It happens to the best of us. Due to lack of time or experience, sometimes the dough over ferments. But it’s not the end of the world. It takes time to develop baking skills and to be able to get the dough perfectly fermented every time.
In this article, we will show you how to tell if your dough is over fermented, plus, reveal a few baking secrets to help you avoid over fermentation.
What Are the Signs of Over Fermented Dough?
Experienced bakers can easily spot overproofed or over fermented dough but for those less experienced ones, it can be a bit difficult. When trying to tell whether the dough has overproofed, we use our senses and we judge the dough by taste and smell.
The Dough Smells Funny
One of the major signs of overproofed dough is the smell. If your dough smells a bit like alcohol (many people said the smells resembles beer), then you have probably overproofed it.
The reason why the dough smells a bit funny is the yeast that is converting sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Usually, sweeter breads such as brioche tend to over ferment as they contain greater amounts of sugar and yeast.
The Dough Is not Elastic (The Poking Test)
The most important sign of over fermented dough is the loss of elasticity. The reason why we ferment the dough is to allow gluten to develop and make the dough stronger. Proofing increases the volume, improves the crust, and affects texture too.
To check whether your dough has overproofed, we perform the simple poking test.
- Press your finger into the dough for about 1-2 seconds
- Remove the finger and observe the indentation
If the dough doesn’t spring back and the indentation remains, then your dough is overproofed.
Tip: Wait until your dough rises in volume to perform the poking test. Do not do it right after you shape the dough before it has risen.
How to Avoid Over Fermentation?
Knowing exactly how long to ferment your dough and recognizing when it’s ready to go into the oven is very challenging. It’s something bakers need to learn to do in time and after many attempts.
However, this is not something you leave out to luck. There are steps you can take to ensure you don’t overproof your dough. Here are the tips for avoiding over fermentation.
1.Pay attention to the temperature. The hotter the environment is, the faster the dough ferments. Ensuring the right temperature is especially important during the bulk fermentation (the first rise).
The first rise takes place after we mix the ingredients. If the environment is warm enough, the dough will develop properly. If it’s too cold, your dough will fail to develop strength at this stage and will result in an under fermented bread.
Also, make sure the environment is not too hot as the dough will rise too quickly and later collapse. Room temperature is fine but this depends on where you live. In hotter climates, you might even need to place the dough somewhere cool. Similarly, if your kitchen is chilly, you should place the dough somewhere warm (such as inside of a warmed up but turned off oven).
2.Reduce the amount of yeast used. If your dough has over fermented before, perhaps you used too much yeast. Using a higher concentration of yeast can also result in overproofed dough. As a consequence, the dough will probably collapse later.
3.Observe how the dough develops. Check the dough every once in a while to monitor how it develops. This is especially important during the first rise. You should also check the dough during the second/final rise to see if it’s ready to go into the oven.
This is the part when you perform the poking test to check the elasticity of the dough.
What Happens if the Dough is Overproofed?
The key to a light and airy bread is the CO2 gas development that takes place during the fermentation process. However, excess gas will create too many air bubbles that can’t hold up once in the oven. As a result, the dough falls.
Overproofed dough does not expand much in the oven which results in a dense and deflated bread. As the gluten network weakens and large amounts of gas are produced, the dough collapses.
If you pop an over-risen loaf into the oven, it will have no capacity to further expand in the oven and will thus deflate. The crust will appear wrinkled. But this doesn’t mean that the bread will taste bad, however. The shape and texture will be different and the loaf won’t look very appealing, but the bread is still edible.
However, we doubt you would decide to serve that bread for breakfast if you’re having people over.
Is It OK to Leave the Dough to Rise Overnight?
Yes, it is, depending on the desired flavor and texture you wish to develop. Basically, for proofing dough at room temperature, 2-4 hours is enough. Leaving it more than that can result in over fermented dough which then collapses in the oven.
However, the temperature is a crucial factor. If you leave the dough at a cool place overnight, the dough will be just fine and ready for the oven tomorrow. In this way, the yeast won’t work super fast and the dough will rise more slowly.
In fact, you can go one step further and leave the dough to prove in your refrigerator. This is called a cold fermentation. The dough left in the fridge still rises but slowly as the coolness of the fridge slows down the yeast.
