The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Ratio of BF to final proof

Matt's picture

Ratio of BF to final proof

Try as I might, I cannot find clear and unambiguous advice on this anywhere... Does anybody know the pros and cons of, for example, a shorter BF before shaping and then longer for the FP or vice-versa? Some say the FP is mostly to allow the gluten to relax a bit before baking so it can spring. Others talk about it as if it is the main time the dough actually rises. Most instructions suggest a long BF and short FP (whether that means an hour at room temp or overnight in a cold fridge). We all know some recipes suggest the dough should rise, say 30% on the BF, but others say it should double. I noticed in the "Tartine" recipe that the BF is short, but there is quite a long FP. You get the idea... Can anyone guide me (and perhaps others) about this please?

rondayvous's picture

If you were playing 5 card stud and had a pair of aces, duces and a king how many cards would you ask for?

If your next hand was 2, 5, 7, 8 of different suits and a jack of spades, how many cards would you draw?

In case you don’t play poker you’d likely pull one on the first and two or three on the second.

Baking bread can be like that.

Matt's picture

Thank you for your answer, and I know you are kind of saying there is no answer to my question, or it "depends". But using your own analogy, I would disagree. There is a clear logic and reason to how you would play each of those hands, maximising the chance of a particular outcome (winning). And if course, in your analogy you are reacting to something wholly unpredictable (the hand you are dealt). In baking, we at least can have a specific recipe and know the ambient temperature, in other words, we pretty much know our hand in advance, so should be able to make macro decisions in advance, even if the nature of biology is that there are always minor variations. For the record, my recipe is generally pretty standard and nothing fancy. Strong flour (Bob's Red Mill), around 75 % hydration, sometimes all white, sometimes up to 30 % WW. It is nothing fancy, so I think it should be possible to discuss pros and cons of BF to FP ratio.

HeiHei29er's picture

Before you can answer the BF to Final Proof question, you need to answer what kind of loaf do I want?  High tang or mild acidity?  Open crumb with large holes or more uniform?  All white flour or whole grain or somewhere in between?  Once you have that, then you can look at how to get there.  

So, I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer because you can also manipulate some of these characteristics with temp instead of time.  I don’t think there are defined optimums.  Only rules of thumb that a baker will manipulate to achieve a desired outcome.

Matt's picture

Ah, thank you, because that is exactly the sort of thing I meant in my question, so for example an answer might be that a longer final proof gives you more of a tang, or a shorter BF results in a more dense crumb etc (all else being equal). This is exactly what I was getting at. I wasn't meaning simply "what is best". So where you say once I know what I want I can look at how to get there - indeed. So the information I am looking for is how BF:FP ratio might affect various aspects so that I can make exactly those decisions to try to achieve the desired outcome (which for me, for what it is worth, is quite an open crumb, good rise and ear ideally, and a sour flavour. So your answer is a very useful link in the chain, and leaves me wondering even more why guides to baking etc (or the ones I have seen and read) don't seem to cover this, or at least, they don't seem to do it in a clear and unambiguous fashion. I guess they may well hint towards it if one has enough knowledge and experience to read between the lines. Thank you again.

HeiHei29er's picture

Got it,,,  Well, I’m guessing amongst the people on this site we can list out a few…

Lower hydration and lower bulk temp favors acetic producing LABs.  Higher hydration and higher temp during bulk favors lactic producing LABs

Any cold retard during bulk or final proof will increase acidity

Longer BF is generally a more uniform crumb.

Long BF with low inoculation produces more acidity and chew

HeiHei29er's picture

I’m an engineer and when I first started, I looked for the exact formula.  The exact procedure and sequence to get a good loaf.  After 2 years, I’ve learned it’s as much art as science.  Absolutely understand the science, but the art is in applying it.  

FWIW, Benny (Benito) has done some really interesting work using pH change to define the end of BF and FP.  I’ll defer to him, but even with that, I think he’s finding that his defined limits work for many breads but not all.

