Oven Spring A Guide On How It Works
How oven spring occurs is truly amazing and my probably my favourite topic in baking bread. You may be familiar with how oven spring works, or realise that when bread enters the oven, it gets a final rise.
This post explains why bread springs in the oven and how you can manipulate the oven spring to your advantage to make better bread!
Understanding how to improve oven spring will help you to create unique bread which is full of personality.
What is oven spring?
In the first ten minutes of bread baking in the oven, the remaining yeast in the dough rapidly feeds on the starches in the flour creating a final burst of activity which forces the bread to spring up. The oven spring action is halted when either the crust of the bread hardens, or the core temperature of the bread passes 60C (140F) and the activity of the yeast deteriorates.
For the best oven spring, a humid baking environment is required. To create humidity, steam is added at the start of baking. Good oven spring creates bread with a light and airy crumb. Crusts are thinner, stronger and more crisp, perfect for sandwiches.
Ok so that’s what happens, let’s understand how oven spring works, first by looking at how bread rises with the use of a levain.
The benefits of oven spring
Oven spring allows the bread to stretch and open up a little more during baking. It creates a more aerated crumb and a thinner crumb which is ideal for light and crispy crusty bread. What's great about getting this rise from the oven as opposed to final proofing is the bread will rise up, not outwards and not collapse.
The limitations of oven spring
We should not encourage too large of an oven spring but rely on final proofing to achieve the height desired. Oven spring will give the bread a nice spring however, after the rise, the dough will shrink in the oven and again reduce when cooling.
If we have an oven spring that is too great the dough can suffer from an uneven, irregular crumb and also a weak crust formation. When creating a big oven spring the dough must be well matured to prevent a poor or uneven bread structure.
Oven spring is an important factor, just don't expect too much!
How oven spring works - in detail
As a general rule levains work best when warm. When the bread hits the wrath of the bread oven, the levain rapidly increases its activity. The levains activity creates rapid amounts of carbon dioxide which causes high amounts of gas to be created and the dough to quickly rise.
When does oven spring happen?
Oven spring starts around three minutes after the bread enters the oven and occurs until the crust is formed or when the dough’s internal temperature reaches around 60C (140F). This happens usually after 10-15 minutes. At this temperature, the levain becomes permanently inactive. Bakers also refer to this bread baking temperature as the point where "The yeast dies."
As the moisture in the dough evaporates in the heat, it pulls the bread upwards as it escapes (heat rises), directing the bread to rise upwards.
But it will only happen if a certain condition is met...
When the bread goes into the oven to bake. As soon as the outside of the bread is met with heat, the outside areas start to gelatinase. It's gelatinisation that bonds starch together to form a crust. When the crust forms is becomes too strong and rigid, to allow the bread to spring up.
If the crust sets immediately, the dough quickly loses its ability to push up and we get a bread will little oven spring. To allow the bread to rise, we can delay the crust formation by adding moisture to the oven.
How stream creates oven spring
Adding water to a hot oven quickly evaporates into steam. By creating a humid environment the crust gelatinisation is delayed. The moisture in the oven lightly covers the outside of the bread to stop the crust forming and allows the bread to spring up. Later in the baking process the moisture attached to the surface of the bread is absorbed and any excess steam in the oven evaporates or is released using a damper or opening the door.
Once the moisture is not available the crust starts to form.
Further reading: The best way to add water to make steam
The bread stays roughly the same size (well, it shrinks a little) for the remainder of the bake. Good crusty bread has a glossy, thin crust and a light crumb.
How a levain adapts the spring in the oven
Levains are active ingredients (or yeasts) which make bread rise. Bakers yeast and sourdough are the most common levains used in bread making. Dough rises as the leavain creates gas. The gas gets retained in the gluten structure which is formed by the dough during its fermentation.
There are a few different levains to choose from to make bread. The most common levains are yeast, yeast-based preferments and sourdough.
Further reading: How fermentation works in bread making
In warm conditions, levain activity rises and works harder to ferment the starches produced by the flour. The ideal dough temperature for the most levain activity is 34C (95F). Here’s an article that gives a more detailed explanation on final dough temperature.
