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I bake bread almost every day. Mostly French baguettes, old stretch and fold every 45 mts. method for 1st proofing, couche for 2nd rise. Make sourdough too. But my bread loaves, which were coming out very good, but wanted to make better, are now (last two weeks) coming out almost totally flat when out of the oven (oven temp ok). They actually look nice and fluffy (Too "marshmallowy") after 1.5-2 hrs. proofing on top of counter on tray covered by dry towel. Used to proof for 1.5 hrs. but the 2 hrs. gave a nicer, puffier (but soft) look.

What happens:

  1. So, when I score the bread, simple center cut, it starts to deflate a little. I bake it with plenty of steam yet no oven spring, it's FLAT! BUT...the taste is great, only has little crumb but it's NOT DENSE...

What I've tried:

  • I use plenty of steam with pot in bottom of oven and boiling water, lightly spray the loaves.

  • I am pre-preparing everything (this is new, could it matter?), including sifting flours (half AP/half bread) the night before, the rest in separate containers.

  • This bread uses a 24 hr. poolish, which is was checked and it's fine.

QUESTION:

  • How can I proof for 2nd rise if I can't use my oven, which is being heated?

  • I have tried keeping it in the oven until last minute, finish proofing on top of counter (cooler temperature) in order to preheat oven for baking the change in temp seams to start to deflate dough.

  • How can I tell that the dough is ready for baking and proofed enough? (tips!) I tried poking it, but just left a hole in the formed "baguette" shaped loaf which didn't spring back at all. Felt marshmallowy:( When ready to bake is it supposed to feel firm or very soft?

  • Is there a chance I could have OVER-kneaded the dough in my KitchenAid? I mix for 2 min. in speed 1 and up to 7 min. in (varies) speeds 2 and 4. (Recipe calls for 2 min mixing and 3 min. on speed 2) I have been kneading say about 3 min. on 2 and 4 on speed 4. Then I manually knead for about 10 min. (not too hard).

My house is coolish, 70 degrees, open kitchen. I can't afford a proofing box. All other breads proof and bake perfectly well. None of them use the stand mixer (!) Only this one has given me problems. I have also tried different recipes, same problem - but it seems to work for everybody else. Please help? Thanks and stay safe!:)

  • Not an answer so here is a comment: I had to make gluten-free bread for years, and it's often flat. So I usually made it in a baking tin. For baguettes I got a special baguette pan with little holes in, and they always came out perfectly. – RedSonja Jul 16 at 11:20
  • Thanks for your comment, appreciate the idea:) – Vivian Robaldo Jul 17 at 14:10
  • Are you saying it's light and has plenty of gas bubbles inside, but is the wrong shape? Also, do you lie anything, e.g. a cloth on top? Finally, by what ratio does it increase in size during the rise? – samerivertwice Aug 15 at 12:09
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If you haven't changed your recipe then the problem is in your method, and it sounds like you are over proofing. If your bread expands too much in the final rise it gets over-extended and tends to collapse when scored, exactly as you describe. It's easy to 'get greedy' and try to eke out that much more expansion, but it's actually a very common mistake.

Reduce your final rise after shaping and you'll get a better result. Go for a doubling in size typically, maybe a bit more. It's hard to give a time on that, but typically 1.5 hours is the most I'd give it, I like to still have some visible rising going on when I put it in the oven because part of oven spring comes from the yeast.

If you do over-prove it's not a disaster, just don't score it, then put it into the oven gently.

As for how to proof the dough, you don't need to use the oven, in fact I'd recommend against that unless your house is really cold. 70°f is fine for proofing, it just takes a bit longer than a warm oven, and you often get more flavor and better structure if you don't rush it. One thing I would suggest is not to use a damp towel as the weight of it on a small baguette can hold it down a bit, and the evaporation of water from the towel cools the bread and slows down proofing. Instead proof your bread in a clear plastic bag (clear so you can see through it, no other reason). You blow air into the bag and then clip it, the air will keep the bag from contacting the dough and sticking. The bag will seal in the heat generated from the yeast activity as well as keeping in moisture, preventing it from forming a skin.

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    When the weather warmed up here, only a little, I suddenly found I was over-proving, so maybe the ambient conditions have changed – Chris H Jul 14 at 10:24
  • Today, as in the past 5 days, I repeated my sad try at this recipe (which I have made successfully many, many times and it's a family favorite!!). Again, a totally FLAT bread. I did not prepare the night before, in case the flour was being affected being out of the container overnight, I arranged to do my second rise in the microwave by using a 2 cup container with very hot water in a corner, the covered (with tea towel) baguettes on the divider (my oven has a metal "shelf" to give room for 2 dishes) and CUT the 2nd proofing time to 1.5 hrs. SAME FLAT BREAD! It's humid here these days. TKS!! – Vivian Robaldo Jul 14 at 15:07
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    Reduce the proving time @VivianRobaldo. You don't need to add heat to it, it will proof without it. Prove it until it's doubled in volume, then bake. Proof to the result you want, not to a time. – GdD Jul 14 at 15:18
  • I am trying it today this way. Thank you, really appreciate all your input:) Be well! @GdD – Vivian Robaldo Jul 15 at 13:06
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I got in to bread making years ago, but with the pandemic causing me to spend more time indoors, I was able to spend more time in the kitchen to improve my skills.

