Bread is one of the most comforting and versatile foods to make at home. Yet, sometimes, it doesn’t turn out right! Whatever the reason, a loaf that collapses in the oven or right before baking is a big pain! So what are the reasons why bread collapses in the oven and how can we avoid making these mistakes so the next batch is insta-perfect?
Let’s find out…!
So, what’s the science behind collapsing bread?
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Dough collapses when the gluten network is too weak to retain the gas produced from yeast fermentation and crushes under its own weight. This can be due to weak flour, under kneading, over proofing or manhandling.
The stages when bread can collapse
Bread can collapse during proofing, slashing, during the first ten minutes of baking or when transferred towards the oven. Usually the reason the dough collapses is due to a defect in the dough. But, a mistake when handling the dough such as dropping it will also destroy the structure.
Unless the flattening is due to bad handling, the rule is:
“The earlier it collapses, the more overdeveloped the dough”.
The most common reason for bread collapsing is being over risen.
What’s happening when bread rises?
When dough rises, yeast produces carbon dioxide gas and ethanol through fermentation. It also facilitates organic acid development which produces (largely) lactic and acetic acids. These acids, alongside ethanol, mature the dough to make it taste better, keep gas better and help it to stay better (fresh) for longer.
Lactic and acetic acids also produce carbon dioxide gas for the dough. This is prevalent in sourdough starters where they’re responsible for the majority of gas production (not the wild yeasts).
How to stop your dough collapsing
Let’s look at how to fix the problem. Here are 6 ways to stop your bread collapsing and ending up as dense as a brick!
#1 Use good quality flour and work it well!
Cheap, poor quality flour won’t withstand extended rises without collapsing. If you are using artisan long fermentation techniques, a quality artisan flour is generally needed. It is not necessary to use bread flour for every bread, all purpose flour often works, providing it’s from a reputable mill.
If your first rise is quite short you should knead the dough well to work the gluten so that it is nice and strong. This is important so that the dough can retain the maximum amount of gas possible. This makes for bigger rise and prevents the bread being dense.
Kneading with efficient hand kneading techniques or dough mixer saves you time, energy and makes perfect bread!
#2 Slow down the rise with less yeast and cooler temperatures
Decreasing the amount of yeast or sourdough starter slows the rate of the rise. This is necessary in no-knead bread recipes where the gluten develops naturally over time, instead of mechanical force.
Many recipes combine kneading with a longer rise, or a two stage rise. This provides a stronger gluten network as the dough becomes more mature.
Cool proofing temperatures are used to slow fermentation. We want to allow plenty of time during the first rise for the dough to mature, whilst stoping it getting too gassy. Too much gas early on, forces the dough structure to collapse if the weak gluten cannot contain it.
#3 Know when to end bulk fermentation
Knowing how long to push the first rise is a challenging skill. For an open crumb it’s common to want to extend the bulk rise. Letting the dough rise to double (sometimes more) works wonders for an open crumb and more intense sour flavour in sourdough bread.
Letting the dough rise like this can only be executed when using less levain.
If making bread with lots of yeast (1.8% upwards of the flour weight), the yeast is likely to run out of food in the long rise. This will prevent it from rising after shaping and probably collapse when it meets resistance as it goes into the oven.
For bread made with higher amounts of yeast, 50% bulk fermentation growth is satisfactory.
A highly active sourdough or a recipe with a high ratio of starter to flour should rise less before shaping.
#4 Test if it’s ready with the poke test
A good check to know when the dough is ready to bake will stop you from over proofing bread. For this we can use the poke test.
How to use the poke test
As the dough rises, wet your finger and poke it into the dough about half a centimetre (just under). Pull your finger away and watch how quickly the dough springs back.
If it springs back straight away, it’s under proofed. If it stays down for 2-3 seconds before returning, it’s ready. If it stays down for longer or doesn’t return at all it is over proofed.
It’s better to under proof rather than over.
#5 Careful when scoring!
A delicate dough can also collapse when scoring. If you think that you’ve over-proofed the dough, don’t weaken its structure any further by slashing it. Just slide it straight onto the oven, give it some steam and shut the door.
Breads made with whole grains such as wholemeal, whole wheat, spelt and rye have a tendency to collapse when cut. Don’t slash whole grain breads unless they contain a high ratio of white bread flour.
#6 Don’t drop the bread!
Poking it, dropping it and general f$%£ ups like when dough sticks to the peel can cause a delicate dough to collapse. Not putting enough flour on the banneton or peel is one of my most frustrating misdeeds!
Have your working area prepared so you don’t get tempted to “forget” to flour dust or lose your equipment when you’re in a hurry!
These top tips should prevent your bread from collapsing in the oven, or just before. Let me know how they work for you in the comments below.