Oven spring can be the difference between a good loaf, and a great one. While it’s natural to put all our focus on what happens in the oven, the best oven spring occurs because each stage of the process was perfected. This guide shares why oven spring is important, how to get the best oven spring, the science behind oven spring, and plenty more tips to improve your bread.
When bread goes into the oven, yeast produces gas at a much faster rate. Carbon dioxide expands pockets of gluten and forces the bread to rise upwards. Bread will rise as much as 30% in the first 10-15 minutes of baking. This oven rise is what we call, “oven spring”. Oven spring lightens the crumb and produces a thin and crispy crust.
I share a more scientific explanation is at the end of this article.
Oven spring begins three minutes after the bread enters the oven. It continues for 9-12 minutes. Timings are dependent on temperature and moisture in the oven.
When the temperature of the crust hits 50-60C (122-140F) in wheat bread, the starch coagulates (hardens) and the set crust cannot rise further. After 12-15 minutes, oven spring comes to an end. At around the same time, the core of the bread will pass 71C (161F) which is too hot for the yeast, making it permanently inactive (or in other words, dead).
Ideally, the “crust set point” occurs in the same moment as the “yeast kill point”. Thermal imaging cameras are used in commercial bakeries to perfect this, but at home, we don’t have this luxury. To get a grip on yeast kill and crust set points at home, focus on the tips in this article.
One reason I’m not a fan of the “cold-start” Dutch oven method is the imbalance in the crust set and yeast kill points. As the baking chamber takes longer to reach temperature, the crust sets before the yeast dies. This can result in some funky bread textures as gas continues to try and push the bread upwards!
At the end of oven spring, moisture continues to escape the core of the bread. To support this, steam is released from the baking chamber by releasing the damper in a professional oven. Home bakers can replicate this by periodically opening the oven door for a moment. As water insulates heat, releasing steam from the oven makes the bread bakes faster, and the crust browns and hardens.
Your first thought when discussing oven spring might be “why not just proof the bread for longer” than rely on the oven spring to raise my bread? Well, as bread rises in the oven the environment is humid and pressured. This allows the dough to stretch further than it could when proofing, without collapsing.
The short answer is no, steam is not required for soft bread types, but you will still get some oven spring. I cover this topic in great detail in my how to add steam to a bread oven post.
Knowing how to improve oven spring in homemade bread leads to better looking and tasting bread. Follow these 7 steps to get the best sprung bread, and you bread will soon be good enough to sell!
The most important factor when troubleshooting any bread recipe is to look at the dough. Knowing what gluten looks like when it is sufficiently developed is a key skill. Learning how to balance this gluten development with expansion during bulk fermentation will take your bread to even greater heights.
But we don’t always need to separate our proofing into two rises to make good bread. There are really two types of dough. Quickly-made doughs, where kneading is long and intensive, yet the bulk fermentation stage is short or removed. This method introduces more oxygen into the dough which strengthens the gluten bonds. It does this whilst supplying yeast with oxygen in order to produce carbon dioxide in a more efficient way. This is one way to achieve a big oven spring.
When using the long-fermented approach, the gluten network naturally develops as it rests, although this can be accelerated by using stretch and folds. Yeast in a long-fermented dough will mainly ferment, instead of aerobically respiring like in short doughs. Whilst fermentation produces gas at a slower rate, it also produces natural dough improvers that make the dough more mature. Some of the main enhancements in this type of dough are its gas retaining properties and it is easier to stretch. When the bread is matured for longer it develops more flavour and requires less kneading. As kneading adds oxygen, a lighter knead is required as over-oxidation which can occur during a long bulk rise will weaken the dough structure and diminish flavour.
A short fermented dough oven springs through the yeast respiring in the oven. This creates more gas, faster. Bread made this way tends to have more oven spring gains, and characteristic “rips” at the side of the loaf that display oven expansion.
No matter which dough option you choose, your role as a baker is to ensure that it is mature at the point of shaping. See: how to use the windowpane test to tell when dough is ready to learn how to do this. Here are some tricks to perfect your dough using either method:
The amount of water in the dough impacts its quality. Providing that the dough is not overly dry or wet, bread will rise fine in the oven. But for the best oven spring, try understanding how to perfectly hydrate your flour. This makes the gluten long and extensible so that it can stretch in the oven. The way to master this is to keep baking with the same flour and increase the water you add to the dough. This is why using a decent set of scales and measuring your ingredients in grams is essential.
