The myth of double in size +tips!

1. (adj.) double
twice as large, heavy, strong, etc.; twofold in size, amount, number, extent, etc.

In lots of bread baking recipes you will encounter a line like this; ‘Let shaped dough rise until it has doubled in size’. The scientist in me always wonders what the recipe writer means. Does the writer of the recipe realize that a round shape, for instance the shape of a boule, increases 8 times! in volume when the boule doubles in diameter. What does ‘double’ (or even ‘almost’ double!) mean in the context of a piece of dough in whatever shape? Twice the diameter? Twice the volume? Twice something?

And what about the word ‘size’, size is not a measurement of anything, size can mean volume, height, weight, etc. all depending on the context. So what does ‘size’ mean in the context of a piece of dough? According to a dictionary ‘double’ means ‘twice the size’, so double in size means; twice in size size. What I do know is that the line ‘rise until it has almost doubled in size’ reads like sheer laziness of the recipe writer!

1. (n.) size
the spatial dimensions, proportions, magnitude, or extent of anything:
the size of a farm.

Imagine a measurement cylinder filled with a piece of dough. When you let the yeast do its job this little piece of dough will grow inside the cylinder. As for the dough the only way is up it will slowly fill the cylinder and it is really simple to see when the dough has doubled in volume. It will be when you read twice the number on the measurement cylinder than when you started! What has doubled in this experiment is the volume.

Now imagine a piece of dough shaped in a boule. And again we let the yeast do its job and the dough will grow and grow and grow. When will this piece of dough be ‘doubled in size’? With the cylinder it was very easy to see when the volume has doubled but with this round ball shape it is much harder to see when the volume has increased twice. With a batard shape it is even harder to imagine the real mathematical or geometrical truth.

Another mind game. Take a nice lime (the fruit) and imagine it to grow. When will the lime be ‘doubled in size’? When it is the size of a mandarin, an orange, a grapefruit or a watermelon? It is hard to visualize when a round fruit is ‘doubled in size’ in comparison to another fruit.

If we simplify the shape of a dough boule to the geometrical shape of a halved sphere (Wikipedia Sphere) we can calculate the volume of the boule; the formula to calculate the volume of a halved sphere reads;

volume = 2/3 * pi * radius³ ≈ 0.667 * 3.141 * radius * radius * radius

With this we can do some calculations.

When you measure the height of the boule of dough you can use this height with the formula above as the height is mathematically the same as the radius because we have a halved sphere. For my calculations I start with an imaginary boule of dough with a height of 10cm. This gives us a boule of dough with the volume of 2093cm³ which is a little over 2 liters of dough. When you take a boule with a height of 20cm this equals about 16745cm³ which is about 16 liters of dough! So a doubling in diameter equals 8 times the growth in actual volume.

The funny thing is you only need an increase of 2.5cm in height to get a doubling of the volume of boule of dough. A height of 12.5cm gives about 4088cm³ of volume which is about 4 liters of dough. The increase of 2.5cm is hard to notice and you will not perceive this as the dough having ‘doubled in size’.

After this whole rant I still do not have the answer to what recipes writers mean with ‘wait until double in size’. Do they mean double in volume, double in height, they probably mean something like ‘wait until the dough has increased until you think it is enough’.

So, what’s the answer?

The important thing during the final proof is to stop before the gluten network collapses. When the gluten can not hold the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast, the little gluten balloons explode and your bread will deflate before your eyes. The first thing is to control your dough temperature. As the temperature has the biggest influence on dough rising speeds, controlling temperature gives you stable proofing times. Please read; A Few Tips on Dough Temperature. Because I stabilize my dough temperature, my proofing times are more or less the same each time and this takes the guessing out of proofing- and bulk fermentation times.

The next tip is to use the finger poking test;

With your finger gently poke in your dough. If you have a high hydration dough you can first dip your finger in a little bit of flour to prevent sticking.

  • If the hole disappears completely: under-proofed
  • If the hole dent pops half way back out: proofing is just right
  • If the hole stays entirely dented in: over-proofed

It is hard to explain the difference completely. The best way is to learn from experience. Poke as many proofing loaves as possible, and you will figure out what you are looking for. If you apply the finger poke test immediately after shaping, sometimes the hole stays dented, just as it would if the loaf were over-proofed. You can tell the difference by feel, because when proofed the loaf is light, “bubbly” and elastic, whereas right after shaping the loaf is not elastic.

