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How to tell when your sourdough bread is ready to bake – The Poke Test.

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when is sourdough ready to bake

So your sourdough loaf has undergone all necessary transformations but how do you know when it’s ready to bake?

The proofing stage of your sourdough bread is also called the second rise. I use the refrigerator method

Proofing means that you let your dough rise again after shaping. Sometimes, this is easy, but knowing when it’s to bake can be tricky. Time and temperature are imperative in making sourdough bread. They are just as important as the ingredients you use. However, you don’t always get to make sure these are the same each time! In fact, every time will be a little bit different.

Sourdough will ‘proof’ faster when it’s warm in your kitchen and slower when it’s cool. You need to time your oven to be ready when your dough is. Turning on the oven will also change the temperature in your kitchen… just sayin’! And all those precious hours of preparing your sourdough can go wrong right here.

If you miss your sourdough’s peak baking point, it will become exhausted and deflate like a balloon. If you keep blowing it up, causing it to expand, the balloon will eventually run out of ‘give’ and pop. Your sourdough is the same. It will continue to expand until it has no ‘give’ left and then it will literally let you down. No baker or oven in the world can fix it. (See point #7: 8 reasons why your sourdough bread be flat)

This is why I recommend using The Refrigerator Method because it slows down the entire proofing process leaving less room for error and virtually no experience in recognising the signs to get it right. But if you’re not using the refrigerator method, how can you tell when your sourdough loaf is ready to bake?

Poking your loaf

OK. So we’re going to sort this out. It’s actually super easy to tell when you loaf is ready to bake, but you need to have a few things ready to go at the same time your dough is.

Pre-heat your oven and baking vessels at least 45 minutes before your loaf is ready. In a moderate kitchen (19-23°C / 66-74°F) it should take between 1.5 hours and 2 hours for your sourdough loaf to proof after shaping. If you’re not sure of the timing, you can always heat your oven when you shape your dough. It doesn’t matter if your oven is hotter for longer, it will work in your favour for oven spring.

To heat your oven see our baking methods:
Baking your sourdough using a Dutch oven or casserole dish*
Baking your sourdough using a pizza stone
Faking it – Baking your sourdough without a Dutch oven or pizza stone

Testing your sourdough
Poke the dough lightly with your finger and take note of how the surface of the dough bounces back.

If the indent comes back quickly and disappears, the loaf is not proofed enough and needs an additional half-hour (or more) proofing time.

If the indent doesn’t bounce back, your loaf is over-proofed. What does this mean? Your dough was left too long for the temperature of your kitchen and your sourdough has done all it’s rising on the bench. It has no energy left for the oven and the bread structure has begun to disintegrate inside. You have nothing to lose by baking it in a bread or cake tin to hold the shape. Place it in very gently. Hopefully, it fits your baking method vessels! Don’t slash it (it will turn your loaf into a popped balloon). Bake immediately. It may turn out dense but it will still be tasty. If the result is really flat, try using it toasted on cheese platters or as croutons in soup or salad.

If the indent springs back gently but not completely, your sourdough bread is ready to bake!

when it sourdough read y to bake
When lightly pressed with a single finger, the dent failed to spring back showing that this loaf has over-proofed. (left too long before baking)

Please note: This test is irrelevant when using the refrigerator method to proof your sourdough loaf.

247 comments

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7 Comments

Stephennie Henke

Hello from Germany 🇩🇪! Great tips, I was just about to throw my dough away because it did not come back completely! Thanks for saving my English muffin dough!

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Nikki

Hi from Singapore. I love all your tips. Thank you.
U mentioned that pocking method it’s irrelevant for cold proof ( refrigerator). So what other method you are suggesting? Thank you.

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Mary-Jane

Hello from Australia! Thank you for your comment. I am glad my tips are helpful. ☺️ Time would be the best indicator for readiness when using the refrigerator to proof your sourdough; followed by visual signs such as size and texture. If the first rise was done correctly, 10 hours in the fridge will be enough time for your loaf proof. It’s cold so the fermentation is slow. You can usually leave your dough past 10 hours up to 24 (max) if you need to without too much problem. Other signs of readiness are – your dough will have grown enough that you can tell it’s bigger and it is holding the same shape you gave it. If it’s underproofed, not ready, the dough will look the same size and shape as when you put it in the fridge. If it’s been too long, you will notice the dough has grown quite large and the dough structure is starting to fall a little bit. This will book like it’s being gently pulled apart on the surface and the loaf is starting to spread wide only, rather than high and all over. I have had my dough both under-ripe and over-ripe in the first rise, before putting it in the fridge to proof. Under-ripe (not yet doubled or even nearly doubled) it grew a tiny bit in the fridge but it was not very noticeable. I still baked it but the loaf was a bit dense. When the opposite happens and it’s over ripe in the first rise (more than doubled) before putting it in the fridge, the dough has already reached its peak and… gone past it. In this instance, I either prepare to bake it straight away and let it proof at room temperature while your oven heats up, or roofing it in the frdige for 4-5 hours will be enough and then it will need to be baked. I hope this answers your question if it didn’t let me know. Thanks so much for asking. I will add this information to the article to help others as well. 👍👍

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Audrey Gleadow

Well I like to think about my bread dough like a starter. When the bread flour touches the starter it is being fed. You could do nothing outside of giving it flour and when it bubbles time for oven. Check your bread if it floats it is ready for the oven. All the folding will not increase bubbles in the bread like the natural fermentation will do. I dont fold or stretch it, let nature do its job naturally. Wet dough is better than too dry. Spray with water before you bake it in oven to add more steam.

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Phil greenlees

Can I let my dough ferment naturally without a starter. So far my dough (stone ground whole wheat flour and water only) has doubled in two days. It already smells and tastes slightly sour.
Kind regards

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Mary-Jane

Hi Phil! What a great question. You know – I’ve never tried it so I don’t know! I have just done a quick search and can’t find any information about what to expect. It will essentially be the beginnings of a sourdough starter. Sourdough starters are just fermented doughs that get stronger and stronger with regular use and reuse. There is some obvious fermentation taking place. How it will hold up to shaping and baking, I am guessing it might bake flat and may need more maturity to hold up to the rigour of becoming a loaf of puffy bread. The feeding and refeeding process is what helps develop that resilience. Like good wine – better with age! If you don’t bake it as-is, it will go flat at some point – which is when it’s tired (The fermentation process needs more water flour) and this will give it the energy to double again. Would love to know what you do with it and how you go!

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Colleen

After my 60 min in fridge, what works cause puddles of liquid around my buns??

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