Here are the things (from what you've described) that might be affecting your bread's rising process.

  1. YEAST: The type and amount of yeast being used. You mention "proofing" so I believe you are probably using active-dry yeast, and because you mention "poolish" I assume that the total amount of yeast being used is much less than a standard loaf of bread recipe.(less than 1 tsp yeast total?) additionally,is your yeast is still active? when you proof it - does it turn in to a lovely bubbly foam? if not - you might want to try a new package of yeast. Active dry yeast must be proofed in water that is warm enough, ideal temp is between 105-115F

  2. FLOUR: You mentioned that you mix AP & bread flour together. The reason bread flour is perfect for making bread is due to its high protein content. AP flour has between 8-11% percent protein, while bread flour contains between 12-14% percent. Using AP flour will give you rise, but the extra protein in bread flour will give you a slightly higher rise. Bread flour also produces more gluten, which makes bread just a bit denser and chewier. So I might experiment will using a higher ratio of bread to AP flour - if you can, try 90% bread flour to 10% AP flour. AP flour (ive noticed) is great for fluffier breads, breakfast breads, dinner rolls.

  3. USING A PRE-FERMENT (POOLISH) you said that you let the poolish rise for 24 hours - I would cut that down to a max of 15 hours - but checking on it to see what it looks like is your best bet. Poolish is the most hydrated preferment (approx 1 part flour to 1 part water) and while it can start out like a shaggy dough ball, when its ready it looks almost soupy. Ripeness is indicated when the surface is covered with small bubbles and the mass has expanded. Use it once you've notice it's doubled in size and has a bunch of small bubbles - if you wait too long, the size will start to decrease .

  4. MAN VS MACHINE: Now, I know that many people love electric mixers, obviously they take a lot of the hard work out of the process, but I honestly feel kneading dough by hand is the way to go, you can literally feel the integrity of the dough build with each pass. Kneading is important because its how you make the dough form gluten which makes the bubbles that develop able to withstand more pressure as the mass grows taller. Are you doing the "windows" test before letting it set for the first rise?

  5. TEMPERATURE: letting the dough rise in an environment thats at least 80F will be most ideal to support rise. try using a slightly damp tea towel over it too.

  6. RISING/ CUTTING/ SHAPING If you intend on cutting the risen dough to make multiple loafs, after the 1st rise, carefully dump the dough on to a floured surface and use a dough scrapper to divide and move each piece to be shaped. Let the shaped loaves rise a 2nd time until doubled in size, then bake :)

Try THIS recipe, it has worked well for me!

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  • See my comment above. There's not enough room here to include my recipe, but my poolish is 100% hydrated with 1/2 tsp yeast; dough also includes an envelope of active yeast, plenty yeast! Proofed both times satisfactorily. Today shortened 2nd proof to 1.5 hrs., same flat result! Used microwave as proofing box, cup of hot water and baking pan with baguettes ready. Turned to marshmallows...I can't put my finger on what I'm doing differently that is causing this. All materials checked satisfactorily. Any other ideas? Thanks for thorough reply and stay well!!:) – Vivian Robaldo Jul 14 at 15:39
  • Re. your 5. - Warm environment is not always the optimal solution. If you are going for speed, yes. But a cold rise can help with better structure, a firmer loaf, and above all, flavor. – Stephie Jul 14 at 18:18
  • Hi @KayleighMacKay, there's a lot of useful detail in your answer, I think the reason you haven't gotten any upvotes on it is that you haven't actually answered the question about what would make bread come out flat. – GdD Jul 15 at 7:44
  • @Kaleigh MacKay I tried your idea on the AP and bread flours mixed together and decided to "go for broke" and made the bread with only bread flour. I came out perfect. I just can't understand WHY it use to rise perfectly before, and not now (after all this Pandemic stuff and with the new flour, but I use King Arthur's which is supposed to be the best)?! I can't figure it out...but just wanted to thank you for the idea. – Vivian Robaldo Jul 18 at 1:44
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It's impossible to know the cause without quizzing you further about various details, but there are a couple of really important things that stop loaves from spreading that you don't mention;

Tension

Firstly, it's really important you shape your bread to create tension across the top of the loaf. This is one of the most easily overlooked factors that stops loaves from spreading. With the loaf upside-down, keep stretching from the sides and folding to the middle until the underside (which will be the top when you bake it) is under a lot of tension. Then turn it over to bake. This makes sure the strands of gluten are stretched out laterally and pulling across the top of the loaf. If your bread is full of gas, but has just spread too much then failure to do this is more likely your problem.

Overproofing

People often talk about over- or under-proofing but rarely give good instructions when is the right moment to catch it. The clearest advice I was ever given is that you need to catch it on the rise. i.e. as the bread is rising, not when it has topped-out. Of course, it needs handling gently once it's risen, but if it feels like it's about to deflate and collapse in response to the slightest disturbance then it's gone too far. If your bread lacks structure especially at the bottom, with all the larger gas bubbles at the top, or there is evidence of bubbles breaking out of the top of your crust, you more likely overproofed it

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