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If I make a loaf and slow proof it in the refrigerator, I find that sometimes it will collapse in the middle. I know this is happening because there is a large air pocket in the cling film above the bread.

Is there anything I can do to rescue a loaf once this has happened? The objective is to let it rise overnight so that I can bake it first thing in the morning without having to knock it back and do a second rise.

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Normally, you would not be doing a final proof overnight—that is, the proof that you have done to form the loaf. Instead, you would do the first ferment or proof overnight, then form the loaf, let it have its final proof, and then bake it.

The dough won't be wasted, but you don't want to bake a formed loaf that has over-proofed and fallen. This is because the gluten network will have collapsed and you will have a very poor structure and strange texture. You will need to reknead the dough, form the loaf, and reproof it:

Per The Fresh Loaf, you can almost certainly just punch the dough down, and let it proof again. It may actually have an improved flavor.

Cook's Illustrated concurs:

Using your fingertips, gently punch down the over-proofed dough and reshape it into a ball, then allow it to proof again for the recommended amount of time although it warns your final loaf may be about 20% smaller.

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Do you mean that I can proof it as normal, knock back, re-knead, shape, then do the proof overnight in the fridge and it should be ok? I'm using fast-acting aka instant yeast for convenience; the recipe provided has only one rise/proof. – antonyh Mar 4 '13 at 23:31
One rise recipes are not easily suitable for overnight proofing. Normally, you would do a do two proofs. You would do the initial proof overnight in the fridge, then form the loaf, do the final proof, and then bake. – SAJ14SAJ Mar 4 '13 at 23:45

I wouldn't try to save the batch as bread. Really, if it is completely overproofed, the yeast is spent and you can't get good leavening any more.

This doesn't mean that you should throw it out. If it is overproofed, chances are that it spent a long time leavening. In this case, you got some great gluten formation. In case you used a good (=low) amount of yeast, you also got some great fermentation taste*.

So the best you can do is to use the overproofed dough as a preferment. Make a second batch of the same proportions, and mix the old dough (cut in pieces) into it. Do it at the beginning of the mixing process, the way you would do it with a biga. Then proceed with the new, double batch as usual. You will have better gluten and more taste than if you used no preferment.

*There is a caveat here. If the overproofing is due to too quick a fermentation (which seems to be the case), then the tastes produced will not be as pleasant as if it were a slow-but-too-long fermentation. It can be that using the preferment in this case actually makes the taste of your dough a bit worse, rather than better, in relative terms (as compared to no-preferment). Still, you have good incentives to use it if the absolute taste is good enough for your palate: you don't waste the materials and the time you invested, and you get a better texture due to the good quality gluten in the preferment. But if you think that your fermentation was too quick, reduce the amount of yeast in the new mixture.

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I agree with the other responses - yes, you can resurrect over-proofed dough. I have done it many times! Just lightly knead, reshape, and wait for it to rise again. You could knead in a bit of yeast (the bread machine type) but I have found this is not usually necessary and could result in uneven results if the yeast is not distributed evenly throughout the dough.

Given that you are using a single proof recipe, your loaf will probably not be any smaller and you may find that it has better flavour. Another option is to cut back on the amount of yeast you use in your recipe. This will buy you some time (as in the no-knead technique) so that the chances of over-proofing in the overnight hours are less. Overnight retarding in the bulk fermentation and the final proofing stages yield different results. I prefer a bulk fermentation overnight. Just take the dough out in the morning, shape, proof while the oven is heating up (mine takes at least an hour to get to 450) and then bake.

Good luck and happy baking!

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No problem...Punch it down,knead it and it it doesnt rise add a 1/4 tea spoon of sugar and yeast to it, and knead it again. cover and let proof.

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It's going to be much harder to mix additional yeast and sugar into dough that's already developed. – SourDoh Jan 21 '14 at 23:34

Overproofed dough makes a great thin crust pizza.

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Could you explain why? On its own, this isn't much of an answer, since it doesn't elaborate or explain what "great" means (i.e. how it's different from pizza made with regular dough). – Aaronut Apr 27 '14 at 13:38

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