Too much water will weigh down the gluten structure, thus leading to less volume gain in oven spring. A dough that is too dry, damages the gluten strands, making them unable to stretch as far when gas is produced.
When mixing you can tell when dough is too wet as it won’t form a mass and can be poured, almost like soup. If it is under-hydrated it won’t form a smooth mass and be hard to knead. These cases are the extremes, it is also worth noting that short-fermented dough produces water alongside carbon dioxide. This means that dough made in one rise should be firm at the point of shaping.
When making sourdough bread it’s important that the starter that you use is active. You’ll want to see it triple in size after 5-6 hours of being refreshed. The same goes with a preferment like a biga or a poolish. They need to be at their peak to get the best maturation benefits from them. The same goes for a standard bread dough made with yeast. The yeast should be active and not out of date.
If you are baking sourdough bread, I have a post devoted to sourdough oven spring that you might find useful. Want some advice on building a sourdough starter? Check out my sourdough starter troubleshooting article.
There is a post on which levain should I use for the best oven spring if you’d like to find out more on how important a levain is to oven spring.
Autolyse is the process of soaking the flour and water before the dough is kneaded. As the flour hydrates, gluten is able to unwind and become nice and long. On a scientific level, autolyse also encourages an increase in gluten extensibility. It has been proved in Dr Calvel’s book “The taste of bread“ that using the autolyse method increases the volume of oven spring.
If you are going to make a long-fermented dough, do it properly! Fermentation develops organic acids that improve the quality of the dough. They enhance how it holds shape and the amount of gas it can retain. A mature dough is produced when the first (bulk fermentation) rise is lengthened or a prefermented levain such as a poolish is included in the recipe. If using a short fermentation method you can opt to add dough improvers to your recipe for enhanced maturity.
A good kneading technique is vital to develop the gluten in the flour. Even if you opt for a long-fermented dough, a short, gentle knead is necessary. As described in the best dough kneading techniques, kneading should be broken down into 3 stages. The first is a gentle stage to distribute the ingredients and hydrate the gluten. The second gently stretches the gluten to encourage it to lengthen. And the third increases the speed and intensity to work the gluten hard and knock oxygen inside.
The way you shape your dough before its final rise contributes to oven spring. Most doughs should be degassed (gas is pushed out), pre-shaped into a ball or oblong, left to rest for 15-30 minutes and then final shaped. When final shaping, do so firmly and confidently by stretching the outer membrane as you create your shape. This provides tension to the outer perimeter which glues the bread together as it rises in, and out of the oven.
When the dough has been left to rise higher (double in size ) during bulk fermentation, a lighter touch is preferred. The challenge here is to create tension without removing too much gas. If too much gas escapes, yeast may not have enough food left and the second (and oven) rise is minimal. Whilst the perfect dough and your oven settings contribute more to mastering oven spring, you will see improvements (and overall bread quality) with better dough shaping skills.
A common cause of weak oven spring is over-proofing the bread. Here, the dough runs out of sugars to supply the yeast. The result is the yeast doesn’t produce a great amount of gas inside the oven and the bread doesn’t rise all that much.
You will usually get a larger oven spring if it’s slightly under proofed. The risk of under proofing is an uneven rise and the potential for rips appearing on the surface of the bread. Rips can appear at the sides of the bread or by exaggerating the scores made before it goes into the oven. A small amount of “ripping” can be most pleasant, but too much is unsightly and often a display of a poor interior texture. That said, it’s best to slightly underproof than over. A good dough will tolerate a bit of under-proofing but it is best to use the poke test to get it right.
Scoring bread dough before baking looks great aesthetically, but there is a deeper reason. More importantly, scoring makes a clear route for excess gas to escape the bread during the oven spring. Yeast operates fastest in warm temperatures which is why gas production is so prolific in the early stages of baking (until it gets too hot!). If excess carbon dioxide has no place to go. It will pass through the dough to an area of low pressure. This will be a weak spot in the gluten. As CO2 congregates in an area, it eventually forms a fracture and breaks out through the crust. This ruptures the crust, ruining the bread’s appearance.
