Anyone who has ever baked bread at home knows that it is a lengthy process that requires planning and patience. Can we spoil the bread by not waiting for the rather time-consuming dough fermentation process to finish before baking?
Insufficiently proofed bread dough will go through too much growth in the oven. As a result, the crust that forms quickly due to heat is likely to crack on the top or side of the bread. Sometimes a lump will form on the top of the loaf. The gluten structure cannot relax sufficiently during the too short fermentation time. Therefore, it won’t be elastic enough and will tear, resulting in the formation of a crumb with uneven holes and a dense and gummy center.
How do you know if the bread dough has risen well?
During the first rise, the dough should approximately double in size. Then we need to deflate the dough before the second rising phase begins. During the second rise, the volume of the dough will approximately double again. If you gently press the well-leavened dough with your finger, resulting in a slight indentation. The dough should spring up slowly.
If the dough shows resistance and springs back immediately after you press it, it is not yet fully risen. On the other hand, if you press the dough with your finger and it doesn’t spring back at all, the dough is over-proofed.
The dough becomes softer during rising, and sometimes blisters appear due to the gases that develop in it. However, too many blisters can mean overfermentation.
The rising of the dough may take anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes. Proofing is usually completed in 60-90 minutes in warm environments, but if the dough is left to rise in the fridge, the process can take up to 36 hours.
Factors that affect the speed of bread dough fermentation
1. The amount of yeast
The speed at which bread dough rises is influenced by the type and amount of leavening agent used. Using more yeast speeds up the dough’s rising process. Although bread containing more yeast rises faster, it can’t develop rich, intense flavors in the short time available.
2. The amount of added sugar
Adding a small amount of sugar to the dough helps the activity of the yeast and promotes the browning of the crust during the baking process. However, adding too much sugar has the opposite effect, because it takes away moisture from the yeast and thus inhibits the fermentation process.
3. Ambient temperature and the length of fermentation
The temperature at which the dough is raised also greatly affects the length of the leavening. In a warm kitchen environment, perhaps next to a heat source or in a sunny window, the dough can rise faster than if we kept it in a cooler place. Due to the heat, the production of carbon dioxide accelerates, which makes the dough rise. However, more alcohol and acetic acid are also produced, which can give the bread an overly tangy taste.
Bread dough leavened in a cool place can develop pleasant, complex flavors as a result of the longer leavening time. Carbon dioxide is also produced more slowly, which results in an even structure in the bread.
While on the subject of the length of bread fermentation, you may be interested in my article on why dough needs two rising periods.
4. Ingredients of the bread dough
The duration of the leavening also depends on the ingredients of the dough, as enriched doughs containing fat and eggs usually need a longer leavening time. For enriched bread, such as brioche, we use milk instead of water, and eggs, which make the dough heavier and slow down the rising process due to their fat content.
Bread doughs that contain a higher percentage of whole wheat flour also need more time to rise than doughs made with refined flour.
What causes bread to rise?
The function of the leavening agent used in the bread-making process is the production of carbon dioxide, which raises the dough.
Bread can be leavened with biological or chemical leavening agents. Chemical leavening agents are baking soda and baking powder, often used in making quick bread. Biological leavening agents include yeast and sourdough starters. Sourdough starters are fermented by wild yeasts that live in our environment.
The fermentation process of yeasted and sourdough bread
- The first step in making bread dough is mixing the ingredients. When the yeast combines with the water and flour, the fermentation of the dough begins.
- In the second phase, we develop the gluten in the dough by kneading, which can be done by hand or with a stand mixer. A well-developed, elastic gluten is a prerequisite for the dough to rise properly.
- The third phase is the initial rising of the dough, when the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast increases the volume of the dough, usually doubling its size. As a result of resting the dough, the gluten developed in the previous step relaxes.
- The fourth step is to punch down the dough to squeeze out the formed gases. This refreshes the yeast and enables it to rise the dough further. After you divided and shaped the dough, it is ready for proofing.
- During the proofing phase, the dough undergoes an increase in volume, due to the renewed yeast activity, flavors develop and the gluten relaxes. The properly proofed dough will result in nicely risen bread with a brown crust and evenly structured crumb. The quality and appearance of the bread are also affected by the scoring technique and the baking conditions, which include the presence of steam in the oven.
Bread made using baking soda doesn’t need time to rise, but is baked as soon as the dough is mixed. That’s why we call it quick bread.
Baking soda also needs some acidic substance to be active and produce carbon dioxide. This can be, for example, yogurt or cultured buttermilk. Baking soda reacting with an acidic ingredient produces a leavening effect similar to that of yeast.
So, if you decide to bake the bread in the phase when it has not yet risen properly, it will grow too much in the oven due to the heat. As a result, the crust will crack. In under-risen dough, the gluten will not be elastic enough, so it will tear during baking, resulting in a sticky, dense crumb in the middle, and big holes on the outer rim.