The type of levain used in the dough will create different characteristics in the bread. When baking the yeast becomes inactive and stops raising the bread as it gets too warm. The end of yeast activity occurs once the dough surpasses an internal temperature of 60C (140F).
Regardless of the choice of levain, the flour breaks down when hydrated with water, offering starches and producing gluten from the proteins available. Given time or accelerated by mixing, the gluten creates a strong network which traps gas created by the levain.
The leavain breaks down starches from the flour and turns them into ethanol, carbon dioxide and other organic acids used to mature the dough. The gluten structure traps the carbon dioxide gas created by the levains fermentation. These pockets of air expand, causing the bread to rise.
During oven spring the gluten structure quickly expands due to the increased activity of the yeast.
Using yeast as the levain
Yeast is the most common levain used to prove bread. The yeast used in most bakeries is fresh yeast, this is yeast in its purest form. At home, bakers can use fresh, active dried or instant dried.
Active dried yeast is reactivated in water before use. Instant dried yeast can be added straight in the dough. However, this type contains extra dough improvers and additives. I don't recommend using this type of yeast unless you are using a bread maker.
Yeast’s have differences between brands. Some are designed for lower temperature proving, others have a slow action, and a few specialise in raising sweet dough.
Yeast based prefermented levains
There are many yeast based levains which offer the bread a combination of mature flour and yeast. The common preferments include; biga, poolish and pâte fermentée.
A basic biga or poolish involves mixing a small amount of yeast with water and flour in a bowl. Once the ingredients are combined the mixture is left for 12-18 hours. The next day the preferment is added to the dough.
A pâte fermentée is simply a bit of yesterday's dough. A piece is retained and added to a batch of dough the following day when mixing.
All types of preferments give the following benefits to a dough:
- A stronger, more extensible gluten network which gives better gas retaining properties
- Lowers PH value of the bread creating more flavour and better keeping qualities
- A small amount of yeast multiplies its activity to be able to raise large amounts of dough
- More starch and complex starch are extracted from the flour, creating more flavour and deeper colours in the bread
More yeast can be added to the dough when mixing to increase the fermentation rate if required.
How can using a preferment help the oven spring?
A dough containing prefermented dough will be easier to stretch during oven spring, causing a large, but controlled spring in the oven when compared to straight doughs (no preferment used).
Oven spring in straight doughs
When using a straight dough mix which is created without prefermented flour or sourdough the oven spring will be often largest because the dough will rise with less control. Mixing for a short amount of time and with a short bulk fermentation time the yeast can spring the bread more aggressively. This can create irregularities in the bread such as holes in the crumb or floating crusts.
To reduce the oven spring and create a more “rounded” bread, a longer bulk fermentation can be used at cooler temperatures.
Oven spring in sourdough bread
Sourdough gains its personality from the environment, the type of flour used, the water, ratio, feed time, age, temperature….. Every sourdough starter is unique. A sourdough starter absorbs natural yeasts found in the air which ferment to create an acidic sponge.
To make sourdough bread from a sourdough starter, bakers add a portion of the starter to their mix of flour, water and salt. Sourdoughs develop a different strain of yeast in high concentration which is different to the one found in baker's yeast. It also contains natural acids and enzymes which mature and help to raise the dough in a higher concentration to the levels found in preferments.
Sourdough is fermented flour with organic leavening properties. The benefits listed in the preferment section above also apply. Though due to the complexity of the yeast found in sourdough, it has a slower rate of activity.
Because sourdough is a slower levain, the oven spring will not be as great as the crust will set and cause the oven spring to halt before the bread can rise any further. Therefore sourdough bread has a more compact crumb than yeast bread.
Oven spring in soda bread
Bicarbonate of soda levains work by the ph factor of the bicarb reacting with the mix of Ph neutral ingredients to make gas which raises the bread.
The downside to bicarbonate of soda leavened bread is there is little to no development of flavour or organic acids from yeast fermentation.
Either way, each levain does the same thing in the oven… Raise the bread.
