How Oven Spring Works – Best Explanation On How It Works!

Oven spring is truly amazing and it’s probably my favourite topic in baking bread. A good oven spring can be make-or-break for homemade bread. You might be familiar with the concept of oven spring already, and if you do then great, otherwise don’t worry, I’m going to start with the basics anyway. 

This guide explains the science of how oven spring works and then shares the best way to get that final rise. Lastly, expect pro tips to manipulate your oven spring and make your bread uniquely special.

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What is oven spring?

During the start of baking, bread rapidly shoots up which is what we call oven spring. The rise can be as high as 30% on top of its original size. At the end of the rise, the outside perimeter hardens and develops into the crust.

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A good oven sprung bread will be crusty, light and appealing. Understanding how to improve oven spring in homemade bread will help you to achieve crusty bread with a nice professional shine around the outside.

how oven spring works

What are the benefits of oven spring?

The rise in the oven forces the crust to stretch during baking. This widens the air bubbles in the crumb and makes the crust thinner. A thin crust hardens better than a thicker one. This is why a properly oven sprung bread has a crispy crust and a light crumb interior.

Why not just proof the bread for longer?

In the oven, the structure of the bread is held together allowing it to rise high without collapsing. Getting a rise like this during proofing is not possible.

How does oven spring work?

The rise that occurs in the oven is created by the yeast in the bread. Yeast loves being warm and works rapidly as it gets hotter. Most doughs are proofed at a cooler temperature so the gluten and other fermentation benefits can form a strong dough structure. Bread is usually proofed at around 25C (77F) to 35C (95F). When the bread hits the wrath of the bread oven, the levain rapidly gets to work.

Just like when proofing bread, the yeast in the dough creates carbon dioxide which is then retained by the gluten network. In the oven, this happens at rapid speed and the gluten network retains the gas which raises the bread.

Not only is more gas created during oven spring, as is ethanol. And as the bread continues to warm up moisture and ethanol in the dough evaporate upwards, taking the bread with it.

These conditions create a fast rise of the bread at the start of baking which we call oven spring.

When does oven spring happen?

Oven spring begins three minutes after the bread enters the oven and continues until the crust starts to harden. It typically lasts 10-15 minutes.

But for the best oven spring, we need moisture in the oven.

How steam creates oven spring

Without a humid environment, when bread goes into the oven the exposed outside perimeter gelatinases immediately. Gelatinisation bonds the starch together to form the crumb structure and importantly here, the crust. Once the starch has gelatinised the crust is too rigid for the oven spring to expand further. So as soon as the crust is formed, the bread cannot rise. We call this the “crust set point”.

For bread to rise in the oven we need to delay the crust formation. To do this we create steam in the oven when we bake bread.

Adding water to a hot oven will evaporate to steam quickly to create a moist environment. During baking, starch particles gravitate to the outside of the bread and the moisture latches onto them.

The water around the outside of the bread prevents the starch from gelatinizing. The crust is then able to stretch as yeast activity forces the bread upwards.

When does oven spring end?

Once the temperature of the crust hits 50-60C (in wheat bread) it starts to coagulate (harden). At around the same temperature, the yeast is too hot and becomes permanently inactive. The ambition of the perfect oven spring is for the “yeast kill point” to match the “crust set point”. It takes 10-12 minutes for this to happen. Afterwards, the oven spring is finished and the bread continues to harden and let moisture escape.

The moisture attached to the surface of the bread is absorbed into the bread or released to the oven. Using a damper after 20-25 minutes releases the built-up steam and the moisture can escape the oven and the bread easily. Home ovens can replicate a damper by opening the oven door quickly and periodically.

Most of the volume gain from oven spring is lost due to shrinking

When humidity is released from the oven, the heat becomes more intense and the bread can harden quicker. The colour of the crust will also darken. For the remainder of the bake and as it cools, moisture will escape which makes the bread lighter and smaller.

