What Is Proving and Do I Need A Basket?

homemade bread dough
You might read lots of confusing things about bread-baking.

Take 'proving' for example. What does that entail?

To read some bread recipes, you'd be forgiven for thinking that proving is something quite technical, requiring a special basket.

Don't panic. You're already perfectly equipped to prove your dough.

But just to reassure you, I've written this article to clarify what is meant by 'proving' (sometimes referred to as 'proofing') and where it fits into my bread recipes.

Ok, so what is 'proving'?

Proving refers to the second rising of the dough - the rise that happens just prior to baking.

The first rise happens almost as an incidental by-product of the fermentation process.

After you've mixed the dough, you leave it to rest for a while to allow the yeast to multiply and start acting on the starches in the flour to produce carbon dioxide gas, which makes the bread rise.

So, in my bread recipes, we have two rising stages. The second one could, technically, be called 'proving'.

(Incidentally, the picture shows dough after the first rising, rather than actual proving. As you can see, the dough gets quite large and aerated at that stage.)

What's this about a basket?

Some bread recipes speak of using a proving basket. This is often the case in recipes where the dough is going to be baked in a round shape, rather than in a loaf pan.

The basket, usually lined with a cloth, helps to give the dough shape, whilst wicking away moisture, which improves the crust (apparently).

You know me and faff. I see no need for a basket.

I prove my dough in (or on) the container that I'm going to use for baking. Loaves go in loaf pans and rolls go on trays.

If you like, you can cover your proving dough with a clean cloth (be warned, it might stick to the dough, which is difficult to wash off). Or you can cover the dough with oil and/or clingfilm. Covering the dough keeps it clean, may help to keep it warmer by reducing drafts and stops it from drying out.

I usually cover my bowl of dough with a plate while it does its first rise. I must say, I usually leave it out in the open for the proving (second rise) stage.

Is it possible to over prove dough?

Yes.

If dough is left to prove for too long, the yeast will produce more carbon dioxide than the dough can support. The result is bigger gas bubbles that will expand further in the oven.

The over-expanded bubbles tend to burst, causing your dough to deflate rather that rise.

If your loaf has risen too much, it will be flowing over the top of the loaf pan and bubbles will be visible on the surface.

Don't worry, you can correct the over-proving by tipping the dough out of the tin to 'knock it back'. Just knead it again to knock out the excess carbon dioxide and begin the proving step again (which will be quicker this time because there will be more yeast present in the dough by now).

Dough that has been proved for longer tends to produce bread with a stronger flavour since the fermentation process produces alcohol in the dough. The alcohol adds to the taste of the bread - the more there is, the more 'sour' the bread will taste.

Find out more

If your loaf does the 'lid-lifting thing' or looks a bit sunken after cooking, you may have a problem with the proving stage. Troubleshoot the shape of your loaf here.

This article is part of a series on Improving Your Technique, which you can refer to for more details about every aspect of the bread-making process. More tips and helpful hints are on the way.

And remember...

You can be eating Fresh Bread In 20 Minutes with my FREE guide!

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