10 Tips to Improve your Sourdough Bread Oven Spring

Getting a top-notch oven spring in your sourdough bread is the most rewarding moment of making bread at home. It sums all the previous stages to provide a result – it’s either a good oven spring or a bad one!

If you’re here you’ll be looking to improve your sourdough bread’s oven spring so I’ll kick on with some tips so you can smile every time your bread comes out of the oven!

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Sourdough oven spring explained:

When bread goes into the oven it rises an extra 20% (roughly) during the first 10-12 minutes. The rapid rise is called oven spring. It occurs in all leavened types of bread and is more aggressive when steam is introduced to the oven as it makes the process more effective.

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Why sourdough bread rises in the oven

As the dough warms up, the yeast becomes more active and rapidly feeds on the available sugars. This creates a gush of alcoholic fermentation providing ethanol and carbon dioxide.

The CO2 gas is retained in the gluten network and tiny pockets of air in the gluten expand making the bread rise. 

Why oven spring ends

After 10-12 minutes the heat penetrates through the moisture to set the crust. The hardened outer perimeter halts the rise at the same time the temperature of the dough exceeds 60C (140F) and yeast activity ends.

After this point is reached the baking gelatinizes the starch and draws moisture from the bread.

Is the oven spring in sourdough bread different from yeast bread?

Sourdough is slower than yeast to kick start its fermentation process as there is a lower concentration of yeast bacteria. As the crust sets 10-12 minutes into the bake the sourdough bread doesn’t have enough time to rise.

The volume of the oven rise in sourdough bread will be less than the gains experienced in yeast made bread.

But, don’t worry, these tips will help you to get the best volume in your bread:

#1 Select the right flour

Using good quality flour is a must if you want to make great tasting bread. All brands of flour have different ratios of glutenin and gliadin which alter the elastic and stretch abilities of the dough.

There will also be varying amounts of quality in the starch and protein particles. It’s worth selecting a tried and trusted brand used by other home bakers or have an experiment with different ones to see which ones work best for you.

White flour

White flour will give the best oven spring. Ideally, look for protein levels at 11-13%. Too high can lead to dense bread, too low and you’ll get some irregular holes.

Wholemeal flour

It’s a bit harder to get a decent rise from wholemeal four but if you correctly hydrate it and develop it properly some good results can be achieved.

#2 An active starter

The starter you make your bread from needs to be nice and active. Weak starters won’t create enough fermentation activity in the dough to make the bread rise properly.

The starter should triple in size in around 6 hours for it to be fully active. If you need help to get your starter active view the sourdough starter is not rising post.

#3 Autolyse

Allowing your flour to hydrate and let the gluten unwind to be more extensible is a really good step to take. A sourdough autolyse won’t make or break the oven spring of your loaf, but it will increase the volume by around 5-10%.

#4 Stretch the gluten

To build up the strength in the gluten you need to work or stretch it. This can be done with either kneading or stretch and folds.

Yes, it is possible to make sourdough bread without either of these but for the best rise in the oven, you should work the gluten well.

#5 Bulk fermentation

A good bulk fermentation creates plenty of organic acids and ethanol in the dough. These are going to benefit the doughs ability to create gas and retain it during the oven spring.

To create the best environment for the bulk and second rise look at the sourdough fermentation article. It explains how important the levain and the temperature of the ingredients makes a difference to your bake.

How to know when to end bulk fermentation?

At the end of the first sourdough fermentation stage, the dough should feel light and a bit gassy. The gluten should also be strong and pass the windowpane test.

#6 Good shaping

To create enough tension in the dough the shaping has to be done well. Yes, you can make sourdough bread by just chucking the dough in a proofing basket but for the best shape and oven spring, the dough has to be shaped correctly.

The method used is to degas most of the air from the dough and preshape. Leave for 20-30 minutes and then start final shaping.

The right shaping method is important to encourage the outer membrane of the dough to stretch. This helps it to strengthen and stretch in the oven also.

#7 Proofing

A lot of bread makers get this stage wrong. The bread should do the majority of its rising in the proofing basket (generally). The bread should rise to roughly full size before it’s baked.

After baking most of the volume gain from the oven spring is lost as the bread cools and moisture evaporates and the bread contracts.

When is sourdough bread ready to bake?

To tell if the bread is ready for the oven you can use the poke test. Sourdough bread should stay down after it is poked for 2-3 seconds before spring back up. This is roughly double the bread’s original size.

Can you under proof sourdough bread?

If stages 1-6 are perfect then some loaves of bread work fantastically when they are under proofed. A rise time of just 2 hours is possible and the bread doubles in size during baking and the crumb is deliciously open and gorgeous.

#8 Cutting

For the best oven rise simple cutting is preferred to more intricate designs. You don’t want to let too much gas escape whilst you also don’t want to hold too much in as this makes the bread rip during the oven rise.

Do you cut wholemeal bread?

Wholemeal bread requires less cutting. A simple single slice is sufficient otherwise the oven spring is poor.

#9 Add steam to the oven

For oven spring to occur you need to add steam to the oven, It’s essential to the process. You can do this by simply baking the sourdough in a dutch oven or by using a water mister. After 20-25 minutes, open the door to release the steam – it really helps the quality of the bread.

Here’s a detailed guide on adding steam to an oven.

#10 A properly heated oven

You should either bake in a dutch oven inside a preheated oven or in a preheated oven with a baking stone. You need the heat to be at 220-230C (430-450F) for the bread to bake through and crispen the crust.

This might require you to heat your oven an extra 10-20 degrees so it can cope with the heat loss when the bread is loaded.

Can you bake bread in a cold oven?

You can bake bread in a dutch oven without preheating the main oven either. It takes an extra 10-15 minutes and I’ve never been truly satisfied with my attempts. However, it saves a lot of money when it comes to utility costs so try it and see how it goes.

Conclusions

AS you can see getting a good oven rise is not just about the baking process. It’s about generating a quality dough that can retain and produce gas when it is baked as well.

For a simple recipe, take a look at my sourdough bread recipe for beginners, if you follow each step closely I guarantee you will get a fantastic oven spring on your sourdough bread.

FAQ’s

How to get blisters on sourdough bread?

Blisters on the crust are created in the oven but aren’t caused by the oven spring. They appear when the dough has been final proofed for a long time (around 12+ hours) in the fridge.

Spraying the dough directly with water before loading it into the oven also creates blisters but they are not as crusty or appealing as the ones made by a cold final rise.

How to get an ear on sourdough bread?

Getting an ear on your bread is pretty funky. To get one you need a good dough and a unique proofing and cutting technique. You can see how it’s done in the how to get an ear article!

How big should the oven spring be when baking sourdough?

You should only be looking to get a 10-20% rise in oven spring, most of this will be lost once after the bread continues to bake and during cooling. It can be tempting to bake the bread before it reaches its intended size and let the oven do the work.

This method can cause irregular holes and the crust to separate.

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