The sugars found in white bread dough are more easily broken down for the yeast in the heat of the oven. The chains of sugars found in whole wheat flour are the more complex. This means that less gas is produced during the oven spring of wholewheat bread. For this reason, whole wheat bread is not usually scored before baking. Whereas, crusty white bread is almost certainly scored every time.
Adding a teaspoon of sugar per loaf can give your bread's oven spring a boost
A well-placed score will exaggerate the escaping gas, open up the cut and improve the look of the bread. If you score the bread too deep or make too many cuts it won’t open up very much. It can also lead to too much gas escaping and less oven spring or even the possibility of it collapsing. If you are a beginner, start off with simple one, or two-cut designs and leave bread art till later.
A baking stone is a food-safe stone with heat retaining properties. It is preheated for 1-2 hours in the oven before the bread is slid on top and baked on directly. A baking stone conducts heat into the bottom of the bread. This extra warmth provides a more intense oven spring and resolves a problem that many home bakers suffer with, under or over baked bottoms.
A professional baker’s deck oven already contains a fitted baking stone, but you can get some decent stones for pretty low prices these days. Thicker stones take longer to heat but offer more heat for the bread. Opt for one made from fire clay or cordierite like the one below.
Some home bakers add multiple baking stones, fire bricks and/or lava stones to retain more heat. See how I upgraded my baking oven post. The short answer = it works!
Adding water to an oven to create steam is an essential task if you want crusty bread with big oven spring. For commercial bakers, it’s as easy as pressing a button on the oven. For home ovens that don’t have steam injecting jets, we have to use a manual approach. One of the most popular solutions is to spray the inside of the oven with a water mister at the start of baking. There are other ways that you might prefer, see how to add steam to a bread oven to discover your favourite.
Enriched doughs contain fat and sugar. Examples include; brioche, challah and bready cakes such as Chelsea buns. These do not need to add steam for these loaves to rise in the oven. Fat has a higher boiling point than water so protects the outer layer of the bread from gelatinising. This delays the crust set point so oven spring occurs without added moisture.
What also happens is to avoid the bread browning too quickly due to caramelisation and Maillard reactions, enriched bread is baked at a cooler temperature. This means that the yeast kill point is delayed and so conveniently aligns with the crust set point.
Soft bread such as burger buns should not be baked with steam. It’s popular to include fat and sugar to soften and tenderise these types of bread. Even without enrichment, soft bread does not require steam when baking. Instead, soft bread is baked quickly with the top heating element on high and the lower one on low, or by placing the oven shelf near the top of the oven.
Adding steam extends the baking time, which, encourages moisture to escape from the dough. For soft bread to stay soft, keep the moisture in, don’t add steam and bake them quickly!
When it comes to baking, setting up your oven for maximum effect can be a real dealbreaker. But it might take a bit of experimentation to really understand how your oven distributes heat.
You should always preheat your oven using only the bottom heat setting. This way you get the stone hot without the thermostat (at the top of the oven) switching off the heat because it is warm. Once the stone is fully preheated (you can use an infrared thermometer to check), you should continue to bake with just bottom heat. But if you find your oven cools down severely when the bread goes in, or it takes ages for your bread to bake, you might want to experiment with your settings. Looking at the contrast between the top and the bottom of the bread after, or during baking, consider:
Selecting the best oven temperature for bread is another topic worth reading up. Click the link to learn more.
Fans work by circulating the air which lowers the air pressure in the oven and dries the surface of the food. In a low-pressure environment, heat is more effective so food cooks quicker.
This, however, is bad news for crusty bread. The crust dries out and forms early on in the baking so reduces the rise. What’s more, the side of the bread closest to the fan has its moisture blown away first, so sets before the opposite side. This can result in some very odd-shaped bread! If you only have a fan oven, use a Dutch oven.
Oven spring improvements and common troubleshooting:
You can get great results when baking with a Dutch oven. A dutch oven is essentially a personalised baking oven inside your oven. The sealed unit retains moisture so the bread doesn’t need any extra steam.
Some bakers chuck a couple of ice cubes next to the bread or spritz with a water spray to create more moisture. Just putting the lid on should provide enough humidity for the bread to rise in the oven. The extra moisture can make the crust a little crispier and bubbles appear on the crust. Bubbles are a defect in some baking cultures and something to celebrate in others, you decide.