How to use a baking stone to create oven spring
A baking stone is a food-safe stone with heat retaining properties. It is preheated for 1-2 hours in the oven before bread is baked directly on it. The heating time depends on the thickness and material of the stone and the power of the oven.
Professional baker's deck ovens contain a baking stone at the bottom of the oven. A baking stone conducts heat into the bread directly which aids the oven spring and the crust formation whilst also baking the bottom of the bread evenly.
A lot of home bakers experience an issue with under or over baked bottoms, using a baking stone is the best way to resolve it.
Baking stones also help retain the heat in the oven, this is especially important when baking multiple loaves in home standard ovens as it prevents heat from escaping when opening the door.
Some home bakers add multiple baking stones or lava stones in their ovens. This helps to retain the heat in the oven.
The thicker the baking stone, the more heat they retain, however the longer they take to heat up.
You can make a baking stone yourself using this link, or purchase one such as the one below that I recommend.
How shaping is important to the oven spring of the bread
Dough should be shaped so that it holds its shape and springs upwards instead of sidewards. Tension should be built up in the outer membrane through pre-shaping the dough and leaving it to rest before final shaping it. Strecthing the dough when folding and rolling it into the desiered shape helps to create additional tension which strengths the dough.
Here is a link to a post on perfect loaf about a home baker who discovered thet impact on how he switched his stretch and fold method to get better oven spring results form his sourdough bread:
Bread that has been shaped correctly will be strong enough to hold its shape during proofing and baking.
Cutting the bread frimly - but not too much!!
Most types of bread are cut before baking. Cutting prevents the crust from ripping the surface of the dough. Rips occur when the excess gas created in the oven spring has no room to escape.
The gas forces through the weakest areas in the crust and ruptures it. Excess gas is created when the dough is baked under fermented or under-proofed.
If you over cut your bread you will notice that too much gas escapes which will lower the amount of oven spring and sometimes lead to the bread collapsing.
Do you always want oven spring when baking?
Just as oven spring is important for crusty bread, there are types of bread that do not benefit from oven spring. By not adding steam we reduce the oven spring and change the appearance of the crust.
As the crust sets quickly and prevents the oven spring from rising, the bread is denser and a thicker crust is formed.
When cooling, the thick crust absorbs the escaping moisture and reduces the rate in which moisture can escape.
The moisture is retained by the more compact crumb, making it denser and softer.
When baking bread without steam the baking time is often shortened which keeps more water in the dough from evaporating which helps the bread crumb to remain soft. To shorten the baking time, sugars as well as increased heat from the top of the oven are used to set and quickly caramelise the crust.
Without adding steam to the oven, there is a small amount of oven spring before the crust sets. Though it is small, it does help to open up the bread. The dough should be almost full size when it goes into the oven.
Adding steam to the oven to create oven spring
Learning how to add water to an oven to create steam is an essential artisan baker skill. For commercial bakers, it's usually as easy as pressing a button on the oven (unless the jets are blocked).
For home ovens and commercial ovens that don't have steam injecting jets, there is still a way to add it.
Upon placing the bread into the oven, spray with a water spray, or add water to a tray that's been heated in the oven. The water quickly evaporates into steam to create a moist atmosphere perfect for creating oven spring.
There is an article which partners this one. It explains how to add water to make steam in the oven: The best way to add steam to an oven
Using a dutch oven to bake bread
A dutch oven can be used to bake sourdough bread with great results. A dutch oven is essentially used as a bread baking oven that is put inside a conventional oven.
The sealed oven retains moisture so the bread requires no extra steam to spring. There is a big community that solely use the dutch oven method for making sourdough bread.
Many home bakers with good quality dutch ovens discover they do not need to use a baking stone for a good oven spring, but it may still be a wise investment if you find that you struggle with under or overbaked bottoms.
Bread that has oven spring but without adding steam
Doughs that contain a high amount of fat or sugar are called laminated doughs. We’re talking brioche, challah and bready cakes such as Chelsea buns here.
These breads do like oven spring, but do not need additional steam to be added to the oven.
In laminated doughs the fat increases the temperature at which the crust forms which naturally delays the gelatinisation of the surface.