How oven spring works

How to improve oven spring to make better bread

Follow these 7 steps to get the best oven spring in your bread. If you are completely new to baking, focus on the two points: The quality of the dough and The baking process. The others will improve with practice. If you are baking sourdough bread, I have a post devoted to sourdough oven spring that you might find useful.

1. The quality of the dough

For the best oven spring, look at the maturity of the dough.

Hydration levels

Hydration levels have an impact. But providing that the dough is not extremely dry or overly wet, the bread should rise in the oven. The flour must be hydrated correctly so that the gluten is long and extensible. Too little water and gluten cannot develop into a stretchy structure. A wetter dough provides more stretchy gluten which will rise higher in the oven. But too much water will inhibit the yeasts ability to raise the bread and potentially weigh the structure down, thus leading to less prolific volume gain during the oven spring.

Autolyse

Taking advantage of the autolyse method before mixing can be helpful for hydrating your flour. This can enhance the size of your oven spring, especially when a short fermentation window is to be used. As flour hydrates, the protein in the flour turns into gluten. When there is sufficient water the gluten strands are able to unwind fully and become nice and long.

Autolysing also encourages gluten to become more extensible. This means that the dough can expand further without taring. Extensible gluten really helps bread stretch in the oven. Again, this is another reason for using this step to improve your oven spring!

Autolyse is a simple technique that really gives the building of a strong gluten structure a head start. Though, there are reasons when not to autolyse bread as it can damage the dough. To find out more see my autolyse guide.

Maturing the dough

What a lot of bakers don’t realise is the importance of fermenting the flour with yeast. Fermentation develops organic acids which improve how well the dough handles. These improve how well the dough holds its shape and retains gas. Fermentation is like a natural dough improver! Without enough maturity, dough performs significantly worse as it will not capture gas created effectively.

A mature dough is crafted by extending the first rise with cooler temperatures or less yeast, or by including a prefermented levain, such as a poolish

The strength of the levain

how to get oven spring with sourdough bread

When making sourdough bread it’s really important that the starter that you use is really 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 should be at their peak when used otherwise they won’t rise the bread all too quickly.

If yours is not quite at this level, you can still make bread, but it is unlikely to rise as much as you wanted it to. 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.

Working the dough

Dough fermentation occurs when the yeast is given time to react with the sugars in the flour. The rate of fermentation can be increased by altering many factors. The most notably (and easiest) is by increasing the temperature of the dough or kneading. 

A good kneading technique is vital to develop the gluten in the flour. It can be combined or replaced with a long bulk fermentation stage. For quickly-made doughs the bulk fermentation stage is short, but the kneading is longer and more intensive. This enables the dough to absorb more oxygen which it uses to feed the yeast. 

When bread is proofed for longer, lighter kneading is required. Excessive oxygen can cause the dough structure to weaken over time and diminishes the flavour of the bread. 

During bulk fermentation, the dough is often “turned” or “agitated” with a stretch and fold technique. Here is a link to a post where a home baker discovers the impact of switching his stretch and fold method:

2. How shaping is important to the oven spring of the bread

A nice dough

Shaping can impact how well your bread rises during proofing and in the oven. It should be shaped firm to hold shape so that it rises upwards instead of sideways. In some cases, a “lighter touch” will improve the texture and rise of your bread, but if you’re new to baking I recommend that you try to perfect a strong shaping method.

Tension should be added to the outer membrane by degassing, pre-shaping, leaving to rest and final shaping firmly and confidently by stretching as it’s shaped. 

Bread that has been shaped correctly will be strong enough to hold its shape during proofing and baking. 

3. Get the proofing right

A common cause of weak oven spring is over-proofing the bread. You will usually get a larger oven spring if it’s slightly under proofed (see below for how to adapt the oven spring). The risk of under proofing is an uneven rise and the potential for rips appearing on the surface of the bread.

That said, it’s best to slightly underproof than over. A healthy dough will tolerate it if he meets the oven a little early. Use the poke test to tell if the bread is proofed. 

