Baking at home allows you to enjoy the taste of fresh-baked bread while controlling what goes into your food. Home baking also allows you to experiment with ingredients and techniques that aren't common in conventional, store-bought bread. The learning curve for many breads can be steep, however. It can be difficult for new bakers to determine when the dough is ready for baking. The finger, or poke, test is one option to let you know when your loaf has risen properly.
Bread dough requires kneading to develop the gluten and create a fluffy loaf. It can be hard to tell when you have kneaded your bread enough, however. After kneading for 10 to 12 minutes, poke the ball of dough firmly with your finger. If it leaves a deep hole, you should continue the kneading process. If the dough fills in relatively quickly, it is ready for the first rise.
First-Rise Finger Test
Bread recipes typically go through two rises. The first occurs in a bowl or bag after you mix and knead the dough. After this rise, the dough is ready to be punched down and shaped. You can determine whether your dough has risen correctly for the first rise by sinking two fingers into it up to the second knuckle. If the depression left by your fingers fills in quickly, you may need to let the dough rise longer. If the depression remains, you can punch the dough down and prepare for the second rise.
Second-Rise Finger Test
The second rise occurs in the bread pan or on a baking sheet. It provides better volume, finer textures and a less yeasty flavor. Allowing your bread dough to rise too long during this stage could cause it to fall flat in the oven, but too little rising makes an uninteresting or overly dense loaf. You can test dough during the second rise by touching the loaf lightly with your fingertip. If it leaves a shallow indentation, the dough is ready for baking.
Finger testing works best for bread doughs that contain a moderate amount of liquid. High-hydration doughs, such as ciabatta or baguettes, may not respond properly to poking. Even when they are ready to bake, they may seem sticky or slow to respond to your touch. A wet dough that is ready for baking should not come apart when touched, even if it is sticky. You can use the windowpane test on these doughs, stretching them very thin to determine gluten strength.
- Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images Jupiterimages, Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images