Making bread by hand – How to proof bread dough?

How to proof bread dough

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Proofing — sometimes called rising — is the process that allows the build-up of carbon dioxide into the dough, expanding the loaf as it rises.
As any baker knows, proofing bread dough is crucial in ensuring that your loaves come out light, fluffy, and perfectly risen. However, it can also be trickier to master, as getting the right temperature, humidity, and time can all affect the final product. Properly proofed bread will have a tender crumb and a crispy crust and will be irresistible to anyone who loves freshly baked bread. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to proofing bread dough so you can perfect this process and enjoy delicious, homemade bread every time. From the equipment you’ll need to the best practices for achieving that perfect rise, you’ll learn everything you need to know to become a pro at proofing bread dough.

The first rise – Let it rise until it is doubled

Cover it with some plastic wrap or a dishtowel on a baking tray and let it rest for at least 30 to 90 minutes in a warm place until doubled the size.

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Proofing times

How long your dough rises depends on the dough type, bread size, kitchen temperature, weather, and humidity. One way to tell if it’s ready is if it has doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 30, in a warm room, to 90 minutes, in a cold room.

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The type of dough will determine the required rising period

Dough with milk or dairy products ferments faster because they speed up the fermentation process. If this type of dough is left to rise for too long, it can spoil. Avoid using milk or other dairy products in dough if you want it to rise for a long time.
The sweet dough can slowly rise because sugar takes water away from yeast, making it thirsty and unable to grow. If you use regular yeast not formulated for sweet dough, it will take longer for the dough to rise – up to 30 minutes more for each rise.

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Ambient temperature will play a part in how fast it rises

If the room is cold, the dough will take longer to rise due to slow fermentation. But if placed in a warm spot, it will ferment quickly and rise faster.

Rise temperature

If the dough isn’t at the right temperature or hasn’t been allowed to rest, the yeast won’t be able to work properly. It’s best to let the dough rest in a warm, draft-free place to help the yeast do its job. If it gets too cold, the yeast will work slower; if it’s too hot, it will begin the cooking process and die.

The optimum temperature for rising is 26-30°C/80–85°F.

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Rising it on the countertop

Cover the pan with a clean cloth to prevent a dry layer from forming on the dough. Make sure the cloth is damp but not wet and is smooth and made of cotton – don’t use a fluffy or textured towel, as it will stick to the dough and mess up your bread. Alternatively, you can cover it with plastic wrap lightly coated with cooking spray or oil and let it rise somewhere warm. Just make sure the cloth or plastic wrap covers the entire dough – if it’s too small, the dough will develop a crust and won’t rise properly.

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Rising it in a slightly warmed oven

If the room is cold, and you want to ensure the dough will rise, you can place it in a slightly warmed oven.

  • Leaving dough on the counter, heat your oven at the lowest temperature to 76°C/170°F for ONLY ONE MINUTE and turn it OFF — This is crucial! Set a timer, so you don’t forget. More than a minute is too long.
  • Put the dough in the slightly warmed oven.
  • Cover the dough with a clean dishtowel or a plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray.
  • Make sure it remains moist, and place a pan with hot water at the lowest point of the oven.
  • Set the timer for 45 minutes.
  • Relax.
  • When the timer goes off, remove the dough from the oven.
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Rising it in the fridge

If you can’t bake dough right after kneading it, you can put it in the fridge to make it rise more slowly. This is helpful for some types of dough, which can spoil or become sour if they rise too much. Some doughs should be put in the fridge to rise or after they’ve already risen. The refrigerator will slow the yeast growth, giving you more time before it’s ready to bake. Before baking, take the dough out and let it come to room temperature for one to two hours or put it in a slightly warmed oven for 30 minutes.

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How to know if the dough is ready

The dough should feel soft and fluffy. Poke it to make sure it’s ready. Flour your fingers and gently press on the dough’s sides.

  • If the indentation bounces back, give it more time.
  • If it fills back in slowly, it’s ready to shape.
  • If it doesn’t spring back at all, it’s been left for too long.
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Bread dough should not be left to rise for too long

Leaving the dough in warm temperatures for too long, regardless of whether it has dairy or not, will make it sour due to excessive fermentation. This affects both the taste and texture of the bread. Instead of having the desired soft and chewy texture, the bread can become too dense, crumbly or gummy. Contrary to popular belief, the bread won’t rise by letting the dough rise for a long time. It will result in a smaller loaf.

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Under-proofing or over-proofing

Proofing is important for the taste of bread. If your dough is not proofed enough (under-proof) or too much (over-proof), it can affect the final taste of the bread.

Keep an eye on it. This step is crucial.

With under-proof dough, you will have sticky or flattened bread

If the dough doesn’t rise enough, your bread will be compact and smaller than it should be.

If it over proofs, it may fall or have a big hole in the middle

If you let the dough rise too much, the bread will have little strength, resulting in deflated or crumbling bread. The dough will fall apart while baking or when you try to handle it. You won’t be able to shape the dough the way you want if it’s risen too much.

You may only realize your error once you slice into the baked loaf.

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What do you do if you forget about the dough, which is over-proofed or has risen too much?

When the dough is left too long to rise, the air bubbles inside can burst, changing the taste of the bread later. To fix the dough, push down on it to remove the air, then shape it again and let it rise again.

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The second rise – Let it rise again until it nearly doubled

It could range from 30 minutes, for a small roll, to 90 minutes, for a sandwich loaf.

How to shape the dough bread

After you shape the dough, let it sit in the oven tray before baking. Cover it with a towel and put it in a warm spot for 30 to 90 minutes. The rising time can differ depending on the recipe, your kitchen’s temperature, and humidity. The final product will be affected by how long you let it rise. You’ll know it’s ready when it has risen about an inch (2.5 cm) above the pan or doubled in size.

The optimum temperature for rising is 26-30°C/80–85°F.

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Rising it in the fridge after shaping

If you don’t have enough time to bake your bread, cover the dough with plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick spray and put it into the fridge for up to 24 hours. The cold temperature will slow the yeast from rising.
Take it out in the morning, let it warm up, and then bake it. Leave it on the counter for one to two hours in a cold room, or put it in a slightly warmed oven for about 30 minutes. To warm the oven, turn it to 76°C/170°F for just one minute, then turn it off.

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This article is part of “How to bake awesome bread

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