Knowing when your loaf is ready to bake is really important for a successful loaf. If your loaf is left too long it will overproof and whilst it may look spectacular – fully risen and filled with air – as soon as you put it in the oven it will collapse. You can read more about this here.
If you put it in the oven too soon the loaf won’t reach its potential. It might burst out at the weakest point in the dough creating a small ball of dough at the side or bottom. It will remain denser than it could have been with more time and the crumb will be heavy.
I often say that baking an under proofed bread is better than over proofed bread, because at least it won’t collapse. But a fully proofed loaf is best of all. So, if you are guilty of putting a loaf in the oven too soon (and I must put my hand up and say that this is me – I am just too impatient for my own good), then please give it an extra ten minutes next time. See how it improves. If you think you could get away with another few minutes of proving time try that next time.
But how do you know when your loaf is ready?
This comes with practise. Each time you make a loaf it is an opportunity to learn.
A fully proofed loaf will feel evenly airy when you place your hand over it, but will still have good surface tension. It will also spring back to almost normal after 1-2 seconds when a finger is gently poked into the loaf. It will leave a slight indent. This test shows that the loaf has reached its extent of rising but still has the potential for oven spring*.
An under proofed loaf will feel denser at its centre. An over proofed loaf will feel very light and will collapse a little as your gently press it and not spring back.
This video shows you what a fully proofed loaf looks like and how to test it and can also be watched here.
*Oven Spring – When you bake a loaf in the oven, the loaf rises a bit more when it is fully proofed. The carbon dioxide trapped in the loaf expands in the heat and causes the loaf to rise. Oven spring takes place in the first ten minutes of baking, which is why steaming your oven is important. The steam keeps the crust moist so that the loaf can benefit from the oven spring. Without steam the crust will dry out and harden before oven spring has happened.