Proving is undoubtedly one of the most delicate bread-making stages. It’s when the bread gets its organoleptic features, taste and aroma, its structure and crust fragrance.
This process is linked to the combined action of some yeasts which, by favouring the carbon dioxide, swell the dough making its spongy and ready for baking.
The carbon dioxide created first dissolves in water till saturation, then remains free and restrained by the gluten leavens the dough. While fermenting, the dough also produces acids, volatile substances and alcohol giving bread its aroma and taste.
Fermentation starts as soon as the yeast is added to the mixture; this is basically alcoholic fermentation, associated in to a variable extent, to acid one.
This action is produced by enzymes (zymase) present in the yeast cells; flour sugars, from transforming the starch and dissolved in dough water, penetrating the yeast cells turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The latter withheld by the humid and very elastic gluten, creates alveolus and a resulting increase in volume. Alcohol and the other transformations all contribute to giving bread its characteristic aroma and taste.
Different types of yeast: brewer’s yeast (direct leavening), poolish lievitino or biga (indirect leavening), sourdough (natural leavening), produce fermentation of a different kind.
Brewer’s yeast produces alcoholic fermentation, natural leavening mainly makes it acid, poolish lievitino or biga make it mixed.
The common effect is the dough swelling up, but the transformations are very different, just like the taste and aroma of the bread you get.
Developing these reactions of a biological type, linked to the action of yeast and micro-organisms, depends on environment conditions, temperature and relative humidity.
Dough leavening needs a favourable environment, away from draughts with controlled temperature and humidity.
The ideal environment is between 23° and 26° C, sometime even up to 30°C, relative humidity between 70 and 80%. In this way the dough remains elastic, improving growth, lighter and more digestible bread.
Temperature influences yeast activity, leavening speed and amount of carbon dioxide produced.
Be careful over extended fermentation times as they make the dough lose its tenacity, and it tends to collapse, while low humidity makes the dough crust over.
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