Many people prefer to ferment their dough in the refrigerator as they like the flavor and texture that develops as a result. If you enjoy the artisan-style bread from your local bakery you should know that it was probably left to ferment in a cold environment for a day or more.
Cold fermented or so-called retarded dough develop a different, more acidic flavor. However, professional bakeries mostly use sourdough starter instead of instant or active dry yeast to make the dough.
You can cold ferment pizza dough and bread dough. Slow fermentation can take as little as 6-hours or as long as 3-5 days. In our experience (and many baking experts agree with us), 24 hours is the sweet spot of cold fermentation. The dough is developed just right and air bubbles have formed.
Can You Save Overproofed Dough?
Yes, you can. We know that many bakers simply throw away overproofed dough but there is no reason to do that. We at Freshly Baked believe there is no reason to increase food waste when the dough can, in fact, be saved. Perhaps you won’t achieve 100% desired result, but you will make tasty bread nonetheless.
How can you make delicious bread using the overproofed dough? We’ll show you. Follow the simple steps below:
Step 1. Remove the dough from the bowl.
Step 2. Degas the dough (remove excess gas) by pressing down on it. This will release the air from the dough.
Step 3. Reshape the dough into the desired loaf.
Step 4. Transfer the dough into a pan and leave it to rise again. (But be careful not to forget it again!) The dough should rise about 1” over the rim of the pan)
Step 5. Bake in a preheated oven.
How to Know if Your Dough is Under Fermented?
Under fermented dough results in a not very tasty and appealing bread, much like over fermented dough. In order to get the perfect dough, it must have enough time and a warm environment to rise.
To check whether your dough is under fermented, you can perform the poking test again. Press your finger into the dough for about 2 seconds. If the dough springs back completely and there is no indentation left, it is underproofed. Leave it to ferment for a while more.
When Is the Dough Perfectly Fermented?
All this talking about over fermented and under fermented dough must sound confusing. How will you ever know if the dough is perfectly fermented?
But you can relax as this is easy and even amateur bakers can get the perfect dough if they apply the following technique. You will again need to perform the poking test to check whether the dough is ready.
Press your finger into the dough and observe. If the dough springs back but not completely (about half way), and there is still some indentation left, that means the dough is perfectly fermented and you can pop it into the oven to bake.
What Is the Minimum Time for Dough Fermentation Before Baking?
It’s not uncommon to mix the ingredients and knead the dough but completely forget about it later. Once we cover the dough and leave it in a corner of the kitchen, we get distracted and forget to check on the dough. This is why dough over ferments in most cases.
How long should you ferment your dough really depends on the type and amount of yeast you’re using as well as on the temperature.
If you use instant yeast (also called rapid-rise yeast or fast-acting yeast), and you use a significant amount of it (1 package), the dough will probably be ready in 1 hour.
If you use less yeast and you put the dough in the refrigerator to rise, then it will take about 12 hours. If you leave the dough to rise on the counter but your kitchen is very warm, it will rise more quickly than in a chilly environment.
Temperature makes all the difference. It can either slow the yeast down or speed it up significantly. Again, dough that rises too quickly (too much yeast and a hot environment), tends to deflate later. That is why in humid climates, the proofing time is reduced in half while cooler environments increase it.
But your key indicator should not be time but the volume of the dough. The goal is to get a dough that is doubled in size. This is your biggest clue. So do check on the dough every now and then to see whether it has doubled in size. If it is, it’s ready to be baked even though it’s only been 1.5 hours (less than recommended by most bakers).
Your second clue is the way the dough feels. If the dough has fermented enough, it will be soft and there will be an indentation left after you press your finger into the dough.
A moist dough can rise in less than an hour. On the other hand, a firmer dough with less moisture will take longer to rise. It depends on the type of bread you’re baking as well as the environment in which it ferments.
You can also observe the dough and know it’s ready to be baked when the dough level reaches the rim of the pan or slightly exceeds it.
As long as you follow the guidelines we provided and perform the poking test, you will be just fine. But don’t forget to check on the dough every once in a while because it may rise more or less quickly (depending on the temperature and the type of dough you’re making).
To be on the safe side, we suggest making the dough when you have time to bake it. The important thing is to observe how the dough looks and feels and apply your best judgment (in regard to our tips) to know when it’s ready.