#82: How Do You Know When To Stop?
Try overproofing your bread dough. It teaches you a great lesson.
I have had the pleasure of working with quite a few university students and interns over the last few years. There are those moments when they are my captive audience and don’t have much of a choice whether or not to listen to me. That is when I tell them what I have learned from baking bread:
«Don’t worry about what could go wrong. If there was anything to worry about then it is how to get one thing right. And only by pushing it too far will you ever discover what right is truly like.»
Ken Forkish, Silicon Valley high-tech industry veteran turned baker, describes it so well:
«One mark of a seasoned baker is the ability to bake the bread at that perfect point of the proof every time, and it remains a frequent topic of conversation at my bakery. It’s true not just for breads, but for croissants and brioche, too. We learn by doing, and sometimes the best way to learn ist to be willing to have a loaf that’s a bit overproofed. This will help you understand what the limits are.»
Ken claims far too little credit for the wisdom embedded in these few statements. I would go as far as extending the applicability of his proofing practice way beyond baking goods. Learning by doing is the obvious element. We all buy into that.
However, the real value hides in his suggestion to «overproof» the dough. It means that you would have waited too long. The dough is now likely to collapse and your baked bread won’t have the volume it could have achieved had it been put in the oven at the «right» moment.
Funnily, «overproofing» is as wrong as «underproofing». Whichever way you look at it, you would not have fulfilled the dough’s full potential. The bread’s aroma only develops fully if you give the dough the time it needs.
But how do you know when is right? There is no absolute science to baking because some of the variables such as temperature and humidity change constantly. Baking bread in summer or winter are two disciplines you better prepare for. You learn by doing.
So next time you wonder whether you have fulfilled your full potential, remind yourself of the last time you have pushed too far, you have done too much, you exceeded the point when it felt «just right».
How close to right are you right now?