The Fresh Loaf

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How to tell when final proof is done & ready for oven?

badmajon's picture

How to tell when final proof is done & ready for oven?

I'm learning from the bread bakers apprentice and he says that the bread is ready to put in the oven when it reaches about 1.5 times original size, but I'm not that great at eyeballing it and I find it hard to tell. Is there any other way to know when its ready?

K.C.'s picture

A good test for the final proof is to gently push your finger into the top of the loaf and see if it slowly rises back. If it does, you're good to go. 

clazar123's picture

Enter this into the search box and you will find plenty of info.

Here's an explanation I gave someone else:

When you indent the dough about 1/2 inch with your finger you are feeling the quality of thenetting (gluten strands) that are holding the balloons of gas. The gluten has to be strong enough to hold the bubbles but relaxed enough to expand. It takes practice and familiarity with your dough. Not all doughs proof the same-either timewise or how they feel so keep poking the loaves.

For the most part the following is true: 

If you indent and it stays indented-the loaf is overproofed. It will deflate if you slash it, in the oven or even when cooling,depending on how over proofed it is. The gluten strands that are trapping the gas bubbles is so overstretched and weakened, it can't hold on anymore.When you press on them you actually break the strands holding the gas bubble. Think about holding a 25 lb weight out at arms length-pretty soon your muscles are shaking and "poof" they give out-esp if another ounce is added. If your yeast has enough oomph left, you may want to count this as an extra rise,re-shape and re-proof.

If you indent and it bounces back and fills in right away, the gluten strands are srtong and not very stretched-like a very tight ballon. You are just bouncing back. This is underproofed and you will end up with a dense crumb and possibly a brick. The gluten strands are so tight,yet, that the bubbles can't expand against them so no oven spring for you. Keep going no matter what the clock says or how long it has been taking. A little warmth may speed things up but change can come very quickly! Watch that dough!

If you indent and it fills in slowly, some of the gluten bands are giving way but most are holding and the gas re-expands. This is perfectly proofed. The gluten bands are strong enough to hold the gas but still allow some expansion.Should have oven spring and the best crumb for that dough.

If you are working with a dough that proofs quickly or the gluten is particularly delicate (some flours do this), then you may want to 3/4 proof the loaf and allow the oven spring to complete the expansion. This is harder to describe-kind of "it indents but fills in quicker than a fully proofed loaf".

Take practice!

louiscohen's picture

Should you look for the same response with a high whole wheat / high hydration dough?


clazar123's picture

It works for any gluten based dough that can hold a surface but works better with a dough that holds a shape. If you can stretch a surface on the dough(even a wet dough), you can feel the quality of the structure of that dough by poking it. If it is a dough that flows, it will not be useful. Like trying to poke the surface of water.



louiscohen's picture

Thanks for an excellent explanation of the poke test.

Here's the loaf that provoked my question:

I poked it, the indentation came back just a little and stopped; I was afraid that it was overproofed even though the volume wasn't  really there yet.  The support team at King Arthur looked at the photo showing more open crumb at the top and less open at the bottom and said it was underproofed.  There was very little oven spring, though.  

Next time I guess I'll poke and look at the volume and hold off baking longer.  

Nate Delage's picture
Nate Delage

Excellent exmplanation of the finger poke test clarzar123! Connecting a poke that doesn't rebound and the dough deflating after scoring really makes the poke test sound less mysterious.


clazar123's picture

I don't have a lot of experience with rye but it is a dough that has totally different behaviour and characterisitcs than wheat-based doughs. Rye flour produces a lot of the gel/starch component to  dough and hardly any gluten. So instead of "netting" holding the bubbles of gas, it is a gel structure. It will feel more like clay when shaping and definitely stickier. The higher the rye percentage, the more claylike the final dough. Since there is no gluten formation, only gel, it will also tend to be a stickier dough that is trickier to handle but it needs to stay that way. If you add extra flour to take away the stickiness, the clay becomes thicker and more difficult for the bubbles to expand against. Heavy brick suitable for weaponry! Even small amounts of rye in a recipe can affect the texture this way and possibly the finger poke test. Take that into consideration! Rye will add to the indent staying indented rather than bouncing back-the higher the percentage of rye, the more likely this will occur. But rye adds such delicious flavor to a loaf and is a good way to tenderize a dough that tends to be too chewy or tough! A great tool for the toolbox!


Baking Enthusiast's picture
Baking Enthusiast

Hi There

i've been experiencing similiar problem

When my dough is in the final rising time,it gets 1,5 - 2 times bigger.

i did the finger poke test,and the indentation didnt bounce back

but the problem is, my bread turns out to be quite dense and heavy 

does this mean i have to rise my bread a bit longer?

any thoughts?

ps:i think there are  no oven spring when i bake my dough


clazar123's picture

Sorry for the delayed response but I think it is a valuable question so I will answer it anyways..Now that I learned how to bookmark,I will keep up a bit better.

Think about the concept I describe above as to what is happening when you indent the loaf. You actually need to proof it LESS. If you indent a proofed loaf and the indent remains, it means you are popping the gas bubbles in that area and collapsing the gluten strands in that small area because they are overstretched and tired/weakened. If your yeast has enough oomph left to raise it again, gently deflate the dough, reshape (thus reworking tand tightening the gluten strands on the outside of the loaf like a net) and re-proof. Keep a close eye on it and bake when properly proofed.

If the yeast does not have enough oomph left,  you can try re-kneading with some instant yeast added (I have never done this) and either go through another ferment and then shape&proof or just shape & proof and bake.