The Bread Also Rises: Dump the slump of over-risen bread

Picture it, if you will. Lebanon, NH. 1991. A newly married young woman carefully balances a loaf pan of yeast bread dough as she brings it to the oven.

The loaf is magnificent, standing at least 6″ high and domed on top like the crown of a hot air balloon. Although gentle, her footfalls cause the loaf to wobble like pale, puffy Jell-O.

Lovely and lofty, the bread shares other features with a balloon. The dough at this point is nearly transparent; a slight breeze seems enough to blow the dome to one side. Placing the pan on the oven rack, she closes the door with a small thump, then watches in horror through the glass window as her perfect loaf collapses to roughly the height of a leaky inflatable wading pool.

Well, you’ve probably guessed by now that the bread in question was one of my first breads, and I’m sure most of you have shared a similar experience. Watching your “perfect” loaf wither away is one of the most disheartening things that can happen to a baker, and I’m sure has caused many a newbie to give up on yeast breads forever.

Luckily, I lived close enough to the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Store that I was able to talk with a baker and learn how to prevent the colossal collapse from happening again. Over the years I’ve learned more from my fellow bakers, and added it all to my bag of tricks. So, speaking for my fellows, I’m here to help you determine when your bread is perfectly risen, to give you that consummate crown on every loaf you bake.

DSCN1802

Let’s start with a batch of basic white bread that’s risen once, and been divided into two equal loaves. Usually I eyeball it when dividing dough, but for the sake of clarity I made sure to divide the dough by weight.

Each ball of dough was shaped and pressed into an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan. They were lightly covered with lightly greased plastic wrap, and set on the counter to rise in a 68°F room.

One loaf is destined for greatness; one will be forced into failure. Don’t mourn the loaf, it’s for science.

DSCN1810

On our Baker’s Hotline we frequently tell folks that when dealing with yeast breads and rise times,  always go by the look of the dough, not by the clock. A loaf may rise in 25 minutes in one kitchen, but take 35 in another. Timeframes given in recipes are guidelines, rather than deadlines.

Our first loaf is looking good. It’s risen visibly, so let’s start checking to see if it’s ready for the oven yet.

So, how do you tell when a loaf is perfectly risen?

First, the knuckle test.

DSCN1813-001

I’m sure nearly every baker has seen a line in a recipe advising “let rise until 1″ over the rim of the pan”. In a perfect world, that line would actually read “OK, tilt your head to the side so you can look at the crown of the bread from the side. The very top of that dome should be 1″ over the rim of the pan. No, no, not right at the edge, but in the very center.”

That’s all a little too wordy, so it’s been shortened over the years, and now can lead us easily astray.

The good news is, you have a built-in 1″ measure that can really help you determine how high your loaf has risen at a glance. From the tip of your thumb to the first knuckle is approximately 1″.  If you view the loaf from the side, placing your thumb on the rim of the pan, you should be able to tell if your loaf is under, over, or just about right.

Take a look at the photo above. Do you feel it’s over 1″, under, or just right? If you said under, you’re right. I’d give this bread another 10 minutes, then check again.

DSCN1815

Next, let’s check with the poke test.

Lightly flour your index finger and press it gently into the dough, about to the bed of your fingernail. If the indentation remains and doesn’t spring back/fill in, then the bread is well risen and ready for the oven. Have no fear, the “belly button” will rise and bake out just fine in the oven.

Adios, first loaf. You’re good to go. See you in 25 minutes!

DSCN1816

Bread #2 was left to sit at room temperature while bread #1 baked, so it got an additional 30 minutes on the counter. It looks like a buxom, well-rounded loaf. Let’s give it the first test.

DSCN1817-001

Well, I’d say it’s more than 1″, wouldn’t you?  Let’s look at something else as well, from a different angle.

DSCN1818-001

On the end of the pan, you can see the dough has crested over the rim and is starting to overflow. This is not a good sign. Remember, what goes up must come down, and if your loaf is starting to come down already, the internal structure from the gluten is becoming compromised and weaker.

The bread may not be a total loss at this point though. You can gently deflate the dough, reshape it, and set it to rise again. Watch it very carefully, as this third rise will go quite quickly and probably won’t be as high. The yeast is becoming exhausted, and doesn’t have as much oomph as it did a couple of hours ago.

