Delicious Bread and What is Bread Proofing?

Homemade Bread Dough being prepared Baking.

Proofing Bread:

Baking a loaf of bread may appear as a simple process. But, from a chemical viewpoint, you need some high-school chemistry to understand what occurs in the preparation process. If you have baked your bread, then you are familiar with the term “proofing.” It is also known as “final fermentation” and “blooming.” Proofing is the activation of yeast in the bread dough.

When your recipe states you must “allow the dough to rise,” you allow the proofing to occur within the mixture. Your recipe may also use the terms: first or second rise, bulk fermentation, shaped, or final proof. Mixing the yeast with warm water activates it. Resting the dough for some time encourages the yeast to leaven the bread.

Fermentation encompasses metabolic processes where a chemical breakdown of an organic substance, by microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria, occurs in the dough. Yeast added and kneaded to the bread mixture and left to rest, allows the yeast cells to extract energy from carbohydrates and produce carbon dioxide gas bubbles in the dough; this permits it to expand its size and become a soft spongy substance, it leavens the bread.

Proofing is a fermentation stage but is generally associated with the final expansion that occurs after the dough is shaped and before the baking process begins. Let’s take a look at the various aspects of bread proofing and how it is necessary for the fermentation and baking process.

What is Proofing in Baking?

Proofing refers to the final expansion or “rising” of the bread dough. However, to reach that point, the mixture is worked (i.e., mixing, kneading, and folding) and permitted to rest between these work periods. The word’s final fermentation and proofing are interchangeable. Shaping the dough only changes its outer form and doesn’t interfere with the internal chemistry.

Initially, mix the flour and water, and the combination allowed to rest. During this rest, the mixture absorbs the water and helps the gluten (I will cover this in more detail in a later post) to coagulate (stick together). An “elastic texture” is generated, where carbon dioxide bubbles are created and trapped within the dough.

After this initial rest, the other ingredients are added, like yeast, salt, and others. The rising process begins by adding an active culture (a single-cell fungus) to the bread mix, known as yeast. Sugars are created in the dough by enzymes in the flour and yeast. The yeast “eats” the newly created sugar extracts carbohydrates from the mixture. Carbon dioxide gas is released, producing air bubbles in the whole bread dough; this expands the mix and makes it “spongy-like.”

The sugar develops when the starch present in the flour mixes with water; this releases multiple common sugars such as glucose and sucrose. When yeast consumes the sugars, it produces alcohol that changes the taste of the bread and gives it a warm and soft texture. So, the longer the fermentation takes place in the dough, the better its taste will get.

Folding homemade bread dough - part of the proofing process.

What is Proofing in Baking?

Proofing dough means preparing bread dough for the final stage before baking it. The proofing process is critical and time-consuming, but the taste that develops in the mixture, because of it, is worth the wait. The entire process of fermentation works in a cycle that takes place in several steps mentioned below:

Bulk Fermentation (First Proof):

This is an essential and crucial process in baking a loaf of bread. A single batch of bread dough produces multiple loaves. Bulk fermentation takes place when mixture ferments as a single unit with a more substantial mass; this develops the consistency of flavor in the whole batch as it expands, but before being split and shaped into multiple individual loaves.

The majority of the fermentation process takes place in the bulk fermentation step, and it creates most of the flavor and bread’s texture. At room temperature (24 – 27º Celsius), this process takes anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours. However, the dough temperature is also essential to this process. A warmer dough will tend to rise faster than the colder one.

Folding (Second Proof):

After bulk fermentation, the dough is folded or kneaded. It permits the degassing of the bubbles that formed in the first rest period. The gluten stretches within the mixture and aligns through the kneading action. We will cover this step separately in a future post, so for now, it will be included in a bigger picture view. Folding is done in bread dough so that it could get stretched and re-layered. This process allows the gluten structure to form in the mixture so that the bread could retain air and moisture, giving it a rich taste and consistent texture.

To fold a bread dough, wet your hands and a spatula before scraping the mix from the side of the bowl. Remove as much dough from the sides of the container. Before folding, a process called knockback or punching down occurs, one brushes the surface of the dough to remove excess dry flour and then added to an oiled bowl. Next, we begin folding where we lift one side of the dough upwards and gently fold it over and back onto itself.

Repeating this step on each side, so the mixture is perfectly stretched, the dough temperature evens out, and the yeast distributes evenly throughout. For getting better consistency, try to do the folding process twice, but with a gap of at least a half-hour in between the process. Some doughs may require folding up to five times. 

