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I've tried to make a special bread for making 'torrijas', the Spanish version of French toast. Very popular during easter, here.

Twice, the bread didn't rise correctly in the oven, even after extended rising. The resulting bread was pretty solid, with unbaked lumps in the center.

The second dough was kept in the fridge for 24h, then risen for about 1h, then formed and risen again before baking...

So, the question is if there is an objective way to determine when a dough is ready to be baked?

PD. I'll start a dwarf bread factory, shortly.

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Unbaked lumps? That sounds like you didn't get it mixed well. –  derobert Apr 10 '12 at 12:17

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Unbaked lumps probably mean you aren't mixing it enough. Try starting with a little less flour and knead in more as you go.

Another issue is you may not be kneading it enough. Next time try using the windowpane test. You don't have to do this every time, but if you're having trouble with a specific recipe this will help you figure out how the dough should "feel" when its ready by giving you a visual indicator. I've found that when I have dough rising problems, it's usually because I didn't knead long enough. This should also help fix your mixing issue.

That being said, there are two good methods to see if dough has risen enough. One is to let it rise in a marked container (though this doesn't work well for shaped loaves or if you aren't supposed to let it double). The other is the poke test. From a Bon Appetit online article:

To test for doneness, use the finger test: Poke it with 2 fingers; it holds the indentation, it's ready.

Generally I poke it and if it pops right back out, it's not ready. For sourdough, if it holds its shape for a moment and then slowly starts to expand back, it's perfect. For other breads, holding the indentation is a good indicator. This isn't necessarily advisable for delicate doughs. If you're working with a delicate dough, try the test on one loaf that you don't "need" to be perfect. You can use this as a relative time measurement for the future.

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Obviously it isn't a good idea to poke after proofing. For that you can only really go by "doubled in volume" –  Sobachatina Apr 10 '12 at 20:23
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A gentle poke is perfectly fine after proofing. It won't generally hurt even delicate dough, and the hole disappears upon baking. –  jandjorgensen Apr 10 '12 at 20:24
    
Depends on the dough. I agree there exist breads that could take it but I often bake breads that have to be handled very carefully to keep from deflating after proofing. Even if it did spring back in the oven (and it won't always) you would be wasting oven spring that could have made your loaf that much lighter. –  Sobachatina Apr 10 '12 at 20:30
    
I added a caveat for delicate dough--thanks for the suggestion. –  jandjorgensen Apr 10 '12 at 20:34
    
I like to think that I mix and knead enough, but next time I'll try the windowpane and the poking. –  BaffledCook Apr 11 '12 at 10:31

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