Let’s get this loaf to the oven before we wait any longer, to see what happens when you don’t choose to deflate, reshape, and go for the third rise.

TroubleBread2_750x500

Here are the results.

Loaf #1 is on the far left, loaf #2 is on the far right. In the middle is one more loaf that I baked the following week. As you can see, catching the loaf at the right time gives you the roundest, fullest crown.

The middle loaf is an example of how you can catch a loaf that’ slightly over-risen and still bake it. You’ll see a slightly sunken center, and you may see more bubbles and gaps under the top crust; but it isn’t as big a flop as loaf #2.

TroubleBread2_750x500-001

Poor, poor loaf on the end. The deeply sunken center, the curl of crust that fell over the edge of the pan, and that hideously coarse crumb all speak to severe over-rising. The scent of the bread is sour, but not the good healthy sour of sourdough: it’s a more perfumed sour that makes you think of over-ripe fruit.

All in all, quite the disappointment for all the hard work and ingredients you’ve put into this loaf.

Now, wave good-bye to this kind of sad slab forever, for you know the secrets to never having this happen again. Armed (thumbed?) with your own personal measuring tools, you’ll forever be able to judge when your loaves are ready to slide into the oven to emerge as golden brown domes of handsomeness and flavor.

Now, I’m sure there are questions or details that you still want to ask about, and that’s great. Let’s fill up the comments section with as much helpful information as we can. Tell me your own stories about “The Giant Loaf that Ate Cleveland.” And, of course, my pals and I at the Baker’s Hotline are happy to help you, too.

 

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Linda! The tips outlined in this blog article can be applied to all kinds of bread — you’ll find that the “poke test” is particularly helpful when making free-form loaves. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  1. Ekta

    I am so glad I found this site. I have a foolproof gluten free recipe that I found online and it tastes really good. The dough rises beautifully when set aside but I noticed that it stops rising as soon as I put it in the oven for baking.

    This is what I do:
    1. Prepare the batter as per the recipe( the only substitute is that I use oil instead of butter)
    2. Cover with Saran wrap and let it rise in warm oven as suggested( Is it needed? Can I let it rise on counter and that too without the saran wrap?)
    3. Pre-heat the oven and shove the bread in – The bread stays rises as much as it had in Step 2 – Not even a cm higher.

    What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Ekta! It really doesn’t sound like you’re doing anything wrong — because it is a gluten-free loaf it won’t react the same way gluten-full baked goods will and often times gluten-free breads don’t get that much oven spring. you can try putting the loaf into the oven sooner, maybe about 15 minutes sooner, than you normally do to see if that gets you a little more rise. But, keep in mind that putting under-proofed dough into the oven can also collapse, so this may have adverse effects. Happy GF baking! Morgan@KAF

  2. Kathleen Wolfe

    I have had the experience of having a loaf deflate in the oven, yet it was only 1″ over the pan when I put it in. Could my first rise have been too long? The recipe says 1 hour, although it definitely doubles during that length of time, and perhaps more. I end up with smaller loaves that are flat on the top.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kathleen! It sounds like your dough is happy and/or your house is warm so your loaves are over-proofing. Rather than going off of the time, you’ll want to base your decisions on what the dough is doing. As soon as an indent stays in the dough when you poke the loaf with your finger, get it in the oven as soon as possible — it’s ready. Check out our blog on over-proofed dough for helpful visuals and tips. Annabelle@KAF

  3. odile Feria

    waht happens when the dough is let rise for the second time at a long period of time, and the dought totattly loose its shape and deflated ?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Odile! When a loaf gets over-proofed the yeast gives out, so the dough loses its structure resulting in a loaf of bread that deflates either before or while baking. Kindly, Morgan@KAF

  4. Crystal

    Very beginner bread baker, and this solved my first great mystery with my loaves: well over risen! I can’t wait to make my next loaf armed with this information. Thank you!

    Reply
  5. Diana

    Thanks for the tips on rising. I guess I just expected the loaves to bake like my white bread. I will try again. The family loves the oatmeal for french toast, so even with the “great ditch” it all got eaten.

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *