How To Improve Sourdough Oven Spring: 6 Factors That Influence Your Sourdough’s Rise

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Sourdough oven spring is one of the holy grails of good sourdough baking along with that elusive open crumb. No one likes flat sourdough bread, right? One of the most asked questions in our Facebook Group is “Why Am I Not Getting The Oven Spring I Want When I Bake Sourdough Bread”? So let’s talk about how to improve sourdough oven spring.

What Is Oven Spring?

Oven spring is “the final burst of rising just after a loaf is put in the oven and before the crust hardens. When the dough hits the hot oven, it can puff up to as much as a third of its size in a matter of a few minutes”.

TheKitchn.com

You really only have a few minutes for the magic to happen, so you want to give your bread the best chance at fulfilling it’s puffy potential.

How Do You Achieve Sourdough Oven Spring?

Good sourdough oven spring comes from a combination of factors, all of which need to be met to see a beautiful round loaf greet you at the oven door. The best way to ensure your loaves expand when they hit the oven is to start at the very beginning of the process and look at your starter.

From there, you need to go through the whole sourdough process and ensure you tick off all the factors that influence oven spring. Once you consistently do this, you’ll be rewarded with amazing sourdough loaves.

Improve sourdough oven spring with these 6 easy tips.
Amazing oven spring not only creates delicious soft, fluffy insides – but also aesthetically pleasing outsides.

6 Factors That Influence Sourdough Oven Spring

Starter Strength Contributes to Oven Spring In Your Sourdough Bread

Oven spring will not occur unless your sourdough starter is strong and ready to bake with.  Starters develop at different rates, and they certainly can get better with age. While the float test is one way to find out if your starter is ready to rise bread, it’s not always accurate.

Starter strength contributes to oven spring in your sourdough bread.
Ensuring your sourdough starter is doubling consistently after feeding insuring your sourdough bread’s oven spring.

There are a few other things you can look for such as whether your starter is doubling in size within a few hours of being fed (this is super important when it comes to sourdough oven spring), as well as how it looks on the sides of the jar and under the skin when you tip it over. You’ll find more information on this here.

Improve your sourdough oven spring. Sourdough starter strength contributes to oven spring in your sourdough bread. Strengthening your starter will give you a better chance at improving your sourdough oven spring.
A sourdough starter that is ready to bake with can look “spongy” and have large bubbles forming on the sides of the jar.

Building A Good Gluten Structure

Developing a good gluten structure is one of the keys underpinning superior oven spring. Gluten occurs when the proteins in flour (gliadin and glutenin) are hydrated. Agitation (stretches and folds) assist the development of the stretchy substance that is gluten.

Gluten is super important because it is literally the structure of your bread – it forms little chain like threads which hold all the CO2 bubbles in all the right places. If your gluten is weak, you’ll have an uneven, dense crumb and the gas and air in your bread will not have anywhere to go, meaning your bread will not rise and be doughy and stodgy.

Effective stretch & folds help your dough stay together and help your loaf stand taller in the oven because they fully allow the gluten to develop. This is a good article about the development of gluten and why it’s important (it’s pretty heavy going though).

It is possible to overdo the handling of your sourdough, so don’t go overboard on the stretch and folds. You want to perform just enough to develop the gluten effectively – but you don’t want the chains to start to break down and collapse.

Window Pane Test To Check For Gluten Development

To understand whether you’ve developed the gluten enough in your dough, you can try performing the window pane test. To perform the window pane test, you need to grab a piece of dough and stretch it between your fingers. Proceed slowly and keep stretching until the dough is super thin and you can see light through it. If the dough holds together and you successfully see light through the paper thin “window” – then you’ve developed the gluten successfully. If the dough breaks, you need to do some more agitation and stretch and folds and further develop the gluten to ensure you get your sourdough oven spring to work.

If you are using a lower protein flour, or a whole grain flour, you may want to add some Vital Wheat Gluten to encourage a stronger gluten network. You can read more about this and where to get it here.

Not Overproofing in Bulk Fermentation

One of the biggest reasons sourdough enthusiasts don’t get the sourdough oven spring they’re after is because they overproof their dough. It’s tough – it can all happen so fast! But if your dough has overproofed then it won’t have any energy left to spring up in the oven. You’ll end up with a flat pancake or even a hockey puck!

Lack of sourdough oven spring is generally because of over proofing in the bulk ferment stage – you only want your dough to double, any more and you will risk losing your oven spring. A little trick is to shape your dough when it’s not quite doubled and then give it a longer cold ferment so that it will not overproof and will bring you that gorgeous oven spring you seek.

Some of the early signs that your dough has overproofed are:

  • your dough has become very runny;
  • it’s over double the size you started with;
  • when you poke the dough, your finger leaves a permanent indent that does not spring back (poke test).

Consider using a glass mixing bowl {affiliate link} when you mix your sourdough. Think about your starter – isn’t it fantastic to be able to see all that bubbly action through the jar? It’s the same when your bulk fermenting your dough. A glass bowl allows you to see all the action!

Tighten That Surface Tension

Something that is often overlooked in the quest to getting exceptional oven spring for your sourdough is good shaping technique. When you shape your dough, you must ensure you create lots of surface tension which holds the gas inside your dough, until it’s ready to escape once it hits the oven. Good surface tension ensures a more even growth and therefore improves sourdough oven spring.

You want your dough to be tightly shaped when it hits the fridge for the cold ferment stage of your sourdough bake so that the outer skin of the dough is holding all of the ever so important gases inside. It’s these gases that form the beautiful bubbles sourdough is renowned for.

Score Your Sourdough

Scoring is an important part of ensuring that you get the oven spring you want when baking sourdough. While your dough is in it’s cold ferment stage in the refrigerator, it will develop a dry skin. This helps to ensure you can cleanly score your sourdough before you place it in the oven.

You’ll need to score your dough just deep enough so that it opens up, but not so deep that it causes it to collapse.

Less is more when it comes to scoring. One or two slashes is enough and will focus the energy of your bread in one place, improving your oven spring. One simple slash will also improve your chance of getting a better sourdough ear.

When trying to improve your sourdough oven spring, look at the way you score your sourdough bread before baking.
A simple cross is the perfect way to score your sourdough bread for maximum sourdough oven spring.

Bake Your Sourdough in a Hot Dutch Oven

There are many different ways of putting your sourdough in the oven, all with their pros and cons. After much trial and error, I believe the best oven spring comes from a preheated oven and hot Dutch Oven. There is something magical that happens when you place cold dough into a hot oven.

The dough in the photo below was made from my basic sourdough recipe and split into two at shaping. You can see the sourdough on the right has superior oven spring and a fantastic ear!

If you want to really get things going, give your dough a spray with some water mist before you place the lid on your Dutch Oven.

Placing cold dough into a preheated Dutch Oven will give you lots of magical sourdough oven spring!

I hope that reading about these factors that influence sourdough oven spring will bring you greater success with your sourdough baking.

If you’re looking for a fail proof recipe for baking sourdough bread, then head here.

Want to learn how to slice sourdough bread easily? You can find all the best tips here.

Come and show us your bake in our Facebook Group – Sourdough Starters!

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

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