The Fresh Loaf

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Would you consider this extreme Oven Spring? If so, ideas?

Gadjowheaty's picture

Would you consider this extreme Oven Spring? If so, ideas?

Hi All -

As a few might know, I've recently returned to baking, which is a first love, after many decades steeped in the world of stocks, butchery, and the like; baking was my first foray into cooking, as a child, but I haven't done it in many decades. 

Relying heavily on ideas gleaned from this site, as well as Paul Bertolli's Chez Panisse Cooking, and e-gullet's sourdough "institute," I am really, an understatement - I am almost fiendishly in thrall to the smell of sweet starter, caramelizing flour, the crunch of a good crust, the gently yielding tear of a crumb, all derived de la nature elle-meme

I am hopeful for some thoughts.  Due to oven size issues, I am currently restricted to boules, and if my first few attempts yielded entirely satisfying loaves (my first post on the site shows some pics), now that my starter is maturing, if I am very happy with the taste and texture of my loaves, their look is almost ridiculously high, to me, to the point of being a bit ugly....not belle laide, just so high as to look misshapen.  1000 words, and all that:

Levain 12-4



Levain - sideLevain - crumb














Some stats: 

This is a wet poolish, about 150%; final hydration going into bulk ferment for the loaves above was about 64%. 

I use 10% rye flour by weight, the rest is KA bread flour. 

The bread is being baked about once weekly, with the starter stepped up from a couple tablespoons, fed at 12 hour intervals twice, to obtain a cup of refreshed, vigorous starter.

Per the e-gullet method, I ferment the sponge for 4 hours; mix the dough (without salt) and knead, allowing free amylisation for 30 minutes.  I add in the salt, knead just a couple of minutes more, and bulk ferment for 5 hours, folding at 1 hour intervals.

I then gently form a boule, and do not express much gas or otherwise knock the dough out in any way; place it in a floured, duck-cloth-lined, jury-rigged banneton, and ferment overnight, up to 18 hours, in the refrigerator.  I bake at 500/400 directly out of the refrigerator - I do not temper the dough first.  The dough is no more than 2-2 1/2" high going onto the peel, so the spring is quite high, as seen.

Thoughts as to why?  Can't say I'm really disappointed with the sensory results, as the taste is really nice, with the proper mix, for me, of a decided, though yielding, crust crunch, and a really chewy, medium-light mouthfeel crumb, with good, complex acidity and a hint of desired spice, from the rye. 

Just not a good boule shape....more like something my wife has so ungraciously described, which I'll beg off indicating here...only to say the name she has given to my loaves is better suited to elements in a Ruben sculpture (or a Russ Meyers film), perhaps, than as a loaf of bread.  You get the pic. :-)

I suspect it's just a combination of factors - a really vigorous starter, a fairly hydrated dough, the 5 hour ferment, with folding (and further aeration and yeast propagation, therefore), and, going by a comment made on the e-gullet thread, something I hadn't considered before - the gentle final ferment in the cooler, preserving gases in the bread.  I also suspect that with the dough being baked cold, the slashes mean the "top" square is lighter, and given a cold, stiff dough, the path of lesser resistance is up, not out....(?)

But I really don't know - at the end of the day, I'm a baby anew, in baking.  Whatever troubleshooting expertise any could provide, very much appreciated!




p.s.:  Sorry, all, for the weird formatting of the post, with huge gaps between pics and paragraphs; it doesn't show up this way in preview, only on actual post - no idea why this happens...anyone have any suggestions?  Hate to beleaguer your eyes, all....

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Paul.

First off, many would be happy with the oven spring you got. But, if you want a more symmetrical boule, you need to proof your loaf either before retardation or when you take it out of the fridge. Let it expand to 1.5X it's original volume at least. When you press a finger into the loaf about 1/4 inch, the depression should fill in very slowly. The "finger test" may be the best way of determining when a loaf is ready to bake.

