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Overproofed Dough in a Bread Machine: What, Why, and How To Fix It

Preview: Overproofed dough can be a problem for bread machine users, especially during the summer. Learn what it is, how to recognize it, and how to save your bread if it happens.

As a new bread machine user, I never considered the possibility that my bread could overproof. I naively hoped and expected perfection with the push of a button.

After making a few loaves of bread, I realized what I should have known already. A bread machine has no brain, eyes, or fingertips.

Instead, it has a computer – a limited one at that. Nothing replaces human experience when it comes to dough that is negatively affected by the weather or human error.

Hopefully, this post will give you confidence. Take control when your bread maker needs help or you’ve messed up. Let’s do some bread machine troubleshooting with a problem that owners often fail to recognize.

overproofed dough in a bread machine pan
This dough is overproofed. The pan is nearly full and the dough is somewhat transparent. Notice the air bubbles seen directly under the surface.

I’ve been getting many questions about bread maker recipes that used to turn out perfectly. Now that it’s summertime, they don’t. This is my answer.

First up? A definition.

What is overproofed dough?

Overproofed dough is dough that was allowed to rise too long. (By the way, proofing is the same as rising.) This usually happens during the first rise after the kneading completes, but it can also happen with shaped dough during the second rise.

Paying attention to your dough is crucial. Sometimes conditions are not perfectly aligned with the stars or the bread machine computer.

What causes bread dough to overproof?

I’m no food scientist, so here’s a simple explanation.

Yeast is a live organism that feasts on the ingredients in the dough. As it eats, it burps out carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide puffs out the tiny cavities of the gluten network much like water fills a bunch of water balloons.

balloons to illustrate how yeast works

When the yeasty beasties run out of food, they quit burping, and the party is over. The balloons deflate or pop.

It’s our job to pace these little guys so they don’t overdo it. Ideally, the yeast won’t run out of food until the oven has a chance to lock the crumb into place. If they exhaust themselves, the balloons will deflate, and the party is over. Your dough will lose volume.

What is the cause of overproofed dough?

Any one of these reasons can give your dough fast-rising power. Numbers 1 and 2 often go together, especially in the summer.

  1. The humidity is unusually high.
  2. The ambient temperature is unusually warm.
  3. The dough ingredients are warmer than normal.
  4. Ingredient substitutions can accelerate the rate of proofing.
  5. The salt was omitted either on purpose or accidentally.
  6. When using the DOUGH cycle, the dough left in the machine too long after the cycle finished.

Why does this matter to bread machine users?

Bread machine users usually let the machine decide about proofing time. Unfortunately, the machine has been preprogrammed. Variables can’t be anticipated in advance.

Look back to the previous list of reasons for overproofed dough. Is there any way to notify your machine that you’re in the heatwave of the century? Or that it’s been raining every day for the last two weeks? Does the machine know that your butter was frozen, thawed in the microwave, then added to the pan before it could cool properly? It may be time to step in and help out.

How can I tell if the dough is overproofed?

With experience, you can tell by looking. The dough will start to become translucent. (See the first picture in this post.) The size of the dough will generally be more than double the original size. The two-finger test can be helpful for beginners.

How to do the two-finger test for proofing:

testing dough with two floury fingers
Use two floury fingers to test the dough.
poke fingers into the dough up to your knuckle.
Poke your fingers into the dough up to the first knuckle.
overproofed dough in a bread machine pan. two finger method shows holes that are not filling up
The holes should fill back SLOWLY. This dough appears overproofed. The holes are not filling. NOTE: If the holes fill immediately, the dough is underproofed and needs more time to rise.

This particular finger test was done at the end of the DOUGH cycle. It appears the bread was already overproofed. It’s summertime and my kitchen is warm.

Now imagine if you were using your machine to bake this bread. Even though the dough is overproofed, your machine will carry on as if everything is hunky-dory. This can lead to dense and small-volume bread when the yeast runs out of food too soon.

Let’s revisit the same dough 30 minutes after the DOUGH cycle ended. Pretend we forgot to take the dough out of the machine. (I’ve done it many times before I got an Apple watch with a timer.)

another example of dough that has risen too much
As you can see, the dough continues to rise, and the holes are even more distinct. This dough is definitely overproofed.

Can I save overproofed dough?

Yes, to some extent. Remove the dough from the bread machine pan onto a lightly floured surface. Gently deflate or push the dough down.

Reshape the dough into a ball. Let it rise again.

