The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Fermentation times- pushing the limit.

BBJoe's picture

Fermentation times- pushing the limit.

Ok, so I've had a question about fermentation times ever since I read Peter Reinhart's "Bread Baker's Apprentice" and hopefully someone can help me come to a conclusion.  In BBA, he discusses that when yeast are deprived of food, they releases glutathione, which he says is an undesirable by-product.  This is where my question arises.  How long does it usually take for this to occur?  On a more general basis, what are the symptoms of over-fermented dough? 

 I guess to narrow my question down a bit, let us say that we have a standard lean dough formula like this:

100% flour

68% water

.83% Instant yeast

2.2 % salt

The dough is bulk fermented at, say, 75 degrees fahrenheit.  How long would it take for the dough to show adverse affects?  Would folding the dough every hour or so stop the yeast from releaseing glutathione?  How long does it take take for gluten to actually start breaking down? 

 Every book that I've read does give fermentation times, but I haven't found a book that discusses the limitations of fermentation at any depth. 

I do realize that this is a pretty encompassing question(s), so any input would be greatly appreciatied!



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Joe. 

I can't answer your question about how long it would take, but, if the dough has fully expanded and starts to collapse, it is definitely over-fermented. Short of that stage, an over-fermented dough will  probably result in the loaves not rising as well and less oven spring with a denser crumb. Over proofed loaves tend to be fragile and deflate when scored. 

I don't know the effect of folding on total time to glutathione production. But, if glutathione is a product of oxidation, folding, which introduces more oxygen to the dough, might speed it up. This is speculation only on my part. 


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The tell tale signs:

The dough tears when it should stretch, becomes very sticky, will not hold shape or respond to folding to tighten the surface. Tends to look more like goo than dough. Begins to take on an alcohol smell. Can even start to separate and ooz fermented liquid hootch. Can eventually change color and grow mold and stink. In other words; everything a starved starter will do if deprived of food. It can be saved (if you want to). Try thinking of the over fermented dough is a "big mature starter" and add flour and ingredients accordingly. (I would just take a small inside sample and feed it, letting the "moldy" stage dough crawl itself into the bin.)

By adding salt, the fermenting process will be slowed down, somewhat. The time it takes bread dough to over ferment would vary with ash, protein & gluten content of flour, moisture and temperature during fermentation. And the appetite of the yeast and speed at which it buds and multiplies. Lots of variables.

So are you gonna set up a tub of the stuff and let it rot?

Mini O

BBJoe's picture

I guess what I'm looking for is if over fermentiation can occur in a short time span, my intuition says no, but almost every recipe I've read keeps the bulk fermentation down to about an hour or two, or at least until the dough doubles (sans retarding the dough).  I do know that a biga, even though is a tight dough at first, left to ferment will become wetter, via the acid and alchohol produced.  I guess I'm in for some experimentation! 

 It so happens that when I was making a sourdough starter once, I forgot about it on top of one of my kitchen cabinet for about a week.  It was one the worst smells I've encountered!  So I do know the signs of really, really over-fermented dough. 

 I'm happy to say that since then I have built a healthy starter and it has a nice home in my fridge.   Oh, and I do not neglect it one bit.


Thanks for the help,


holds99's picture


My experience has been, if during bulk and final fermentation you allow it to more than double there's a good chance the dough will have lost some of its "zip".  I try to catch it at 2/3 to 3/4 rise on both bulk and final.  Once the yeast has peaked and started losing it punch you really can't do much about it except perhaps as MiniO described in her posting re: save it via reworking it with flour, etc. 

Assuming everything else has been done properly, temperature of your proofing room is the variable that will dictate how fast or slow the rise will be; where cooler is slower and warmer is faster.  Re: folding, if you have Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking Across America check out page 134 "Fermenting And Turning The Dough" for a good description of her folding recommendations (3 times at 30 minute intervals, that is, after 30, 60 and 90 minutes of fermenting, then leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining time (with a total fermentation time of 3 hours).

Howard - St. Augustine, FL

fiberpeiling's picture

my friend put the kneaded dough in loaf pan, let it rise in proofing room about 2 hours, then bake it directly....

the bread has big volume and is nice in texture...i wondering this one time fermentation of dough is correct or not....

i bought a standard loaf pan, but i not sure how many flour could be used for that size of pan....any suggestion to me - new in bread making....