The Fresh Loaf

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Window between under vs. over proofed?

mjw210's picture

Window between under vs. over proofed?

I'm trying to understand how much flexibility I have to make sure the loaf is proofed enough.  Approximately how long is the window between the moment the bread is bare minimum proofed to when it becomes overproofed?

For example, let's say I'm bulk fermenting sourdough after doing the stretch/fold method and prior to putting into the fridge for a ~12 hour overnight final proof.  If we assume that the bare minimum time my culture can produce a properly fermented loaf is 4 hours (proofing at 78 F/25.5 C), how much wiggle room do I have before I have to stop the bulk fermentation?  If I go 5 hours will I be fine? 6 hours?

I'm not looking for an exact number, but just trying to get an idea on when the "overproofing" stage sets in.

zachyahoo's picture

I’m afraid there isn’t an easy answer here.. but here’s a guiding principle:

The more quickly fermentation is happening (there are many factors but imo the most important are temperature and inoculation percentage, assuming an active healthy starter), the narrower the window is. 

The specifics you give aren’t totally clear to me. In this 4 hour timeframe, are you saying that your dough goes from mixed to bulk to preshaped/shaped to proofed in 4 hours? This is definitely possible, to be clear, but I just want to understand if that’s what you’re saying. 
When it comes to an overnight retard, again, I’m afraid there is no simple answer. Some trial and error is required. It also depends on the temp of your fridge. If it’s above 40F, it’s more possible it could overproof overnight. I prefer to see at least, say, 30% rise in a room temp final proof before I go for the overnight retard. But this could be different for your dough and your fridge and your temps, etc. 


mjw210's picture

I know there's plenty of variables so you can't say a definitive window. What I'm trying to get an idea of is, given the average temperature, culture, etc. what is a general window of under vs over proofed?  I think we can both agree that, after the initial 4 hour bulk fermentation, an extra 10 minute window would definitely be fine and you wouldn't have gone from under to over proofed, while a 10 hour window (14 hours bulk room temp ferment) is probably over proofed.

What I want to understand is, where do you start going from "you'll definitely be fine" to "eh, you're probably pushing it"?  Is it two hours? Four hours? Six hours?

semolina_man's picture

What is the total time you are using from end of mixing to start of forming?  Including stretch fold, bulk ferment, etc.  

Include stretch-fold time together with bulk ferment.  

This is the time you are working with.  As previously mentioned, a precise answer is not possible because there are many variables, and each of them changes each day in each person's kitchen.  

mjw210's picture

The 4 hour window is the window from mixing to final shaping.  Using the perfect loaf (step 4) as an example, I'm talking about (assuming all other variables/steps are constant), how flexible is the 4 hour window piece:

If we instead did 4 hours, 10 minutes I think we'd be fine.  If we did 14 hours, I think we'd be over proofed. What's the general time period where you would say it's starting to transition?

If I said I forgot about it and it went 6 hours instead of 4, would I (most likely) be fine? What about 8? 10?

Let's assuming everything is average temperature, culture strength, etc.  For any variables where it's definitely baker dependent, use your own process to fill in the gaps.  I just want a rough/general estimate.  Or even "It can flip from over proofed to under proofed in as little as 3 hours total bulk fermentation, or as much as 24".