When it comes to making bread, proofing bread dough is by far the most time-consuming stage of the process. Throw in some sourdough starter, and you’ll be waiting for quite some time for your dough to prove.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Making sourdough bread is not as straightforward as making bread with yeast. Sourdough is made using a sourdough starter which you have to make and feed for a few days before you can make sourdough bread. More on that below.
If you are new to the sourdough-making hobby, you might be wondering how long to proof sourdough. Don’t worry, I got you covered with every tip and trick on proofing your sourdough bread.
Keep reading to find out more!
What is Proofing?
To understand the best way to proof sourdough in your home, we need to quickly talk about what on earth proofing actually is. If you haven’t made bread before, it might sound like a big task, but proofing basically means letting the dough rest and rise. Yup, that’s it. Not to mention you are also giving yourself some time to rest after all the elbow deep kneading you just did.
While you and your dough are resting, a few things happen to the gluten in your bread which you created by kneading. Firstly, gluten relaxes. Like an elastic band, you’ve stretched it out while kneading, so it needs a little bit of rest time to go back to being non-stretched. These strings collapse a little in the bread, simply standing there, sticky and long.
The second thing that happens is that carbon dioxide appears from the fermentation of the yeast. These little portions of carbon dioxide appear throughout the bread at regular intervals and are trapped by the sticky strands of gluten. This causes the bread to rise, which stretches the gluten out a little bit, though not quite as much as it was when you were kneading.
This proofing process serves to make the dough rise, making it bigger and lighter, and allowing for a larger finished loaf of bread.
How To Proof Sourdough
The simple method of proofing sourdough is the same as the proofing method for other forms of yeast. Essentially, you just place the dough into a proofing basket and wait.
It is worth pointing out, however, there are a couple of typical differences from commercial yeast. We’re going to break down the science of that a little more in the next section of the article, but, before that, we’re going to talk about the plain facts of proofing sourdough.
Sourdough bread will generally have two stages of proofing in the process of making the bread.
The first stage will be something called bulk fermentation, which is where the bread will have its first rise. Typically, this happens immediately after the yeast has been added, and before the bread is shaped into individual loaves.
It’s called bulk fermentation because this stage would happen to several loaves worth of dough in a commercial bakery setting. It would typically be done overnight before the bread was divided and proofed in the morning.
The second stage of proofing is actually called proofing. The dough will be divided into portions, and then shaped into loaves, and risen over a period of a few hours. This serves to shape the loaves well and to ensure that, when baked, the loaves rise into a certain shape and size.
Why is Proofing Sourdough Different From Regular Proofing?
Sourdough proofing time is impacted by the ‘strength’ of the sourdough starter. A regular loaf of bread will use baker’s yeast to rise the bread. This causes the bread to proof fairly quickly, depending on how much yeast you add. The more yeast you add to your dough, the faster it will prove.
Sourdough starter is capable of digesting carbohydrates to produce water and carbon dioxide. However, it’s not capable of doing that very quickly. What is a sourdough starter you ask? It is simply a mixture of water and flour that you feed over the course of a few days as it slowly produces carbon dioxide.
Commercial yeast is also capable of digesting carbohydrates to produce water and carbon dioxide, it just does it much quicker.
Do you want to learn how to make your own sourdough starter? Take a look at the video below!
How Long To Proof Sourdough at Room Temp?
Generally speaking, the final proofing phase of sourdough at room temperature should last for around three to four hours. That sounds like a very long time, especially since you could have made a yeasted loaf of bread from scratch in that time. But, as you have probably figured out, sourdough takes time and patience. Sourdough starter is not very forgiving, so if something goes wrong, it can really impact your proving times.
If you are wondering how long to proof sourdough in a banneton, you’re looking for your dough to double in size. That’s the baseline measurement that you should follow rather than a time frame.
Proofing Sourdough in The Fridge
If you’d like to give a little more time for your sourdough to rise, you can allow the dough to rise in the fridge. In the fridge, the sourdough should rise over the course of twelve to fifteen hours.
The main reason that you would want to proof in the fridge is actually to avoid over-proofing. The main reason why you would want this is that over-proofed bread doesn’t really have anything left to give in the oven and can stop rising at the worst time possible.
Proofing in the fridge allows you to slow down the process of the yeast working so much that your window for success is much wider. Typically, removing the yeasted dough from the fridge will be successful between twelve and fifteen hours, while the same results with room-temperature bread dough can take three to four hours. A fridge-proofed dough is successful for three hours, while a room-temperature dough is successful for one.
Finally, you may also want to proof sourdough in the fridge to increase the flavor of the bread. The slow proofing process allows for all the ingredients in the loaf of bread that you’re making to mingle for a little longer, which allows a greater depth of flavor in the final loaf itself.
I proof my pizza dough in the fridge for 18 hours which gives the dough a better taste and a chewier bite.
What Temperature Should Sourdough be Before Baking?
For a long time, I’ve wondered how long to take sourdough out of the fridge before baking. You might think that the best thing to do is to let the dough get to room temperature before baking. But actually, you are better off putting the dough directly from a cold fridge into a hot oven.
This is to allow for something called oven spring to happen. Oven spring is when the high temperature of the oven serves to give the natural yeast in the dough a kickstart. The dough will then rise very quickly for the first few minutes of baking, before rising more slowly over the remaining baking time.
If you were to use a cooler oven or a warmer dough, then you would minimize the impact of this oven spring on the final loaf that you made. Sadly, this would then lead to a loaf of bread that’s not as well-risen as it could be.
Sourdough Proofing Time
To speed up sourdough proofing time, we need to quickly run through how yeast works. Essentially, it’s a biological eating machine that munches at sugars in the gluten and produces carbon dioxide to make the bread rise.
An easy way to speed up proofing is to add a source of sugar to the bread dough. This will allow the yeast in the bread dough to easily digest some sugar, getting the proofing off to a quick start. By the time that sugar is used up, the yeast should have started to digest some of the flour, which will then carry on the proofing process.
You can also speed up proofing by adding some heat to the proofing process. Yeast is alive, and functions in much the same way as bacteria and other microbes. In the same way that we put food in the fridge to cool it down and slow down microbial growth, we can put food somewhere warm to heat it up and speed up microbial growth. Therefore, placing your bread dough near a radiator or in a warm oven can allow for the yeast growth process to be a little faster.
Now You Know How Long To Proof Sourdough Bread For!
Sourdough can be intimidating but once you get a perfect loaf out of the oven it’s one of the most rewarding things. How long you proof sourdough bread for really depends on a few things like how much sugar is in the dough and whether you have the dough proofing near a heat source.
These tips can help you speed up the proofing stage. You could also go as far as using a bread maker to proof and bake your sourdough in, but you are better off letting the sourdough starter do its thing and let it proof naturally. Expect a first proof of around twelve hours and a second proof of around three hours.