Matt's picture

Ah, thank you. Well I'm a chemist, so this should all be right up my alley, but it is proving exceptionally frustrating. I still think it is predominantly a science, but it is one with so many variables (and that is even before clumsy human input from people like me) that at times it seems almost random and even counterintuitive, so perhaps one could argue that it is an art. I saw something on YouTube saying that if you invest in a decent pH meter (one of the few things I know plenty about), you will always know BF is done at pH 4.1 to 4.3. Well, I guess that depends on what you are trying to achieve etc. The strange thing is that having said I believe it is a science, and despite being very frustrated at times, I actually wouldn't want it to be quite as simple as being able to use something like that for a definitive answer (although I would love to hear from Benito)! That said about not wanting it to be too easy, I am now nearly 50 loaves in, and I have not been very satisfied with any of them. But as I explore ways to improve, and my thinking is rooted in science more than art, I find it very difficult to get really clear and reasoned advice. The more I explore, the more contradictory advice I uncover and then I think of even more questions!

rondayvous's picture

It is necessary to know where you are going.

European flour can be very different than American flour.

American flour can be different from one company to the next.

Limiting ourselves to just talking about Wheat flour, there are several different types of wheat. There are different ways to grind wheat. Many people grind their wheat at home. There have been questions about how old the wheat was before it was ground and how long after it was ground before it was used to make bread.

The acidity of the dough, the hydration of the dough, the supplements added to the dough, the amount of malt in the dough etc...

Then there is the question of what kind of crumb you want: an open country loaf cooked in a steam oven, a loaf of sandwich bread cooked in a Pullman, or any of an infinite variety in between.

Once you know your destination: ie. A french Baguette. There can still be dozens of ways to get there, with many options spelled out here and elsewhere.

There are several places where you can go that give exact recipes that include hydration, time, temperatures, flour quality requirements etc... The Russian Government provides GOST standards for several types of bread with the type of info you are looking for.


I have exact(ish) recipes that I follow for several breads that I like to eat. They require different fermentation times depending on how much yeast is in the dough, how the sourdough in my Rye's is feeling that day, How much rye was added and how much time I have ;0)

Matt's picture

Thanks, I agree, and I know there are many different flour types etc and how vast the gamut of bread-baking is. But I am still trying to master (insofar as one can) the basics. So in terms of knowing where I am going, I think I know exactly where I am going for now... I am trying to get consistent results with the flour I buy (American Bobs Red Mill) for the type of loaf I want (open crumb, but not wild), a good rise and ear (because I like the way it looks) and a sour taste. I vary a little between 0% and 30% WW and sometimes shape a boule and sometimes a batard. So all of my questions and comments are based around this. If and when I finally get that nailed to my satisfaction, I will look forward to plotting other journeys via Russian GOST standards and various types of French baguette. But for now I am thinking about walking rather than planning which type of crampon to use on my next mountain ascent if you see what I mean! I do very much appreciate your (and others') time and advice, especially for beginners. Thank you.

rondayvous's picture

Unless you have a deadline, or mind eating less than perfect bread (i have a neighbor who volunteers for this ;0) ) experiment with different variations of fermentation times. 

An example, almost every place you look they tell you to put bread into a hot oven. A lot of my bread is cooked in a covered ceramic bread baker. I mix, rest, form a dough that I put immediately into the fridge. When I take the dough out of the fridge (a day or two later) I let it warm to finish bulk (about double) shape and put the dough in a ceramic baker for it’s final proof. When the dough is ready (a little, over 50% rise) I put the cold dough filled baker into the cold oven, turn on the oven and start timing my bake when the oven reaches temperature.

It works for me and I am happy with the results I get, but I got there by giving my neighbor quite a few loaves of bread.

Matt's picture

Thank you, I will indeed experiment. The good thing is that usually even the worst looking loaves still taste pretty good.

alcophile's picture

I'm also a chemist and worked in a manufacturing environment for many years. In my last job, many of the products we made were prepared with raw materials that often varied in their behavior from one batch to the next. Some of the processes using these materials were heterogeneous mixtures that often behaved differently every batch.

Does this sound familiar? I used to tell people that the products we made were like making bread! Ha Ha!

There are so many variables to control in bread I sometimes wonder how we can ever get reproducible results. Even store-bought bread is never the same (except maybe Wonder Bread). It may taste the same, but rarely looks the same. And we usually don't have the equipment that enables the control of so many variables.

mariana posted some good references and I have watched some videos from Puratos that were informative:

I've watched several other videos that Karl made and they are also good.

Happy baking!

