There are several telltale indicators in a baked loaf of sourdough that can help you understand if your bread was under proofed, over proofed, or was proofed just the right amount. Here are several things to look for in your baked loves to see if you are proofing your dough for the correct amount of time.
One of the quickest ways to gauge the proof on your baked bread is to take a closer look at the shape and size of the loaf.
One of the most common traits of an under proofed loaf is uncontrolled tearing in the sides. Because the yeast still has too much fuel when it hits the oven, the loaf will continue to rise once the crust has already begun to form, which causes ripping and bursting in the sides from the excess CO2 escaping from the loaf.
Under proofed loaves often have a considerable amount of height because of this massive expansion in the oven, but the overall shape tends to be uneven, and generally without a good ear where the dough was originally scored. Under proofed bread is often smaller in width and length, due to a lack of proper development during the proofing stage.
A loaf of bread that has been proofed for the correct amount of time will retain its shape in the oven, and expand evenly in both length and width. It will also have a good oven spring, and is more likely to develop a beautiful ear.
Similar to the signs of over proofed dough, an over proofed loaf will be very flat, without much rise or retention of shaping. Over proofing destroys the structural integrity of the bread, so loaves that have gone over are unable to hold their shape in the oven.
The color of your loaf can also give you hints about whether your dough has been over proofed. The fermentation process eats up the available sugars in the bread, so when that process has gone on too long and there is not much sugar left in the dough, it is much harder for the crust to properly caramelize and brown in the oven.
Properly proofed dough has enough sugars remaining in the dough to produce a beautiful brown, crackly, caramelized crust.
The last place to look for indicators of proofing levels in your bread is the crumb structure. The interior of your bread can tell you a lot about the fermentation, and proofing of the loaf.
The crumb structure of an under proofed loaf will be tight and gummy. Because it was not given enough time to develop and trap CO2 gasses, the crumb structure will be very dense, with uneven air bubbles.
Properly proofed dough will be much more consistent in structure, with a soft and fluffy interior, and larger, but more evenly dispersed air bubbles present in the crumb.
Over proofed bread is likely to have a very open crumb structure, due to the development of excess CO2 during the proofing stage.