New bakers being faced with a supposed calamity of an over-proofed sourdough should cease panicking. Try to work out how to rescue your sourdough, or how to avoid this circumstance from repeating itself in the future. Some people prefer to discard their over-proofed sourdough, believing that it is unfit for consumption. However, this is not the case. Fortunately, over-proofed sourdough is quite salvageable. So let’s look at the easy steps needed to rescue your over-proofed sourdough loaves.
What is Proofing?
Proofing is another word for fermentation. It refers to the time given for the yeast and bacteria in the dough to undergo fermentation and produce gasses allowing the dough to rise.
Proofing plays an important role in determining the volume, crust and structure of the crumb.
There are two stages of proofing and these include:
- Bulk Fermentation – This is the first stage of proofing, which takes place after the dough has been mixed.
- Final Fermentation – This is the second stage of proofing, which takes place after the dough has been shaped.
How Can You Tell if Your Sourdough is Done Proofing?
The main task during the proofing of sourdough, is patiently waiting for the carbon dioxide gasses to gather and rise the dough. This can take anywhere from 8-14 hours depending on several factors: your flour, temperature and humidity level. This is because the yeast works faster in warmer temperatures.
The dough will have completed proofing once it achieves a 30% rise during bulk fermentation and an additional 30% rise of the dough during final fermentation.
You can observe the rise of the dough during bulk fermentation by placing the dough in a transparent square container that has the same width throughout its height, and measuring the rise with a ruler.
Over-proofed dough is a common problem for those baking sourdough bread. It’s caused by too much yeast in the dough, which means that the yeast has used up all of its food source and begun to die off. This can also happen if there is too much humidity in the air around your sourdough starter or if it has been kept at room temperature for several days at a time.
Knowing the basic methods of telling whether your dough is over-proofed or not can be quite handy. Here are a couple of obvious ways to catch an over-proofed dough:
- The Dough Smells Like Alcohol
- The Poke Test
The Dough Smells Like Alcohol
If you’re struggling with the tell-tale signs of an over-proofed sourdough, I got you!
The best way to determine this is through smelling your dough. A major sign that your dough is over-proofed is when you smell your dough and the dough smells slightly like alcohol.
If the bread has this distinctive odor, then it is probably over-proofed and will most likely collapse when baked in the oven, due to lack of structure and strength.
The Poke Test
The poke test is an easy way to help you decide whether your dough is over-proofed or not.
The method is straightforward, simply uncover your dough and press one or two fingers into the surface of it for around 2 seconds. Then remove your fingers and watch how much of an indentation remains in the dough. If you notice that the dough does not spring back into place and stays put, then your dough has lost its elasticity, meaning that it is over-proofed.
What are the Signs of an OverProofed Sourdough?
An over-proofed sourdough is a little hard to save, depending on how over-proofed it is.
Some signs of an over proofed sourdough include a flatter dough structure that has collapsed at the sides of the bowl.
Fortunately, there is a way to fix this.
Try giving your sourdough some stretches and folds with your hands, moving the dough around the bowl. This will give the dough a chance to find some new pockets of sugars and starches to consume. Follow this up by letting your starter prove again for another 2 hours before shaping up into loaves or buns as normal.
Another sign is a loose and slack dough, which doesn’t surrender to any shape you try to force it into, is from pulling them up towards yourself or folding them over on themselves. You’ll notice that the dough will just fall back down in droopy clumps onto itself. This is also known as being heavily over-proofed, meaning there’s very little left that could possibly be saved without baking something right then and there – even if you were able to get some kind of shape out of it!
The only thing left would be to pour the shapeless batter into greased loaf tins with hopes that they’d magically transform into structured loaves after baking; which most likely won’t happen since these breads tend to emerge as a dense loaf, rather than soft and fluffy.
With the final result giving a denser flatter breads that taste extremely sour, you’ll find that these are great for making croutons or using in bruschetta toppings.
What About Under-Proofed Sourdough?
While under-proofing is more forgiving than over-proofing, it does have its drawbacks.
The bread won’t develop as much flavor and will have a bit of an uneven crumb after baking. This can be observed through the very large holes at the top of the loaf, and much smaller ones at the bottom.
In addition to this more basic issue with texture, there’s also a difference in flavor profile between under-proofed and over-proofed breads. While both will still taste good when baked, an under-proofed dough will lack some depth compared to one that was left to rise for longer – something that could be described as being more plain or simple in terms of taste profile.
Testing Your OverProofed Sourdough
You can test your over-proofed dough to determine its consistency. If you are unsure how to tell if your sourdough has gone bad, by performing the following tests:
- The Indentation Test
- The Spread Test
- The De-Gas Test
- The Slice Test
The Indentation Test
This is a simple technique that you can use to determine if your dough has been over-proofed.
While the dough is in its container press down on the dough with your finger for a couple seconds. If after removing your finger, the indentation remains, then you know that your sourdough needs to be rescued. The yeast has exhausted itself and stopped working as it should be.
If however when you press down on your sourdough and release, it reacts by springing back into place and returning to its original shape, then this means that your starter has not become over-proofed yet. You can still bake it normally without any extra precautions needed!
The Spread Test
Over-proofed sourdough will spread more than normal. You can test this by removing it from its original container, and flipping it into another.
If the dough immediately starts to spread, even a little, then this is an indication that the dough has over-proofed (which happens as the gluten strains lose their elasticity and the dough is unable to hold its structure). Normal bread will be fuller and maintain any shape you store it in
The De-Gas Test
The de-gas test is a great way to determine whether your dough is over-proofed or not. This test can be done by gently tapping on the top of the loaf.
If it has been properly proofed, there will be gas bubbles that appear on its surface. They may instantly deflate as soon as your knuckles touch the dough, with a light rap.
An over-proofed dough will be firm and you won’t be able to de-gas it further. There will now be no additional gas to escape from the dough. This will result in an indentation in the place where you tapped the loaf.
The Slice Test
The slice test is a good way to check if your dough is over-proofed. If you have already mixed up your sourdough starter and you want to know if your bread has risen enough, then cut into the center of it with a sharp knife. If it cuts through with ease, then this means that it has over-proofed. Try not to slice too much off or else the overall texture of your bread will be ruined.
If instead when using a sharp knife on top of the loaf, it does not cut right through but causes an indentation in the loaf without any resistance (this may also happen if you are trying to make slices while still hot), then this indicates under-proofing which can lead to sunken areas on top.
Rescuing Over-Proofed Sourdough
Having an over-proofed sourdough happens to the best of us, and is definitely not the end of the world. Sometimes it can be fixed to create that almost perfectly baked sourdough bread. Other times you may have baked a loaf with an uneven crumb, and blander flavor profile.
Trial and error, is the key to success!
An over-proofed sourdough would mean that your dough won’t rise in the oven, causing it to deflate easily as you flip it into a baking tray.
You can press into the dough, to test whether your sourdough is over-proofed. If it leaves a permanent indentation, it is over-proofed.
Try gently punching it, and reshaping it, then baking it immediately.
Over-proofed bread releases a distinct odor, and falls apart easily when you pull at it.