Check the dough after 20 minutes because each successive rise goes quicker. As soon as the dough is ready, shape it. Let the dough rise again, but this time, stop it short of doubling in size.

overproofed dough that has been deflated
Gently deflate the dough, shape it into a ball, and place it into a lightly greased bowl.
dough covered with a shower cap
Cover the bowl with a tea towel or a cheap shower cap.
deflated dough that has risen again
Check after 20 minutes. The second rise doesn’t take nearly as long. Is it ready? Use the two-finger test.
dough is ready to shape
Yes. I know it’s hard to see but these holes are in the process of filling in.
dough shaped into batards
Shape the dough.
testing proof with a knuckle
This time, check after 15 minutes. This bread is about to run out of gas. Use your knuckle to gently press on the side to see if it leaves a small dent. No dent? Not ready. Big dent? Your bread may not rise at all when you bake it.
showing a dent caused by the knuckle
Looking good. Hope your oven is already pre-heated. Time is of the essence.
baked bread that was originally overproofed
Even though we saved the bread, there is a price to pay for overproofed bread.

This bread is made from the very popular French bread recipe on this website. Despite baking this bread at 425˚F, the dough is not brown and crusty like it should be. The bottom is brown but you can see the sides near the bottom are nearly white and the top does not look nice at all. Not much caramelization on that crust.

The internal temperature of this bread registered 207˚F when removed from the oven. It wasn’t doughy, and the texture was normal. However, the flavor was not up to the usual standard for this bread. It lacked character and was bland.

This bread is in dire need of some good flavor and color. How about some garlic butter and melted cheese? Or use it to make French Dip sandwiches.

How can I prevent overproofed dough?

#1

Use the DOUGH cycle instead of baking bread inside the machine.

Use the DOUGH cycle to mix the dough, then bake your bread in a conventional oven. If you know me, you know that’s my solution to most problems with a bread machine.

This is not a set-it-and-forget-it solution. If you suspect one of the factors listed above, you can watch as the bread rises. There are two ways to do this:

1) Leave the dough in the pan for the entire DOUGH cycle, but monitor the dough. If it doubles in size and passes the two-finger test, pull the dough out of the pan.

This can happen before the DOUGH cycle completes. Always check your dough before the end of the DOUGH cycle during the summertime if you’re having trouble.

2) Remove the dough from the bread machine pan as soon as the kneading action stops and the machine goes quiet. Place the dough ball into another bowl and cover. This may be helpful if you need a cooler place to let the dough rise.

I have used an ice chest or my microwave oven with some ice cubes or a frozen freezer pack inside. They both make a good environment if my kitchen is too warm. Remember this solution on Thanksgiving Day when your kitchen is warmer than usual with all that cooking.

#2

Adjust the moisture level of the dough.

You can make adjustments by decreasing the liquid slightly or adding a little more flour. The wetter the dough, the faster it will rise, all other things being equal.

Unfortunately, I can’t be specific on the amounts. See this post about adjusting your dough in a bread machine as it kneads. Every loaf will be different. Experimentation = valuable experience.

#3

Use less yeast.

Decreasing the yeast will slow down the rise. Start with 1/2 teaspoon less and go from there.

#4

Be careful about substitutions if you are a beginning bread maker.

I get many questions from readers who swap out different flours in an attempt to make their bread more “healthy.” That’s OK, but it helps to understand the different qualities of each flour before you start substituting. For example, rye flour is lower in gluten but may cause your dough to rise faster.

#5

Start out with cold ingredients when the weather is unusually warm.

All my life, I’ve warmed the liquids and eggs before adding them to bread. Turns out, I don’t HAVE to. Slow down the rise on a hot day by starting with cooler ingredients. This is also a good way to buy a little extra time if you need a longer first rise.

Two caveats: First, don’t add anything frozen, like butter, to a bread machine pan. That’s taking the “cold” idea a little too far.

Secondly, this suggestion does not apply if you are using the machine to mix, knead, and bake the bread. Cold ingredients will likely confuse the computer in your bread machine. The timing is based on room-temperature ingredients.


bread machine crash course sign-up

Now you know how to recognize when the dough has proofed enough using the two-finger test. You know why your dough may surprise you and rise faster than expected and what to do about it.

Have courage and take control of your bread machine. Make it work for you in the best possible way so that your bread turns out beautiful and tasty every time. Get more bread maker tips and secrets here.

p.s. I’ll address underproofed bread dough in an upcoming post. It’s more likely to happen during cold weather.

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me privately: Paula at saladinajar.com.

Hope to see you again soon!
Paula