When laminated bread dough is placed in the oven there is plenty of time for the oven spring to occur before the crust sets. There is no need to add steam to get oven spring in laminated doughs.
How to change the volume of oven spring
Adapting the duration of the bulk ferment affects the oven spring. As does under-developing a dough by reducing the final proof or mixing or rest times.
How long the dough is bulk fermented is related to the volume of the bread's oven spring.
Short bulk fermentation = Large oven spring
Long bulk fermentation = Small oven spring
Use of preferment or sourdough = Small oven spring
Adding a high amount of yeast (a percentage above 2%) will speed up the bulk and final fermentation time to make bread with a large volume of oven spring.
This used to happen when I was the manager of a baker who would sleep in often. He would try to get the range out quicker to catch up by adding extra yeast - the resulting bread would often rise so high in the oven that it would get stuck and we’d need to place a piece of cardboard over the crust to protect it as we yanked it out!
You will also get larger amounts of oven spring when reducing the final proof, though this can be risky and cause holes throughout the bread or a ruptured crust.
How to get an Ear on your bread
Bread can go into the oven slightly under proofed. More gas is created when baking under proofed dough which forces through the weakest area of the crust to escape. If the cut is done right it will allow the gas to escape and expand to create exciting designs on the bread including an “ear” shape.
To make an ear, the dough should be slightly under proofed and cut at the perfect depth and angle of 30 degrees. The oven spring forces the cut to expand along the angle, leaving what looks like an ear sticking up.
An ear is made by making the proofing, oven set up and the cut perfect. Personally, a lot of bread that I have seen with ear's suffers from poor, overly open crumbs.
Many people love to see an ear. Though some like me aren't fused. I would rather bread that is perfectly proofed.
How to proof a wholemeal loaf
Wholemeal flour contains proteins and sugars that are more complex and strong than white flour. They take longer to ferment and are not as erratic. Wholemeal bread does benefit from oven spring, but springs in a more organised fashion than a white loaf.
The complexity of the grain means there is no call for cutting a wholemeal loaf before it goes into the oven. Cutting reduces the oven spring effect making it dense and unpleasant.
Underdeveloped wholemeal dough can have erratic holes in the crumb, a dense crumb and sometimes both.
A correctly developed wholemeal loaf has a dark coloured crust, a less developed one has a lighter orange colour. Longer fermented wholemeal bread has a darker coloured crust compared to an underdeveloped one.
Longer fermentation develops more starch in the dough which accelerates the Maillard reaction to create darker colours.
The Maillard reaction turns the bread sweeter and has a more intense flavour. For lighter loaves the bulk fermentation time is shortened.
Why are white tin loaves under proofed by bakers?
Loaves like a sandwich or farmhouse loaves have a short bulk fermentation period. They will enter the oven when they are slightly under proofed.
When making bread like this, many bakeries like to use recipes that contain high percentages of water. They do this to get the maximum yield from their ingredients, making production cheaper.
Under proving a loaf with high water content will create a loaf with a softer, dense crumb. Combine this with a big oven spring and the bread will be airy and refreshing with a crust that is light in colour and flavour.
The perfect loaf of bread for sandwich fillings to shine.
How to know when the bread is ready to go in the oven
When learning how to bake bread it's good to know when the bread is ready for the oven. To discover the optimum proof stage we look for the point when the levain runs out of food and cannot continue raising the dough.
Properly fermented dough will final proof quickly. We often refer to the final proof in a period of time. Really we should be looking for the moment when the dough is ready to go in the oven.
The mixing technique, speed, the temperature, the freshness of the levain and many more variables, even the mineral activity in the water can affect the rate of the rise.
Testing bread dough, to tell if it's ready
To find out when the levain has ran out of food (starch), bakers often use the finger poke test. To try the poke test, poke the surface of the dough lightly with your finger.
After pulling the finger away an indent will be visible. If the indent remains after 3 seconds, it proves the yeast is exhausted and the dough is ready to bake. If the dough pops straight back up then it is still developing and needs more time.
Sometimes we want bread to be slightly underdeveloped. For this dough when completing the poke test the dough will return back when poked, but not immediately. This result shows the dough is almost ready.