You don’t always need a baking stone when baking with a Dutch oven. If you struggle with under or over-baked bottoms or feel that you are not getting as much rise as you deserve, invest in a baking stone.
The most common reason for bread that has no oven spring is that it was proofed for too long. The sugar supply that feeds the yeast dries up and little or no gas appears. Other possible causes include baking in a fan oven, not adding steam to the oven or the crust dried before going into the oven.
Sometimes you might feel that your bread has risen too much in the oven. Whilst large growth in the oven is not necessarily a bad thing, it can lead to faults in the bread. Ruptures appearing on the crust, a gummy or dense crumb or holes running through the crumb are all signs of too much oven spring. The cause of this is the dough being under proofed.
A dough is more resilient to under proofing if it has been sufficiently matured during the kneading and first rise stages. A well-developed gluten structure and sufficient organic maturity mean a dough will stretch and retain the gas produced. This can compensate somewhat for a lack of proofing.
If your bread is rising too much in the oven and contains faults, the first step is to proof it for longer. Use the poke test to help you. Other considerations include using less yeast (no more than 2.2% fresh yeast), sugar or enzymatic ingredients such as malt flour. These produce more gas during oven spring.
The elusive ear is produced when the skills described above are perfectly achieved. The dough must be well matured, shaped, slightly under-proofed and scored at the correct depth. A full demonstration can be found here: how to get an ear on bread.
The rise that occurs in the oven is produced by the yeast creating carbon dioxide. Yeast supplies enzymes that, along with ones found naturally in the flour, breaks down starch into sugars. Several reactions take place that leads to simple sugars (hexes) remaining. These are used by the yeast to produce carbon dioxide and water in the respiration process. If there is no oxygen present, the yeast will use fermentation processes to produce carbon dioxide, lactic acid bacteria and ethanol. Whilst respiration is faster, fermentation ads many dough conditioning products and also result in a tastier and longer-lasting bread.
Once the bread is placed in the oven, yeast (a fungus that loves being warm) works faster. As gas continues to be produced it inflates pockets in the gluten structure. If oxygen remains, gas is produced through respiration. But as oxygen levels dissipate, fermentation occurs. This means ethanol is produced as the dough rises. And as the bread bakes, moisture and ethanol evaporate upwards, taking the bread with it and further enhancing the rise.
If no moisture is added to the oven (steam), the exposed perimeter of the bread gelatinises quickly. Gelatinisation bonds the starch particles together to form the crust but is also how the crumb structure is formed. Once the starch in the outer perimeter has gelatinised, the crust becomes too rigid to expand any further. Once the crust sets, the bread cannot rise any further.
For maximum oven spring, we must delay crust formation. To do this we create steam in the oven when we bake. Starch particles gravitate to the outside of the bread and latch on to free water. The water forms a barrier around the outside of the bread. This protects the starch to prevent it from gelatinizing.
Gas production forces the soft dough to stretch, making the core of the bread lighter and the crust thinner. A thin crust hardens better than a thicker one. Therefore, a properly oven sprung bread has a crispy crust and a light crumb interior.
It’s important to oven the door temporarily (or release the damper) after 20 minutes of baking. This allows moisture to escape, lowering the humidity in the oven. This makes heat more intense and the bread can harden. It also prevents the bread from being gummy as moisture can escape from the loaf. When baking high-hydration bread like ciabatta, bakers may leave the oven door ajar for the last 5 minutes of baking to maximise moisture loss.
As water leaves the bread in the oven and continues to do so as it cools, the bread will weigh less. I give more accurate figures for this in the how much weight does bread lose when baked post. As the bread cools and pressure is released, the gluten contracts. This can be seen in the eggshell texture on a crusty loaf, or by wrinkles in soft bread. Once completely cool, bread will shrink to almost the same size it was before it was baked.
As you can see much can be achieved if we get a good oven spring. But I also think that searching for ways to improve the oven spring is the wrong way to look at it. Yes, for the perfect loaf we want to perfect every step, but the focus should always start on the quality of the dough. A good dough will perform when the other techniques are not perfect. Sadly, the reverse is not true.
Before I leave you with some frequently asked questions, let me know how you found this oven spring guide? Did you get the answers you were looking for? Will you change any part of your baking routine after reading it? Let me know in the comments below and feel free to ask any questions there too.