Bread blowing out the side is a common problem for artisan loaves and sourdough. We often see irregular shapes where the dough has risen unevenly and not risen upwards as intended. An often frustrating outcome for a bread that took time and dedication.
Why did my bread blow out the side?
Bread blowing out the side happens because the dough was too tight and restricted so couldn’t expand upwards, so takes a weak spot on the side. This usually happens from under proofing, bad scoring or the crust setting before rising is complete.
Luckily it’s a common problem and one that can be easily fixed with a few simple steps. Read on for my tips on avoiding it in the future. If your bread has failed, you can always check out my post 12 things to do with failed bread.
Why Your Bread Blew Out The Side
When bread rises, the yeast fills the dough with pockets of carbon dioxide and the bread rises. When it hits the oven, the yeast gets a final burst before it dies, and the gas inside the bread expands because of the heat. We see a dramatic lift called the “oven spring” which can see the dough rise a few inches in 15 minutes. The crust then forms and the bread shape is set.
If the oven spring happens but the dough is not very relaxed, then the expanding gas has no easy place to go. If it can’t go evenly outwards and upwards then it takes a weak spot in the dough and bursts out. This often comes in the side because the dough rises up slightly and cracks appear on the side which the dough can expand out from.
Proofing For Too Short A Time
If you proof the dough for too short a time it means the dough is still very tight. Proofing is the second rise and this tightness comes from not leaving the dough to rest long enough after it’s been shaped and tightened. It’s an important step because this is where gluten relaxes in the dough. It’s easiest to use a banneton to perfectly proof your dough, like this 10″ one on Amazon.
I did some tests to see what happens if you bake dough without proofing, you can see the clear results in my article what happens if you don’t let dough rise long enough.
After the first rise, the dough is relaxed so we give a few folds or kneads and shape it, which tightens it back up. Once we shape the dough into our loaf, it needs time to relax out again. This is the gluten at work, which degrades over time. Once the dough is relaxed, it is more extensible and so can rise easily and uniformly. It doesn’t need to find weak spots in the side anymore. The gluten is relaxed but still strong, so it allows the bread to rise but still holds on to the shape and gas.
Not Scoring The Top Of The Loaf
Not scoring the top of the loaf means the dough has no obvious place to open up. We are always going to have an oven spring, so the expansion needs to go somewhere. By giving the top of the dough a few scores, we encourage the expansion to happen uniformly throughout the loaf. It allows it to “open up” along these score lines, and if we’ve scored a few lines with even length and deepness, then it should rise evenly. Again, that means the expanding dough doesn’t need to find any weak spots.
Getting a proper bread “lame” is much better than a knife. A lame is basically a razor blade in a holder that slashes the dough effortlessly. A sharp knife often drags on the dough and doesn’t go deep enough. See this lame on Amazon.
Top Crust Sets Too Early
The top can set a crust before the dough has finished rising in the oven, so the bread can’t go upwards any more. Because the crust hasn’t formed on the sides, the force can push out through there. So we need to eliminate the crust forming too soon, and that can be done in a few simple ways.
How To Fix Bread Blowing Out The Side
Ensure You Proof For Long Enough
Proofing is the rise right before we bake the dough. This needs to be long enough so that the dough is relaxed, but not too long so that the dough becomes weak and can’t hold its shape. It’s a good idea to try and proof the dough as long as you can. It improves flavor and texture, as well as rising better.
Proofing times depend on the temperature and how active the yeast is. Proofing at room temperature is a lot faster than in the fridge, and yeasted dough is much faster than dough made with a sourdough starter.
For a yeasted dough at room temperature, a typical proofing time is 1-1.5 hours. For a sourdough in the fridge, it can be 8 to 12 hours. The warmer the temperature, the smaller the window of well proofed dough is.
Try giving yeasted dough at least 1 hour 15 minutes and test it with the poke test below.
How To Tell When Dough Is Fully Proofed
Using the poke test is a good indicator of how proofed the dough is. Flour the top of the dough slightly and press a finger in by an inch or so. If it springs back quickly then the dough is tight and elastic, indicating it is under proofed. If it springs back slowly, and perhaps only half way back, then it is fully proofed. Finally, if it doesn’t spring back then it is over proofed.
Some other signs are that the dough is airy, and feels like a squishy marshmallow. It wobbles when you move it and has increased in volume. In time, you will learn to identify when a dough is proofed by just looking and feeling it. After paying attention to the proofing for several loaves, you will start to know when it is ready. A banneton like in the image below is a useful proofing basket.