This is a tried and tested method used in bakeries across the world. The indent can remain after baking so don’t poke too much! This is more likely to happen if the dough is over proved when tested.
My favourite way to tell if the bread is ready for the oven
The best way to tell if the dough is ready is to use the same recipe, the same tin or basket every time and work out what level the dough should rise to before it is ready to bake.
If you use a 2lb loaf tin, with 950g of dough it should rise so that it meets the rim of the tin.
Before we hit some FAQ's, let's summarise how to improve oven spring in your home baked bread.
How to improve oven spring?
To get the best oven spring, first look at the dough. It should be well developed, and correctly or slightly under proofed. The hydration of the dough does not affect the level of oven spring, but the flour should be hydrated correctly so that the gluten is long and extensible, the use of an autoylse can be helpful for sourdough bread if a short bulk fermentation time is used.
Shaping should be firm to allow the bread to spring up and not outwards. Over cutting will reduce the amount of oven spring so elaborate designs cut into the bread can cause issues.
Use the poke test to check if the dough is ready to bake. The most common reason for a weak oven spring is overproofing the bread, or when baking with sourdough it's using a weak starter. Here's a post about getting the most from a sourdough starter to create more activty.
When it comes to baking, a preheated oven with baking stone or using a dutch oven are a must. Using the top heat setting when baking is also a bit of a oven spring ruiner! Adding steam to the oven via a reliable method will help you to get professional looking results from a home oven.
Why does bread burst while baking?
Bread shoots up through the oven spring reaction though sometimes it can burst its surface. The crust bursts as there is a large amount of activity still remaining in the levain after the crust has set. Causes for this are adding too much yeast to the recipe or under proofing.
Cutting white bread before it goes into the oven is pretty important in preventing the loaf from bursting. Cutting releases excess gasses during oven spring and prevents an excess burst of gas bursting through and ruining the surface of the bread.
Why no oven spring?
Ok, this happens, the issue is likely to resolve by attempting one of these solutions:
- Use the bottom heat setting only on the oven unless otherwise advised.
- Use a quality preheated baking stone.
- Increase the water you add to the oven. I use boiling water in a tray and sometimes spray with a mister as well.
- The sourdough starter is not mature enough to raise sourdough bread.
- If using the tray method to add steam, make sure that the tray is HOT!
- Maybe your dough is over prooved, trying increasing the recipe size to have enough dough to fill the tin/proof basket and reduce the final proof.
- Cut down your development time, for maximum oven spring, mix 2 minutes slow, 5 fast, leave to rest for 10 minutes before pre-moulding, then final moulding 5 minutes later. It's fast and your bread will pop up nicely!
- Replace the oven seals, or if this doesn’t work, try another oven. So the flame has oxygen, gas ovens aren’t well sealed. Consider an electric with bottom heat only setting for baking bread.
- You are using a fan oven, use convection with bottom heat only.
- How long have you preheated your oven and stone? My oven is not very powerful so I heat mine for 2-3 hours.
What causes oven spring?
When bread enters the oven, the yeast in the bread gets progressively active as it warms and rapidly produces gas to expand in the structure formed by the gluten. This forces the bread to rise in the first 10 minutes of baking which we call oven spring.
How do I make bread oven spring?
- Use an active levain
- Shape the bread correctly
- Don’t over proof the dough
- Cut the bread correctly
- Use a preheated baking stone
- Create steam in the oven
What is the best way to get sourdough spring for an oven?
- Use a mature levain that is fully active
- Allow the flour to mature and become extensible
- Shape the dough so that it holds its shape
- Score the dough firmly - but not too many times
- Use a baking stone to transfer heat
- Add steam or use a dutch oven when baking
What is oven spring sourdough?
When sourdough bread enters the oven the yeasts provided by the starter increase in activity as the dough warms up. As baking continues the levain raises the bread aggressively which forces the bread to rise by around 30% which we call oven spring.
This should be everything you will ever need to know about oven spring. There’s also an article about how to best add water to the oven which has a few nuggets that I hope you will enjoy also. If you like this article, feel free to share it with your friends as it really helps this site grow.
Further reading: How to add water to an oven