Shaping (Final Proof):

After the folding process, the dough is divided into multiple individual loaves and shaped according to desired choices. The final necessary step is the final proofing. In this, you have to allow your dough to rise for the last time so that it can develop its final taste and texture.

To complete this step, a process called retarding occurs. In the retarding process, the dough is placed in a shaped bowl or a bread pan and cover it with a towel. Cover the dough and put it into the refrigerator overnight. When you uncover the mixture, it would have gained almost twice the size it was before, and the taste develops immensely.

Risen homemade dough, ready for the oven.

What does Proofed Yeast look like?

Yeast is a micro-organism that is a member of the fungus family. It is a single-celled micro-organism reproduced through budding. Commonly, we use two yeasts for the fermentation process in bread dough, active dry yeast, and the second is instant yeast.

Active dry yeast requires rehydration before using it for fermentation in bread dough. Firstly, the active dry yeast dissolves in warm water. You may add sugar to speed up the proofing process. Sugar is the food the yeast consumes to produce the by-products proofing requires. In other words, they get activated more quickly after coming in contact with the added sugar particles. If left untouched for a few minutes, it is ready as a fermenting agent for the bread dough.

Instant yeast is very different from the active dry yeast. Instant yeast does not need to be proofed or rehydrated before using it as a fermenting agent. They are even smaller in granule size from active dry yeast. Instant yeast added directly to the dough for the fermentation process, and it doesn’t require any prior warming process in water. Yeast before proofing will look like small granules, but when proofed increases its size to almost twice its original size. It becomes a “fluffier foamy” substance. After the yeast thickens, it no longer has its unique structure due to budding.

Homemade dough in a proofing basket.

So, What is a Proofing Basket?

A proofing basket is a baking bowl that provides support to the dough and holds its shape during the proofing process. A banneton is another name for a proofing basket. Brotform is another term used in place of a banneton or proofing basket. Most often made from cane, or wood-fiber and the most common basket shape is round with a spiral pattern. Baskets can take various shapes and sizes.

The basket gently crafts your bread dough into the desired shape of the basket. It supports wet and soft mixture that is not able to maintain its shape and structure during the proofing process. A new cane banneton is usually green, so conditioning the banneton before first using it is crucial.

When using a new banneton, moisten it lightly with water and then dust it with wheat flour to prepare it. The powder may also get in between the small spaces and cracks of the basket, do not overdo it; otherwise, the beautiful spiral texture effect of the basket will vanish.

At first, the bannetons are new, and you may not get the perfect loaf. But after using your banneton a few times, it will start providing the ideal shape and structure. To get the various textured finish, you can also use different types of flours for dusting the bannetons, but professionals prefer to use the same wheat flour for the coating, which they used to make the bread dough.

Using a proofing basket properly requires proper preparation, so the proofing obtains similar consistency. Cane proofing baskets need a dusting of flour before being used. But it is not necessary for wood-fiber baskets although, a little coating of flour before every use does not harm. Regularly dusting the basket with flour ensures your dough doesn’t get sticky and can be easily removed from the basket while maintaining its whole shape and structure.

These baskets absorb the moisture content during the proofing process, so the dough’s outer layer doesn’t stick to the basket. A thin outer layer that is slightly drier makes it easier to score the loaf; this helps the bread to nicely open during the baking process.

Preferably, use some wheat flour in preparing these baskets that you used in making the bread dough. Some bakers also tend to use rice flours as the coating for the baskets. You should try to use the minimum amount of flour for layering, and if you have excess flour, then brush it before baking the bread in the oven.

Final Product - delicious sourdough loaf

So, What is a Proofing Basket?

Proofing baskets vary in shapes, sizes, and different patterns. You need to ensure your bread dough aligns perfectly with the size of proofing baskets. If you have 500 grams or 1-pound mixture, then you need an 8-inch banneton. For 1 kg or 2 pounds of bread, you will need a 10-inch banneton. These are correctly measured sizes according to the dough expansion so that it stays within the borders of the basket even after rising. Beginner bakers, who may not have an exact idea of weight and sizes, should use larger size proofing baskets. 

Our bread proofing basket set contains a perfect example available on Amazon.

It is not necessary to fill the whole basket. You can fill it with enough amount of dough, and you will get the job done. The drawback of using the bigger size banneton is that you won’t get the perfect spiral structure on your baked bread. Take note that bannetons are just containers for supporting the dough structure and maintain its shape in the proofing process, and they DO NOT get put in the oven for the baking process. Try to use different containers that are used in the oven so that your bread could get its perfect texture and taste.