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 does my bread not rise in the oven"?
So let's talk about how to improve sourdough oven spring.
What Is Sourdough 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.
What Does Great Sourdough Oven Spring Look Like?
Chances are, you'll know sourdough oven spring when you see.
We've all had a flat loaf, right? So you know what you're not looking for!
When your sourdough has amazing oven spring, it will have all the characteristics listed below:
- Golden, blistered crust with lovely coloring
- Pronounced sourdough ear
- No bursting
- Fat, round belly
- Uniform, symmetrical shape
- Open, even crumb that's light and airy
- Feels light once baked and sounds hollow when base is tapped
- Whistles and cracks (sings) when cooling (it's really the best sound ever!)
10+ Tips For Better Sourdough Oven Spring
Starter Strength Contributes to Oven Spring In Your Sourdough Bread
Sourdough 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. A mature sourdough starter will always produce better sourdough (provided it's fed and nurtured regularly).
While the float test is one way to find out if your starter is ready to rise bread, it's not always accurate.
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 starter readiness here.
If your starter is lacking in strength, it's a good idea to take some time to boost it.
You'll find all my best tips for strengthening your sourdough starter here.
Choose The Right Flour
Choosing the right flour is critical to improving your sourdough oven spring.
Whole wheat and wholegrain flours simply will not give you the huge expansion you're looking for.
To achieve maximum oven spring, white bread flour is best. Choose a flour with a high protein content.
If you do want to use a whole wheat or wholegrain flour you should blend it with some bread flour to get as much oven spring as possible.
You could also choose to add some Vital Wheat Gluten which will add some of the gluten that wholegrain flour is missing - yet is necessary for that coveted spring!
If you are looking for a good whole wheat rye recipe that will still give you some great oven spring, this easy whole wheat rye loaf is perfect.
Autolyse For Bigger Oven Spring
The process of autolyse (or fermentolyse) is not always necessary for baking sourdough bread.
However, if you are looking for maximum oven spring, it is a step that you should experiment with.
To increase your chance of better sourdough oven spring, try performing a longer autolyse.
The process of autolyse can increase your dough elasticity and overall structure.
It encourages a strong gluten network (which we will explore below).
Try extending the autolyse on your dough the next time you bake sourdough and see what effect it has on your baked sourdough.
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.
Using a stand mixer is also a good option for developing a strong gluten network in sourdough bread.
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.
However, 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 Over Fermenting in Bulk Fermentation
One of the biggest reasons sourdough enthusiasts don’t get the sourdough oven spring they’re after is because they over ferment their dough.
It’s tough - it can all happen so fast!
But if your dough has over fermented 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 fermentation 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 when you mix your sourdough, or even a straight sided container.
Tighten That Surface Tension - Practice Shaping!
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, giving you that even, symmetrical shape when baked.
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.
These gases form the beautiful bubbles sourdough is renowned for.
You'll find an easy shaping video here.
Choose Your Shaping Container Wisely
It may seem inconsequential, but the proofing basket or shaping container you choose will affect the oven spring of your bread.
A banneton is best for proofing your sourdough, but if you don't have one, you can use a something else around your kitchen. I've put together a list of banneton alternatives here.
You need to make sure that your banneton or other shaping container is the right size for your dough.
If it's too big, your dough will spread out during proofing and this will result in reduced oven spring.
I've put together a banneton size guide here to help you choose the perfect size to support your dough during proofing.
Don't Over Proof Your Dough
Now we've already spoken about over fermentation, which occurs during the bulk ferment.
But what about over proofing?
Yes - they are two different things.
Proofing is the rest period that occurs after shaping. This allows the dough to rest. While the yeast are asleep (or at least slowed down) the bacteria continue to ferment the dough.
If you cold proof your dough, there is a chance it can over proof if your fridge is too warm. It's always a good idea to check that your fridge is 4C or cooler.
If your dough is over proofed, there will not be enough energy left when it hits the oven. This is result in a flat, dense bread and lack the oven spring you desire.
Score Your Sourdough Strategically
Scoring is an important part of ensuring that you get the oven spring you want when baking sourdough.
While your dough is in its cold ferment (proofing) 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. Around ¼ to ½ inch is perfect.
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.
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.
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.
This can also help with creating more sourdough blisters.
Adding ice to your Dutch Oven is also an option for better oven spring in some cases.
I hope that reading about these factors that influence sourdough oven spring will bring you greater success with your sourdough baking.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best way to bake sourdough bread, and to ensure optimal oven spring, is to bake it in a hot Dutch Oven. If you don't have a Dutch Oven, you can add water to the oven when baking sourdough bread. However, you need to be very careful not to burn yourself. You'll find my best tips for baking sourdough bread without a Dutch Oven here.
Proofing occurs after shaping, so it's not ideal to reshape it once it's rested and basically ready to bake. Reshaping at this point in the process will drastically reduce the dough's potential for oven spring as it will disturb all the gas bubbles and tension. Leave it alone and bake it as it is.
While there are many factors that contribute to your sourdough not rising in the oven, the short answer is that the yeast have no energy left for that final push when they hit the oven. You need to go back through your process and pinpoint the issue. You'll find all the contributing factors to oven spring in the article above - but you will need to look at starter strength, fermentation, shaping and scoring. More often than not, when the dough doesn't rise at all in the oven it's due to over fermentation and over proofing, so the yeast have used all of their energy with none left to raise your bread.
Sourdough bread has the potential to feel heavy, however in reality it should be light and airy and sound hollow when you tap the base. If your baked sourdough bread is heavy, chances are you have under fermented the dough. This means that fermentation was not sufficient to allow the yeast to convert the carbohydrates in the bread into carbon dioxide gas, which gives sourdough its rise. If your bread is dense, gummy and heavy, look at the health of your sourdough starter and the length of your bulk fermentation.
It really depends. If your sourdough is under baked due to under fermentation, no amount of cooking time will fix it. No matter how long you cook it, it will still be gummy and dense inside. If your bread is cooked, but a little blonde, you can return it to the oven to deepen the crust. Just be careful to cook it at a lower temperature to prevent it from burning.
If you enjoyed these tips for better sourdough oven spring, you might enjoy these articles:
- 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.