Have you ever been ecstatic waiting for your bread in the oven, to find that suddenly, it explodes? It’s really annoying, but a common mistake that new bakers encounter – some veterans can experience it, too! What’s great about this baking fault is that it’s one of the easiest to remedy. So if you want to know the answer to “why did my bread explode”, read on to learn how to avoid any type of explosion, bursting, or splitting in your bread!
As bread enters the oven, sugars quickly supply the remaining yeast cells to rapidly increase gas production. This makes the bread rise during the first 10-15 minutes of the bake and this process is called “oven spring”. But if the bread cannot rise, pressure builds in weak areas of the gluten matrix. Gas finally escapes and creates an explosion or rupture in the surface.
The explosion can be caused by humidity, improper shaping, under proofing or a lack of moisture.
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Factors That Cause Bread to Explode:
Bread dough is formed of gluten proteins which develop into a gluten matrix to retain gas. Yeast produces gas through its fermentation process and the pockets of gluten expand so the bread rises.
The gluten structure is not perfectly linear, meaning there will always be weak areas in every loaf. So whilst the bread explodes through weak areas, they are not the cause of exploding bread. The reason for bread exploding is down to the overall quality of the dough. Here are the 4 overarching reasons why your bread might explode:
1. The dough was under-proofed
If you are not letting your bread rise fully, it will be under proofed, the opposite, of over-proofing. Some recipes call for specific time to proof. But since conditions and environments are often different to the recipe author, timing isn’t often accurate. Instead it’s better to learn how the perfect dough should look when it’s ready to go in the oven.
Signs that the bread is under proofed:
If your bread rose a lot in the oven then it likely needed longer to rise. Expect to see explosions where gas rips through a weak spot in the loaf, or “ripping”. Ripping is when the bread is cut before baking and violently rises in the oven. It widens the cut severely and leaves rough rip marks on the surface of the cut. This method is mastered when making bread with an ear.
How to fix:
Good news is there is a simple test that you can try out. If you poked your finger into the bread and it bounced back right away, it’s under-proofed. But if the dough didn’t come back at all, it is over-proofed. The right or perfect is if the dough bounced back after 3 seconds.
2. The dough was too dry
If the surface of the dough you are baking is too dry, the crust hardens early and prevents the bread from rising in the oven. Like under proofing, there is always a weak spot or an area in the dough that’s slightly more moist than other parts where the dough can expand. The crust bursts to let the gas escape, allowing the nearby area to expand.
Signs that the crust was too dry:
The baked crust will look dull and untextured and there will be a defected area (or two) where the bread has exploded. In the picture above, the gas escaped at the bottom of the loaf.
How to fix:
Professional bakers use a steam box proofer so they can proof bread in a warm and humid environment. It ensures that the crust doesn’t harden (called skinning up). If you suffer from this problem you could use a home proofer from Brot and Taylor.
But many home bakers place a cup or bowl of boiling water beside the dough as it rises. It will increase the humidity to make sure the surface of the dough isn’t too dry. See my article on making a DIY proofing box.
Baking in a fan oven
A fan oven intensifies heat by drawing away moisture from the surface of the baking food. This is great for a roast turkey, but when it comes to bread it dries out the crust the same way as if the dough had dried up during proofing.
3. Slashing wasn’t deep enough
Bread bursts when pressure builds after the crust hardens. The best way to avoid this is to choose the pathway for the excess CO2 to escape. Slashing (scoring) your breads will form a ventilation route. But many bakers struggle knowing how deep to score the unbaked loaf.
Signs that the slash wasn’t deep enough:
Expect to see the slash open up unevenly as the gas ruptures the surface of the bread through the cut. Sometimes you might see gas exploding from another area of the bread.
How to fix:
The idea here is to not be shy when scoring. If you are making one cut, a good 3/4 inch deep that runs almost the length of the bread is best.
For other designs, for example the “pound sign” design which is popular in sourdough bakers there are more cuts so they don’t need to be as deep. Here a ½ inch deep slash is perfect.
The timing of slashing and baking is also key. Make sure that the time between slashing and putting the dough in the oven is slim. Too much time can close down the ventilation route and the bread can collapse and/or burst.
4. The seam was exposed
When you shape your bread before the final proof, a good tight seam should seal the weak spots of the bread. If you don’t have a tight seam the bread will crack and can burst out along the joint. Also if the seam is not at the bottom of the loaf, it’s likely that it will open up and look unsightly.
Signs that the seam wasn’t sealed properly:
Expect to see the seam expanding and “rips” occuring along the join.
How to fix:
Placing the same at the base of the bread is important here – remember if using a banneton, the dough should be placed seam side up as it is to be flipped over before baking.
Bench resting your dough for 15-30 minutes before shaping can often lead to the perfect loaf with no further measures taken. But if you are not very confident handling dough you can make use of the ‘stretch and pinch’ method:
After the dough piece is in its final shape, stretch out the dough a little further over the joins and pinch them together. The seams should be tightly sealed stil after the dough has risen, but you might want to give them another pinch before placing it inside your oven.