Final Proofing


  1. Starting the Final Proof:

    • Once your dough is shaped and in the banneton or cloth-lined bowl, it's time to start the final proof. Cover your dough to prevent it from drying out and place it in a warm, draft-free area.

    • The length of the final proof can vary greatly depending on several factors such as the temperature of your environment, the strength of your starter, and the specific recipe you're following. Generally, this can range from 1.5 to 4 hours at room temperature.

  2. Retardation (Optional):

    • If you wish, you can extend the proofing time by placing your covered dough in the refrigerator. This is called retarding. It slows down the yeast activity, extending the fermentation process and potentially adding more flavor to your bread. Retarding can last anywhere from a few hours to an entire day depending on your schedule and desired flavor profile.

  3. Testing for Readiness:

    • To check if your dough is ready to bake, perform the "poke test". Gently poke your dough with a floured finger. If the indent springs back slowly and doesn't fill in completely, your dough is well-proofed and ready to bake. If it springs back quickly and completely, it may need more time. If the indent doesn't spring back at all, your dough may be over-proofed.

bread on brown woven basket
bread on brown woven basket

What's Happening during this phase:

Proofing is the final rise before baking and plays a crucial role in the volume, texture, and flavor of your bread. It's a balance of time, temperature, and the strength of your starter. Knowing when your dough is ready to bake comes with practice and observation.

  1. Proofing and Gas Production: Proofing is the final opportunity for yeast and bacteria to ferment the dough, producing carbon dioxide gas and organic acids. The gas gets trapped in the gluten network, causing the dough to rise. The acids contribute to the flavor and help condition the dough, improving its extensibility.

  2. Retardation and Flavor Development: Retarding the dough in the refrigerator slows down yeast activity but allows bacteria to continue producing organic acids, thereby developing more complex flavors. The cooler temperature also makes the dough easier to handle and score, especially for high hydration doughs.

  3. Poke Test and Gluten Structure: The poke test gives you an idea of how well your gluten network is holding the gas produced during fermentation. A well-developed network will allow the dough to hold its shape and spring back slowly after being poked. Over-proofed dough, where the gluten network has started to degrade, will not hold the indent as well.

  4. Impact of Temperature: Just like in the bulk fermentation stage, the temperature plays a significant role during proofing. Warmer temperatures speed up the fermentation process, while cooler temperatures slow it down. That's why retarding in the refrigerator extends the proofing time.