What Happens If You Overproof Bread?

A lot of things can go wrong when baking bread. One of the most common mistakes is over-proofing. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and even the pros have done it. 

While you shouldn’t try to bake an over-proofed dough, there’s a simple solution to make your dough suitable for baking.

Hey! I’m Michelle, a self-taught baker that has enjoyed baking bread over the past few years. Over-proofing was one of my biggest challenges to overcome. After all, proofing is relatively complex, and knowing when your bread dough is “just right” can be a challenge.

Over-proofed bread will collapse while baking, leaving you with a flat and unpleasant loaf. Not only that, but the bread will likely reek of alcohol. While it’s entirely safe to eat (no, you won’t catch a buzz!), it’s better to fend off this unfortunate event in the first place.

This article teaches what happens to over-proofed bread, plus the simple way to fix it!

What Happens if You Overproof Bread?

Over-proofing might not seem like a big deal, but three significant issues come from over-proofed bread.

1. It Will Collapse

Bread needs carbon dioxide to rise. The ingredient responsible for carbon dioxide production is yeast. The yeast feeds on the sugars (either added or from the breakdown of the flour) and releases CO2 in order for the bread dough to rise.

If you overproof your dough, yeast will begin to produce ethanol (alcohol) alongside the carbon dioxide. This results in an overproduction of gas and a weakened gluten structure, causing the bread loaf to collapse while baking.

2. It Will Smell Like Alcohol

Over-proofed bread will smell like alcohol. While this isn’t exactly a bad thing, many people don’t like the smell of alcohol. Or, they simply don’t want their loaf of bread to smell like a brewery.

It all comes back to the overproduction of alcohol. 

While bread typically contains some percentage of ethanol, it’s cooked out during the baking process. If there is too much ethanol, your bread will turn out to smell like alcohol since it wasn’t fully cooked out.

3. It May Taste Sour

Another unpleasant outcome? The flavor. With all the issues with the yeast producing excess ethanol, you might have a sour taste. Obviously, this isn’t the goal of a freshly baked loaf of bread, and it will likely end up in the garbage.

How to Tell if Dough is Over-proofed

If you don’t know whether or not your dough is over-proofed, this article won’t be of much help. With that in mind, here are two tell-tale ways to determine if your bread dough is over-proofed.

1. Visual Check

A bread dough that’s perfectly proofed will be double in size. If your bread dough is more than double its original size and is spilling over the sides of the container, it’s a clear indicator it’s been over-proofed.

2. Fingertip Test

Another great way to tell if your bread dough is over-proofed, under-proofed, or just right is to perform the fingertip test. To perform this test, simply stick your finger into the dough for two seconds. Remove your finger. If the imprint remains, your bread dough is over-proofed. 

How to Fix Over-proofed Dough

Baking with over-proofed dough is something you want to avoid, no doubt. The good news is that fixing over-proofed dough is a breeze. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Place the dough on your workstation.

Step 2: Press down firmly on the dough to remove the gasses.

Step 3: Re-shape the dough.

Step 4: Place it back in the vessel (proofing box or bowl, for example).

Step 5: Allow the bread dough to proof again.

Make sure that you do not allow your bread dough to over-proof again. Set a timer and keep an eye on it. Once it’s doubled in size, it’s ready to go!

How to Prevent Over-proofed Dough

Every baker will have a sigh of relief, knowing that fixing over-proofed bread dough is super easy. But why struggle with the over-proofed dough in the first place? You can take proactive ways to fend off the over-proofed dough. Here’s how.

1. Use Less Yeast

Your bread dough needs yeast in order to rise. But that doesn’t mean it requires the total amount your recipe is calling for. If you know you tend to lose track of time and your bread doughs are consistently over-proofed, try using half the amount of yeast called for.

2. Check the Temperature

The universal bread proofing temperature is 80F. And the hotter the temperature, the quicker your bread dough will rise. So, take that into consideration and adjust as necessary. (Don’t go too cold, or the dough won’t rise at all!)

3. Keep an Eye on the Time

Last but not least, keep an eye on the time! Most bread will rise in as little as one to three hours, although this isn’t the same for every type of bread. So, read over your recipe for how long it will “likely” take for your bread dough to rise. 

Don’t rely on the directions as though it’s law, though. Your environment can quicken or slow the rate at which your bread dough rises.

That said, it’s best to check your bread dough every 30 minutes.

Is It OK To Eat Over-Proofed Bread?

If you decide to go ahead and bake your over-proofed dough, you would be happy to know that it is entirely safe and OK to eat

However, you need to keep in mind that the texture may be altered, and the flavor won’t be as good. Don’t be overly concerned with the alcohol scent – it’s not enough to give you a buzz.

FAQs

Over-proofed bread dough is an easy fix, but it’s still not something you want to deal with. If you want to learn more about over-proofed bread dough, here are some other interesting questions to check out.

How long is too long to proof bread?

For most loaves of bread, three hours is too long to proof. At this point, you run the risk of over-proofing your dough. That’s why I recommend checking on your dough every 30 minutes. If you reach the three-hour mark with no success, there may be other issues at play.

Why is my homemade bread so dense?

Many issues can cause homemade bread to come out dense. One of the biggest problems is that you didn’t knead your dough long enough.

Can I let the bread rise overnight?

Most bread should be able to rise overnight – but only if it’s rising in the fridge. If rising at room temperature, overnight will be far too long and you risk over-proofing your bread dough. 

If you want more developed flavors and enhanced texture from a longer rise, slow the proof by placing the dough in a chillier environment like the refrigerator.

Overproofed Dough Leads to Unsuccessful Loaves

If you over-proof your bread dough, you’ll likely end up with a flat loaf that smells like alcohol and has a sour taste. Fix over-proofed dough by pressing the gasses out of it, reshaping it, and allowing it to rise for the right amount of time (typically one to three hours).

Do you end up with over-proofed dough a lot? What do you do to fix your over-proofed dough? Share with us!

About Michelle
I have been a lover of sweets since day one. This led me on a self-taught baking journey starting at the age of 13. It's been over 10 years since the start of my baking adventures, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Now, people rave about my delectable treats, whether it’s a chocolate cake or a strawberry crepe.

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