The Sponge Method

Combine 50% water with 50% flour.

Combine 50% water with 50% flour.

^^ Add the yeast. Sugar or malt may also be added to this mixture to promote faster yeast growth.

^^ Cover the sponge. Let it rise in a warm place for two to three hours or until it doubles in bulk.

Combine the sponge with the remaining ingredients either by hand or in a mixer.

Use a probe thermometer to measure the dough temperature before you place it in the proofer. If you are not using a proofer, regularly measure dough temperature throughout fermentation. Remember that allowing dough to become too cool will slow yeast action, while heat over 90°F (32°C) will cause fermentation to accelerate.

Fermentation is complete when the dough has approximately doubled in size. Although you will be able to see the increased volume of the dough, there is a way you can test to see if it is ready. You can test whether fermentation is complete by inserting two fingers into the dough up to the knuckles and then removing them. If the finger pressure leaves a slight impression around which the dough closes very slowly, fermentation is complete. The dough is then ready to be punched.

Punching Dough

The action of turning the sides of the dough into the middle and turning the dough over is called punching. This is done by pressing gently and firmly, not by hitting or kneading the dough.

Overmixing If you overmix or over knead a regular yeast dough, you will cause the ingredients in the dough to let down. Once the ingredients have let down, they have broken down completely. Overmixed dough is warm and sticky and falls apart easily. Adding flour can help offset overmixing to a certain extent. However, it is better to avoid overmixing dough in the first place.

Punching accomplishes four important actions:

Maintains Dough Temperature By effectively turning the dough inside out, punching moves the cooler exterior surfaces to the middle. This evens the dough temperature.

Releases Carbon Dioxide If too much of the gas developed during this first stage of fermentation remains within the dough, it will become concentrated and slow the later stages of fermentation.

Introduces Oxygen Punching the dough incorporates oxygen from the air.

Develops Gluten Any handling of the dough strengthens the gluten.

Dividing Dough

Once the dough has been punched, it must be divided for baking. Commercial bread formulas give portions by weight. To divide dough, use a bench scraper to cut the dough into uniform pieces. Weigh the pieces on a baker's scale, as when scaling ingredients.

You will need to work quickly when you portion dough. Fermentation continues during this process. The last pieces portioned may become over fermented if there is any delay. Keep the large mass of dough covered as you work so that its surface does not dry out. If any small pieces of dough are left, divide them evenly and add them to the larger pieces. Tuck them under each portion so that they will be well incorporated. Otherwise, the smaller pieces will ferment too fast.

Rounding Dough

Divided dough must be rounded, or shaped into smooth balls. To do this, put the dough on the bench. With the palm of your hand, cup the dough with a circular motion, working the dough with your fingertips. This will cause the dough to form into a smooth, firm, round ball.

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