Matt's picture

Thanks alcophile and, yes, it's all sadly familiar. Baking bread successfully is indeed a small miracle given the variables. For any golfers out there, I have compared it in my mind with a golf swing. The fact that a tiny bit of metal on the end of a long stick, wielded by a human, often a bit tense under pressure, can make flush contact with a small ball at 100 mph and send it up to 300 yards dead straight seems almost impossible when you think about it, and yet even amateurs find a way to pull it off now and again despite the fact the smallest variation in any of the variables will send it into the nearest lake or tree.

Matt's picture

Very many thanks for this. I wish there had been more answers on that link, but it is a start, and I am glad others are wondering about the same and it is not just me, so thanks for sharing. This area always seems to get scant attention. I remember watching one of the Sourdough Journey videos, where Tom is asking why for Tartine he only has a fairly short BF in his recipe. Tom goes on at length about temperate, and I think that is also the one where he uses his "linguine analogy". Having just bought the book and now read the recipe, I was very surprised that Tom made no reference at all to the fact that actually, there is a relatively long FP and surely this is very much related to the short BF (in which as I recall he looks for a mere 20-30% rise). I'm just surprised this is so little discussed and there is so little out there, even by somebody as thorough and obsessive as Tom. If I didn't have to work long hours for a living, I'd do a load of experiments on this myself to compare outcomes at different ratios!

barryvabeach's picture

Matt, no answer for you ,  but I agree it is an interesting question.   A related question was answered, more or less, in the community baquette bake where they found,  IIRC, that about a 30% rise in volume during BF was better for the loaf than greater increases.  

Matt's picture

Thanks Barry. I might have a go at 30% BF rise and a long FP until it looks about the same in my banneton as usual. (At the moment I go for nearly doubling in BF as most people seem to suggest is "normal"). One theory I had based on nothing much (I am almost a beginner) is that if one has a short BF and then shapes it, whilst it has its longer FP the gluten may weaken, and the work done in the shaping may be lost as the dough slackens and surface tension is lost. That may be total nonsense, but it is the sort of thing I am surprised there is little discussion about.

rondayvous's picture


Reinhart: The Bread Bakers Apprentice

Ginsberg: The Rye Baker

Katz: The art of fermentation

Hamelman: Bread


Matt's picture

BBC Radio 4's Food Programme had a fairly recent episode devoted to Sandor Katz, which was interesting. I will follow up on your recommended reading. Thank you.

mariana's picture

Hi Matt,

As a chemist, you know the difference between alchemy and chemistry and between science and technology. Given that bread baking is not just art or craft, but science and technology, quite developed by now, it is clear that if you don't find any clear and unambiguous advice on Ratio or BF to final proof it is because that ratio is not important or is irrelevant to the quality of bread. 

For science and technology part, please consult bread chemists:

Baking Science and Technology (4th ed.) by E.J.Pyler and L.A. Gorton

Formulas and Processes for Bakers, Second Edition, by Samuel A. Maltz Ph.D. 

There you will find good science and technology advice on what bulk fermentation is and what proof is and how they stand so far apart and are not related to each other in their goals and function that their 'ratio' is simply a meaningless concept.

Both zero time dough (no Bulk Fermentation) and zero proof breads are perfectly possible, i.e. no bulk time or no final proof time, with ratios equal to zero or infinity, and anything in between as well. Any ratio of them will make a perfect loaf, absolutely the same, the choice is yours, you choose one that suits your schedule as a baker, it has nothing to do with the quality of bread itself.

So, the ratio of BF to final proof only has meaning when applied to you as a baker, not to your bread itself. How convenient for you to have a long BF period when you are sleeping, for example? How convenient for you to have a short or non-existent BF period, when you need to skip it altogether and mix and shape and proof right away? Then you choose one of those depending on your answers. For both methods ( AND ANYTHING IN BETWEEN) there are formulas and technologies that you can use by consulting 'bread science and technology' manuals or good baking books, such as Hamelman's for example. 

For your specific bread that you are baking, as far as I understand you are baking a sourdough loaf, so your sourdough starter is mostly responsible for its sourness.

1) the microbes in your starter make it sour or not, i.e. some starters always make sour bread because of their nature, because of their microbes regardless of the length of the Bulk ferment or Proof. Just get yourself a sour starter and you are golden. You can purchase one or develop one using certain recipes for starters. Otherwise, it's walking uphill all the time, trying to make a sour bread with a starter that is not performing well in that regard. It would be similar to making a purely yeasted bread sour, or soda bread that tastes sour, other means would be necessary. 