Score The Dough Well
Scoring the dough allows it to open up nicely and promote an even rise. It allows you to control where the over spring will mostly happen. Different scoring patterns can do different things, and they can also be decorative.
For basic scoring, you can use a very sharp knife to make the cuts. To take things more seriously, you need a razor blade or a lame (a bakers tool for scoring). You can buy packs of double edged razor blades off Amazon that can be held with a wooden skewer through the middle for an easy solution. Or buy a lame which is the proper tool. You get the cleanest, deepest cuts with a razor and you have more control.
A basic score can be an X shape on the top, a crisscross pattern to make squares, or just several slashes across the bread at even spacing. You don’t have to do anything spectacular – just ensure it’s even and you have coverage across the top of the loaf.
For more advanced scoring: to get the bread to really open up and create an “ear” where the score was, you need to hold the blade at a low angle. Push it fairly deep but with the blade almost horizontal, and make one clean cut from one side to the other. The steamy oven does the rest to open it up. It takes quite a bit of practice to mastering the art of an ear and they are prized aesthetic on sourdough across the web.
An alternative to scoring is to place your dough seam side down in your proofing basket. When it is turned out and ready to bake, the seams are on the top. This creates natural fissures in the dough which is where the dough will naturally expand.
Avoid A Crust Forming Too Early
Create Steam In The Oven
Creating steam in the oven at the early stages of baking is important for a good loaf. It allows the surface to stay moist and rise fully, rather than forming a crust too early. It helps in a number of things, such as opening up scoring lines (like the “ears” on sourdough), making a blistered bubbly crust and good volume from rising completely. Not to mention avoiding blowing out the side.
Steam can be created a few ways. Firstly, put a roasting pan at the bottom of the oven while it preheats. When you put the bread in the oven, then pour a few inches of boiling water from a kettle and quickly close the door. The steam splutters in the oven and instantly has a humid environment. You can remove the pan after 25 minutes because the crust is now set, and doesn’t need humidity any more.
Secondly, and widely regarded as the best solution for home ovens, is using a Dutch Oven (buy one on Amazon). This is a cast iron pot with a lid that can go in the oven. Placing the bread inside for the first 20 minutes means that it steams itself as the water evaporates. It makes a perfect environment similar to a professional oven. In a home fan oven, the moisture is extracted out eventually. But using the Dutch oven, you retain this moisture. After 25 minutes, the lid can be taken off to finish baking.
Lower The Oven Rack
If the top crust is very near the heating element of your oven, it could be getting too much direct heat compared with the sides. It is a good idea to keep the bread fairly central in the oven, so that might mean lowering the rack you usually cook bread on. This can stop the top browning and crusting too quickly.
In general, try and keep the surface of the dough as supple as possible. Don’t let it dry out when you are rising the dough – keep it covered so a skin doesn’t form. Use damp tea towels or plastic bags to keep it air tight.
Shape The Dough Properly
I suggest you follow some good instructions on how to pre-shape, and shape dough before baking which will ensure the dough is symmetrical and has no weak spots. Pre-shaping is when you take a bulk piece of dough after rising, cut a piece off and loosely shape it to the final loaf e.g. make a round. After a short rest, you shape the bread properly. This gives a good starting point, and makes bread more consistent to shape each time.
The final shaping needs to happen uniformly so every side is equal. An easy boule shape can be made by folding all the edges into the center like the hands of a clock. Take the side number 12 would be and fold to the center, the 3 to the center, the 9 to the center and finally the 6 to the center. Flip it over and tighten the ball by rolling on the worktop a few times so the surface is taut.
By shaping properly, this means the doughball is round and structurally well placed to rise evenly.
Signs Of Under Proofed Bread
You can quickly determine if your bread is under proofed by cutting it open down the middle and taking a look. This bread in the picture is under proofed, particularly the left one. You can see the crumb is dense, a bit too solid and doesn’t have many bubbles in it. Assess your crumb and see if it has these qualities – you then know that you have to rest the dough slightly longer next time.
With these tips, soon bread blowing out the side will be a thing of the past. I can bet it is mostly an under proofing problem, as many people rush this step particularly when starting out. Try extending it a little longer, get a few good scores on the top and get some steam in your oven. That will give you an extensible dough that won’t have trouble expanding out in all directions evenly.
Over time you will get to know the look and feel of dough that is ready to bake, and it doesn’t take long after a few successful attempts.