In the same way that unripe fruit is described as green, the jargon of the craftsmen bakers applied the same expression to wheaten dough that had not developed fully and hence was considered unripe. When I began baking in the seventies, I was fortunate that I could still meet and work with these old tradesmen/craftsmen, and I learned many of their expressions, customs and yardsticks.
There is a price to pay for working green dough, and you will never make your best bread with it. There is a tightness to the structure, and the loaves are of a mean and small stature because the lack of fermentation leaves the gluten undeveloped and less stretchy. To develop fully, gluten needs more than simply time to enable the water to merge wih the gluten proteins (glutenin and gliadin) to form an expandable webbing. There must also be the process of adequate fermentation activity which, by leaving organic acids in its wake, mellows and strengthens the gluten so that it has the capability of expanding fully as it traps the gas made by the yeast. Proceeding to work off a green dough means that you are carrying on with something that has not reached its full potential.
Another fault with green dough is that the resulting bread will stale quicker for the same reason as it has poor stature – the lack of fermentation development results in a rapid staling process as the starches and proteins expel more easily the water bound to them.
There are three signs by which you will recognise that you have worked green dough, well before it reaches the oven:
- open, self-supporting shapes like cobs will slump badly
- the dough will retain bubbles to the extent that it is difficult to mould (shape), and will have ungainly bubbles on its surface when shaped and
- the loaves will be uncharacteristically slow in final proof.
After the oven you will see that the crust colour is strangely bright, even reddish, since there will be a greater amount of residual sugars left behind in green dough owing to the reduced yeast activity. This reddish crust colour was called “foxy” by the craftsmen bakers.
How to avoid green dough?
By being in tune with the clear signs of ripeness of a fully developed dough, and being patient as you await that state.
For conventionally yeasted doughs there must be gas deposits on the surface, or the surface must be pock-marked; if abruptly slapped the surface of the dough should sink away; if poked with a floury finger, the resultant hole should not be able to close, but should stay as a distinct cavity. If, as I recommend, you prove the bulk dough in a clear plastic (or glass) vessel, whereby you can see the sides of the bulk dough, you can learn through practice what exactly are the size of the gas bubbles visible at the side when the dough is fully ripe.
For wheaten sourdough, which may only rise about a quarter or a third in its bulk, you will learn to recognise the look of the side bubbles as well as the tiny blisters on its surface. With sourdough you will also appreciate the feel of strength and gluten development as you give it a series of folds in the earlier stages of its bulk proof. By the last fold you will feel that it is feeling floppier as fermentation gases are lodging in it.
There are occasions when you may be aware that a green dough has been taken to the table. The situation can sometimes be rectified by giving it an abnormally long bench rest (usually called by me “intermediate rest”), and in that way some more fermentation maturity can be achieved, with the final bread being saved from the most unappealing aspects of green dough.