2) how you ferment your existing starter (or levain) makes it either very sour to taste or not sour at all. So, once you have a sour starter or sour levain, you will have a sour bread, regardless of the length of bulk fermentation or proof or their ratio. The acid load comes with the starter/levain. 

The openness of crumb and good ear are mostly due to the choice of flour, kneading and shaping methods that you use, proofing conditions (not length) and baking technology, they have nothing or little to do with BF length, final proof length, or their ratio. 

In science and technology, learning goes from a known formula which a student repeats until successful, i.e. a formula for making soap in the lab, or a formula for making a loaf of French sourdough bread in a bakery setting, a KNOWN process with predictable outcome. This is separate from classes (Lectures and labwork) on science per se, where you explore the acidity of materials in baking, or gluten quantity and quality, etc. As a chemist, and also as a baker, you should also know that 0-30% whole wheat flour in bread means several different breads

0% whole wheat,

5% whole wheat

10% whole wheat

15% whole wheat

20% whole wheat

25% whole wheat

30% whole wheat. 

You cannot use the same process and expect the same quality of bread if you choose two different % of whole wheat in the mix from that list. Bread chemistry is that sensitive. You would have to work on each 5 % increase individually until you get a picture perfect loaf with the level of sourness you desire from it. 

You would get better (clear and unambiguous) advice from other bakers if you show us your goal loaf (a picture perfect loaf with the recipe) and some pictures of what you bake when you follow that recipe, how it looks different from your desired loaf. In 99% of the cases the culprit is not in the alchemical ratio of BF to final proof, but in choice of ingredients (different flour, different starter microbiology) and in things that you do before BF or final proof or after them. 

Does anybody know the pros and cons of, for example, a shorter BF before shaping and then longer for the FP or vice-versa?

Their pros and cons are in their convenience or inconvenience to you, to your schedule of working and resting as a baker, nothing else. You can't pull other people's musings about length of their BF and FP out of context of what else they are doing as a whole and how their ingredients, including their starter, are different from yours. 

 I noticed in the "Tartine" recipe that the BF is short, but there is quite a long FP. 

Not really, 3 hrs bulk fermentation (with very non-acidic starter/super mild levain that barely rises after feeding it 1:20, about 20% increase in volume) and 3 hrs final proof according to their bakery itself, their website. The goal is a loaf that is sourdough but not sour at all. Opposite to your preferences. 

Best wishes, 


Matt's picture

Thanks so much for your detailed reply Mariana. I've certainly come to the conclusion that I need to stop changing recipes until I have it nailed. I kind of knew that already, but still could not resist playing around with ingredients a bit! I will definitely follow up on both of those books. It's a good point too about posting pictures of actual vs desired.

albacore's picture

I think you'll have to do your own experiments, Matt. I think you've had a few "red herrings" thrown in so far; as long as you are using the same flour mixes, levain, temperatures, etc, then the experiment should be simple. However this is not always the case. You would really need to do some kind of side by side comparison to eliminate variations from levain activity, temperature and so on.

One problem with looking at existing knowledge is that commercial bakers generally don't measure bulk rise - their bulk dough is usually in a big rectangular tub and there is no easy way to measure volume - they go on time, temperature, appearance, feel, to know when BF is complete in their eyes, using their gained experience.

So any existing knowledge would have to come from home bakers or scientific research papers - but I don't think I've seen any papers on this topic, and not every home baker is entirely accurate in measuring bulk rise.

And then there is the question of how do you measure the rise during final proof? Probably the best would be an ambient FP and use the poke test to determine when ready to bake. Because it's not unreasonable to think that a longer BF should have a shorter FP.

Generally speaking I am of the opinion that a bulk rise of 50% is about right to produce good sourdough bread; I'm not sure if many go up to 100% on a regular basis, but give it a try!

And lastly, I commend to you the work of László who posts his results on Instagram. I think he has one or two posts on the BF/FP conundrum. He also likes to make pH based process step change decisions, which is another useful tool.


Matt's picture

Thanks Lance, that is helpful. I will plan a few paired side-by-side tests using the same dough batch divided in two. It should prove interesting (pun not intended) because comments and other things I have read vary from "it makes no difference" to "they are totally different processes and not interchangeable", so there are definitely different opinions out there even though it is not much talked about. Thanks again.