Underproofed vs Overproofed
We frequently get questions about whether or not a crumb shows evidence of underproofing or overproofing. Having baked plenty of examples of both I thought I would share how I look at the baked bread to decide if it is under or over.
This first loaf has some pretty classic signs of underproofing. Looking at the crumb, I find it helpful to ignore the big holes first and have a look at the crumb. Is the crumb very tight and dense or is the crumb actually quite nice and open. Generally if it is very tight and dense, it is more likely to be underproofed than just right or overproofed. Next look at the large holes. Are these large holes actually big long tunnels through the bread? Are they generally in the upper half of the bread and not immediately under the crust? In underproofed breads the big holes have a tendency to be large tunnels in the upper half of the bread and not ones immediately under the crust. Next, sometimes there are clues before you even slice the loaf. I unfortunately didn’t get the best photos of the outside of this loaf to demonstrate this, but you might see an exaggerated oven spring and ear. In fact the center of the bread might even be quite pointy as it is pushed upwards by the expansion of those huge tunnels in the bread while baking.
This next loaf has signs of overproofing. Let’s start again with the crumb and ignore any larger holes. The crumb in this example isn’t particularly tight or dense despite it being 100% whole grain, so it isn’t likely underproofed. So it could be just fine or overproofed. Now look for the larger holes. In this case the larger holes are just under the crust and if you look closely you’ll see some broken gluten strands. These broken gluten strand happen because as the dough overproofs, the gluten becomes weaker as the pH falls activating the proteolytic enzymes. Then as the gases expand in the oven when baking the weakened gluten fails and smaller alveoli coalesce to become larger ones. Next let’s look at the outside of the loaf. The weakened gluten affects the outward appearance of the loaf. Again rather than expanding upwards, the loaf spreads as the gases expand as the gluten breaks down so we often get a flattened loaf. The ear is often unable to form properly so you might get only a small ear at best. In the area of the score you’ll often a collapsed area rather than a crust that stands proud.
What do you look for to decide if a loaf is over or under?