I hope this helps.


pmccool's picture


I'll second David's assessment that the dough was not optimally proofed prior to baking.  My experience with levain-based breads is that they do typically exhibit a lot of oven-spring, so it is important to get an idea of how the bread behaves at different points in the not enough / enough / too much proofing continuum.  You might want to make a two-boule batch, take both from the refrigerator, bake one as per your usual approach and bake the second at a later interval to get a notion of the differences that present themselves.  The temperature of your kitchen will be another factor to consider as you gauge the dough's readiness for baking.

David, being the modest sort, failed to mention that he contributed a segment on slashing to the Handbook on this site.  You can click on the link in the banner at the top of the page and explore a number of topics, including slashing.  I bring this up because slashing can also have a significant effect on the final shape of the baked loaf.  

Finally, you might also want to click on the Videos link, also in the banner at the top of the page.  Shaping techniques also strongly influence the outcome of a bread.  Mark Sinclair, a bakery owner and frequent contributor here has prepared several videos that will benefit even an experienced baker.

Good luck with your future bakes.  Every one can teach you something new.


P.S.  If I had to pick, I'd rather have a bread that looked Rubenesque than Daliesque

Gadjowheaty's picture

Fantastic, thanks, both of you.  So, if I'm hearing you both right, it is likely that there is just an explosive buildup of bio activity, and consequent gas (and expansion of existing gas) as the temp rises, that differs from a proofed loaf - which has basically "sprung" much closer to its end limit than the non-proofed, retarded loaf? 

I will definitely split the next two loaves; with one, proof it shaped, then retard; the other, as per now, but bring it out and proof it before baking.  I am curious on the effect on taste and texture parameters, because I am really pleased with the results there, now....just not the look.

Paul, I will also check out David's slashing contribution, and indeed, the Handbook, generally, as well as the videos - hadn't yet seen the resources - many thanks for these, as well, to both of you.  Wonderful resources!

pmccool's picture

since that's a bit difficult to measure inside an oven during a bake.  ;-)  However, that is the explanation that I have usually heard.  And yes, an overproofed bread will typically exhibit little or no oven-spring (some even collapse in the oven).  Under-proofed breads may expand so vigorously that they split open along zones of weakness.  

For what it's worth, I have a pain au levain in the oven right now that is demonstrating quite a bit less oven-spring than I expected and I have a couple of ideas as to why.  This is my first bake using this oven (we just moved into a rented house in Pretoria on Tuesday).  The dough was about as close as I can get to being optimally proofed.  We are at about 5000 feet above sea level and, even though it is the rainy season here, the air is rather dry.  I think that even though I steamed the oven generously, the dough may have formed a slight skin during the final proof that is restricting the expansion that I would have expected.  

Oops, check that.  I went downstairs on an errand and took a look at the bread.  It is expanding nicely now, albeit in more of a pillow shape than in a typical boule shape.  Still, that's better than the brick I was fearing.

Anyway, we do the best we can to address each of the variables (and there are many!) in such a way as to achieve the results we desire.  Sometimes things work, sometimes they don't, and every now and then we actually get everything right in one try and the results are magical.



pattyfermenty's picture

i noticed a significant difference in the amount of spring at the bottom of the loaf vs spring at the top. it is almost as if a line separates them. this might be creating the "tall" look that you are seeing. if the top half of the loaf was springing like the bottom, i think that the loaf would appear rounder and less tall.

you might want to consider these things as possible culprits, or a combination of them: first 64% hydration seems a little low, especially when combined with 500 degree heat. also, steaming the oven, and proper folding and shaping technique.

but the bread looks marvelous and delicious, especially the crust, and the spring at the bottom is wonderful, especially if you are not adding any commercial yeast.

Gadjowheaty's picture

Patty, acute eyes....yeah, that is interesting, isn't it? - esp. as one would expect the opposite pattern, if anything, yes (larger holes up top, tighter below, due to the weight of dough pressing down)? I do know that during the bulk ferment, I get extensive bubbling in the dough - stretched by a gentle fold process.  So I've no idea why I am getting this pattern - any thoughts?

If this helps, I actually neglected a couple more process points... I do steam the oven - a cup of hot water just after dropping the loaf, on a pan on the floor, below the stones, which are on a lower rack.  And though I heat the oven to 500F, I drop it immediately to 400F as soon as the door closes.