Over-proofed Bread Question
I put out a loaf of bread to rise last night and just plain forgot about it. The final rise time should have been about 40 minutes. It sat for at least double that time, if not longer. When I baked it you could see that it had risen much more than usual. When I had a slice this morning I was surprised to find that the taste was still very good. The texture was a little more airy or lighter than it usually is but did not resemble Swiss cheese in any way. The bread is a dense artisan-style couronne but ended up a little more American-textured in style. If you hadn't had it before, you probably wouldn't have known there was a difference.
So my long-winded question is this: How is it that bread that had over-proofed for so long still came out pretty well? Is it just that this dough is very forgiving? I've been taken apart for over-proofed bread in competition before and have developed a dread fear of over-proofing now. Should I just get over it and not worry so much?
proof time also affects browning and oven spring. IME yeast doughs are much more forgiving than sourdoughs. It sounds like just what you said--you happened to choose to make your "mistake" with a forgiving type of bread.
I would always expect it to taste good--it takes a super duper long retard--like more than a week--for most yeast doughs to get noticeably off. Almost without exception, retarding improves flavor and texture. The trick is to balance flavor against the other acts of leaveners I mentioned initially.
Everything about bread baking is a lesson, no?
I don't think there should be any dread fear! It's a labor of love. Enjoy yourself and learn. You ended up with something quite edible, which I consider the bonus round of mistake making.
Cook and bake how you like and what tastes good to you. If people want to complain they can bloody well tie an apron on and do it themselves has always been my motto.
Obviously competitions are a different story, but we're not really talking about that here.
Whether over-proofed bread will be good, bad, or better really depends on the type of bread you are making.
It usually comes down to a balancing act between flavor (from fermentation) versus texture (gluten formation).
Temperature also plays a big part in it. In the summer, it is more likely to overproof than cold winter months. If the dough really did overproof, it could collapse on itself. But, there are shades of gray in between.
You gave the yeast plenty of time to reproduce many times while it was causing the fermentation process for a long period. I sometimes allow the dough to ferment for 16 hours because the yeast I use is 6 years past the suggested expiration date. IT WORKS!
I buy yeast in vacuum packed 1 pound packages, and then keep it refrigerated in a recycled glass jar that originally contained pasta sauce (it's not 'gravy' i miei cari amici italiani).
In my mind, to say that a bread is over-proofed means that it was allowed to rise long enough that the gluten was no longer sufficient to sustain the structure of the loaf. That is, just because you let it rise for longer than you usually do doesn't mean that it was overproofed. Based on your description, I think your loaves have been *underproofed* in the past. That is not a bad thing, necessarily--depends on the texture you are shooting for. For me, the biggest problem with underproofing (in addition to a heavy loaf) is "shelling," in which the rolled up loaf forms gaps in between the layers.
To me, an overproofed loaf shows almost no resistance when you poke it, and the indentation does not rebound at all. When slashed, the loaf may partially collapse. And the bottom of the loaf tends to be much denser than the top (as the weight of the loaf has sort of compressed it).
At times it can be hard to distinguish underproofing from poor gluten development (related to the wrong flour or, more commonly, to ineffective/inefficient kneading, lack of autolyse, etc.). For me, I tend to notice more of the compressed bottom of the loaf and a slower than anticipated rise when poor gluten development is to blame. And I find that poor gluten development is more often the problem than is underproofing, when the complaint is that the loaf is too heavy or the crumb is too dense.
The timing to optimal proof obviously varies depending on the temperature, yeast concentration, water concentration, extent of gluten development, extensibility of the gluten, additives, salt content, sugar content, etc. Even for breads that I make very regularly, there is no substitute for just keeping an eye on the dough as it approaches full proof. Full proof will vary by, say, +/- 30% in my hands.
As others have noted, if you really overproof a loaf, your best option is just to punch it down, reform the loaf, and let it rise again (being more careful this time!).
My experience with teaching others to bake is that the natural tendency (fuelled, perhaps, by the natural tendency towards impatience) is to underproof. I generally find myself telling people to wait, but they say "but it is so nice a puffy already!" The one case in which I intentionally underproof is pizza dough and most other flatbreads--these seem to turn out best when underproofed.