, bubbles and starchy gel. Proofing allows you to shape the loaf and edit the crumb for the final product.

You have ALMOST asked a very important question on the start of your journey and that is.....What IS bread? Answering this question from different viewpoints is very important. Try it from many viewpoints : technical, cultural, experiential,etc. It will serve to bring the experience of bread together for you.

Have delicious fun!

EDIT: I just found THIS site and downloaded his free book. What a treasure. Very easy writing style, open source book on bread. Not a fast read as it is 300 pages ,so far, but I saved for reading in stages.



DesigningWoman's picture

for the link. I'm only just past the introduction and am already captivated! 

Happy holidays to all, and keep on baking.


leslieruf's picture

I am a bit further in. Great explanations... an awesome find.  Thanks for posting the link clarar123


chleba's picture

I've had the same question as you, and my research resulted in the same answers you are getting now - let the dough talk to you, try it out yourself, etc etc.  I plan to try it out myself, however, the difficulty is that if you are new to sourdough and struggling to find the right timing, temperature, etc for bread, you have to wait until you figure this out before you can explore. Once you get your bread down consistently, then you can explore - some people here get it right on their first try, others like me, don't.  But I think I'm just about there for one recipe :)

Earlier this year, I think there was a member who tried it out and posted pictures on this forum, may have been "Dan Ayo" or someone else?  Or maybe his/her test was to see what happens with a variable proof time keeping bulk consistent, I don't recall.

Here's my theory for now: you're looking for that point where the dough will have the correct extensibility and elasticity to give you the best rise.  The longer you are in second proof, the more slack the dough.  The shorter your second proof, the tighter the dough.  All this assumes a constant fermentation time.  I doubt it will be a linear, since there's usually a range during which time your results will be similar.

Probably secondary would be if you use a small amount of levain with a dough that's destined to be split apart, so you get enough yeast and bacteria in all the doughs.

love's picture
  • why do different recipes break up the bulk and proof into different amounts even though the total amount of fermentation is the same?

The simple answer to this is that shaping breaks up some bubbles and just generally alters the dough structure significantly, and proofing allows the dough to "recover" from that, so the amount of time between shaping and baking effects the crumb in the finished baked bread.

You can learn a lot from this Wiki article.

a critical quote:

  • A bread that is properly proofed will balance gas production with the ability of the bread's gluten structure to contain it, and will exhibit good oven spring when baked. A bread that is under- or overproofed will have less oven spring and be more dense. An overproofed bread may even collapse in the oven as the volume of gas produced by the yeast can no longer be contained by the gluten structure.