Bulk fermentation. We are all trying to figure this one out, aren’t we?
One of the things that freed me early on in my naturally leavened journey is that I quit taking notes and watching the clock. I started watching the dough. Getting to know my dough.
Mostly, I started watching where my dough rose to in my proofing bowl. This really helped me get better at knowing when my bulk was ready for the next step. Recently, I started using @fullproofbaking’s aliquot method (see her profile). This was helpful too.
While talking to @nmuvu and @fullproofbaking the other day, I saw the bottom of Kristen’s dough at the end of bulk. I could see the structure, and it was amazing. I then remembered the time that @tuscan_baker reached out to me with some helpful tips when I was in one of my bread funks. Brock asked me to photograph the bottom of my dough, and he sent me a photo of the bottom of his. His looked like Kristen’s, and mine definitely did not!
I also asked Nicole and Kristen how they knew their dough was ready. If you all know me, then you know that I want something concrete and objective so that I “know.” Well, they told me that it’s really subjective: you have to feel the gas building up and the structure developing, and then you slowly learn the “when.”
So, I started making a single loaf of dough, and letting it bulk proof in a rectangular Pyrex vessel. My goal: feel the dough often and see if I can really see the structure in the bottom of my dough. I even stopped proofing in my @brodandtaylor proofer because it’s so good at holding the temp of the dough constant that I still somewhat watched the clock.
I started using coil folds instead of stretch and folds. I feel like these are gentler, and most importantly my hands can feel the gas and the structure more with this type of fold. I’m letting my bulk proof go longer because my kitchen is cooler than my proofing box. This gives me more time to feel the dough. I often gently pick up a corner or two to see how light and airy and structure-filled the dough feels.
I’m now stopping my bulk proof when the dough feels right. I don’t know what right is yet, but #practicemakesprogress.