4. Score the bread firmly

Most crusty loaves are scored before they are baked. Cutting prevents the crust from ripping on the surface of the dough. Rips occur when the excess gas has no place to go. The dough cannot retain it therefore it finds the weakest spot in the outer membrane and pushes through.

This can rupture the crust, ruining the bread’s appearance. A well-placed score can be exaggerated by the escaping gas, to improve the look of the bread. Excess gas is more likely found in under fermented or under-proofed bread dough.

If you score the bread too deep or make too many cuts you may find that the cuts don’t open up very much. This also leads to too much gas escaping and the bread either suffers from less oven spring or it collapses when baking. Elaborate bread scoring designs can cause the bread to collapse.

5. Use a baking stone

Bread in the oven for 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 the bread is baked on it directly. A professional baker’s deck oven contains a baking stone at the bottom of the oven.

The heating time depends on the thickness and material of the stone and the power of the oven. A baking stone conducts heat into the bread directly which aids the oven spring and the crust formation whilst baking. It also helps the bottom of the bread to bake evenly.

A lot of home bakers have an issue with under or over baked bottoms. A baking stone is the best way to resolve these problems.

Baking stones also help retain the heat in the oven, this is especially important when baking multiple loaves in a home oven as it prevents heat from escaping when opening the door.

Here’s the baking stone I recommend:

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Some home bakers add multiple baking stones, additional fire bricks and lava stones to their oven to retain more heat. Here are a few links to Amazon if you’re thinking of levelling up!

6. Adding steam to the oven

Spraying the oven with water to help oven spring

Learning how to add water to an oven to create steam is an essential artisan baker skill. For commercial bakers, it’s 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.

Here is an article which partners with this one. It explains how to add steam to an oven for bread.

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 a bread baking oven inside a conventional oven. 

The sealed oven retains moisture so the bread doesn’t need any extra steam added. There are some bakers who chuck a couple of ice cubes with the bread to give it a boost.

Many home bakers with good quality dutch ovens discover they do not need to use a baking stone to get a good oven spring. But one may be a wise investment if you struggle with under or over-baked bottoms.

7. Bake on the right oven setting

When it comes to baking, a preheated oven with a baking stone or dutch oven really makes all the difference. As will selecting the right setting on your oven!

Using the top heat setting when baking bread can be a bit of an oven spring ruiner! In my previous oven, I always baked bread with the bottom heat only. This way I get the stone nice and hot whilst not pushing heat down from above. I would only turn the top heat setting on when making soft rolls of something that needs a short baking time for the bread to be soft.

That said, I now preheat with bottom heat only and once it’s come to temperature, I switch to the top and bottom mode before loading up bread. For soft rolls, I’ll raise the shelf in the oven so that it’s closer to the top heater element.

What setting you use depends on how heat circulates in your oven so you may want to experiment with shelf position and heat settings to make it work for you.

Can I use a fan oven for baking bread?

Fans work by circulating the air which lowers the air pressure in the oven and dries the surface of the food. In this lower pressured environment, the heat becomes more effective so food cooks quicker. 

This, however, is bad news for crusty bread. It means that the crust forms earlier and ruins the oven rise. What’s more, the side of the bread closest to the fan has all of the moisture blown away and sets even earlier. The exposed side comes out lower than its opposite, creating some very odd shaped bread! 

It is possible to use a fan oven to bake bread with a dutch oven. Bread that isn’t supposed to be crusty can still be made in a fan oven.

Top oven spring tips

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 maximising these oven spring techniques. By not adding steam we will get a reduction in the volume of the oven spring, but change the appearance of the bread. We follow this method when cooking soft bread such as rolls and recipes that contain lots of fat or sugar.

In the case of sweet or fatty doughs, the temperature of the oven is often reduced to prevent it from burning. Other than that, the exact same oven set-up can be used as described above, we just don’t add any steam. 

Without added steam, the crust sets quickly and prevents the bread from rising. Less gas is produced which leads to a denser crumb structure. The crust will be thicker. When cooling, the thick crust absorbs the escaping moisture which builds a barrier effectively slowing down the rate that moisture can escape. 

The moisture is retained by the compact crumb, making the bread denser and softer. When baking bread without steam, the baking time is reduced to keep as much moisture inside the bread as possible. 

To shorten the baking time, sugars and fats are introduced to further soften the crumb and brown the crust. Increasing the amount of heat from the top of the oven and opening the dampers to intensify the heat help to quickly set the crust, caramelise the crust and produce moist bread.

Even with no added steam, there is still a small amount of oven spring that occurs before the crust sets. Though it is small, it does improve the volume of bread. When baking bread without adding steam it should be almost full size when it goes in to bake.

Bread can have oven spring without adding steam

Bread made without steam still has oven spring

Doughs that contain high amounts of fat or sugar are called laminated doughs. We’re talking brioche, challah and bready cakes such as Chelsea buns here. These types of bread do oven spring but do not need additional steam to be added.

In laminated doughs, the fat increases the temperature at which the crust forms which naturally delays the gelatinisation of the surface. When placed in the oven there is plenty of time for the oven spring to occur before the crust sets, so there is no need to add steam.

Why no oven spring?

This happens. The issue is likely to be fixed by one of these solutions:

  • Switch to bottom heat only oven setting.
  • Use a 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.
  • Feed your sourdough starter (if making sourdough) for a few more days before using.
  • If using the tray method to add steam, make sure that the tray is HOT!
  • If your dough is over-proofed, next time increase the recipe size to have enough dough to fill the tin/proof basket and reduce the final proof time.
  • 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. Gas ovens aren’t well sealed. Consider an electric oven for baking bread.
  • Turn off the fan in your oven and use convection only.
  • Preheat your oven and baking stone for longer.

Adjusting oven spring for individual pieces of bread

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. The volume of the bread’s oven spring is related to how long the dough bulk ferments.

How to change the volume of oven spring

When the dough is kneaded intensively it incorporates more oxygen which feeds the yeast. In this case, the following things happen:

Short development time = Large oven spring

Long development time = Small oven spring

Using 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. You will also get larger amounts of oven spring when reducing the final proof, though this can be risky and often causes holes throughout the bread or a ruptured crust.

But with gentle kneading or no-knead bread, the opposite is true. The dough needs time to mature to allow it to spring in the oven! If we go into the oven too early with an under-fermented dough, the likelihood is that it will have an uneven, irregular crumb and a weak crust. The dough should be properly matured during fermentation to prevent a poor or uneven bread structure.

I had a baker who would often sleep in and subsequently was always late for work. To catch up he would add extra yeast to his dough. This bread would often rise so high in the oven that we wouldn’t be able to get them out of the oven! We’d need to place a piece of cardboard over the loaves to protect them from the top of the oven as two of us would yank them out!

How to get an Ear on your bread

The elusive ear is very popular at the moment. I’ve written a blog post that explains the process of creating an ear in more detail. Take a look at the how to get an ear on bread article.

Conclusion and limitations

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, we need to get the right conditions in the oven, but the focus should be on improving the quality of the dough right from the start. A good dough will perform well in a bad oven, sadly the reverse is not true. 

Before I leave you with some frequently asked questions I would like to take a moment to not expect too much from the oven spring. You should not expect the oven spring to do the proofing of your bread. This is what the final proofing stage is for. Before cutting and baking, the bread should already be almost full size. 

Oven spring is an important factor, just don’t expect too much!

Frequently asked questions about oven spring

Why does bread burst while baking?

Bread shoots up as C02 gas is produced during oven spring. If the dough is weak or under-proofed the gas forces its way through the weakest points in the crust and bursts. Scoring the bread before it goes into the oven is an important step to preventing the loaf from bursting. 

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.

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