So, proof, poke and bake as much as you can!

What is your opinion on double in size? What is your favorite way of testing if your dough is ready for the next phase?
We would love to hear from you and learn from your experience. Please leave a comment.


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40 Responses to The myth of double in size +tips!

  1. Joy Roxborough says:

    thanks for this, Ed. I have always wondered how you know when it is dully proofed and now I know!

  2. Rambles says:

    Hi, Marieke and Ed! Thank you for pointing the useless instruction in recipes!

    When I started out baking bread in June this year, I got a recipe book that also talks about ‘double in size’. It never talks about the temperature, but gives a suggested time. Since I couldn’t figure out what ‘double in size’ means, I just go ahead and use the time suggested. I have certainly poked it several times and it will usually be ready to bake (dent in dough) at about the same time. Temperatures here in Malaysia are pretty stable all year round with the exception of rainy days.

    During rainy days, I proof my dough in my turned off oven with a pan of warm-hot water below to create steam and constant temperature. It has always worked well for me.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hello there Rambles,
      Thank you for your feedback and hats off to you for baking under these challenging and hot conditions. Great to hear ho everybody adapts to their surroundings, getting inventive and making it work!

      Happy baking and greetings from a much colder and a bit foggy Holland,

      Marieke & Ed

  3. Charlene Moore says:

    Thank you for this….I found your website after I had gone thru the same thought process….double in height, weight, volume???? And yes, I am a scientist :)

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Thank you Charlene. The double in size message keeps on being repeated on TV too, because this ‘science stuff’ is probably not the easiest of messages to get across. But if someone at least would at one point mention something about it or use the finger poking test I would give a little cheer :)

      Happy (baking) weekend!

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  5. Curt Clemens says:

    V1/V2 = 2 = ((2pi/3) r1^3)/((2pi/3) r2^3)
    2 = (r1/r2)^3
    r1/r2 = cuberoot(2) = 1.26
    Doubling in volume corresponds roughly to a 25% increase in width.

  6. Hugo says:

    Hi Weekend bakers,

    Maybe it was pointed out already between the lines, but,
    can you do the finger poling test also for bulk rising (boule)?
    Thanks for all your good info. learned alot.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Thanks Hugo!
      Personally we never use the finger poking test at the bulk stage, but are much more focused on temperature of the dough. As long as that is around the 24C mark where we want it, combined with the times in the recipe, we know we are on the right track.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Just the info I needed to inspire confidence tomorrow–it is the weekend of Norwegian Christmas bread baking. Temperature is hard to regulate in my house, so I’m looking forward to reading your info on temps.
    Thanks for both the information and the spirit in which it is presented :)
    Will be poking loaves gleefully tomorrow!

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hello Elizabeth,
      That sounds like a lovely activity. We love Norway and we love the baking culture you have. It is very special.
      Hope our tips help and the breads will be awesome!

      God Jul og Godt Nyttår

      Hilsen fra ed & Marieke

  8. Kate says:

    Love it! Just the mix of geekiness and common sense I was looking for. Plus a clear answer!

  9. Petra Robinson says:

    I have a lovely big German feather pillow and I put the clingfilm covered bowl ,with the dough in , under the pillow and it works a treat.
    I remember my mum putting pots with food under the feather Duvet so that it was still hot/warm when Dad came from work.

  10. Petra Robinson says:

    Do me double in size means what I see.
    When I form a dough ball and put it i the oiled bowl to proof I see when it has about doubled.
    I poke and know that the time is right to get to the next step.

    I never knew that my dough is over proofed when the little poke hole stays in and not coming halfway up.
    Good Tip.
    I love recipes, follow them the first few times and learn by doing… when I am more confident with a recipe I add my own twists.
    Oh the joy of baking:)

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  12. Juli Farkas says:

    Hi Marieke and Ed,
    I’d just like to say how much I have enjoyed and learned from your lovely website. I keep recommending it to all my bread- making friends.

    I have a question about temperatures. As you say it is one of the most important factors to control, do you have any simple (ish) ways of doing this, should I use a proofing box and where can I get one or rig one up?
    I usually use a very slightly warm oven switched off, but it then I have to take it out well before baking to heat the oven up to 230 degrees.

    All the best.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hi Julia,
      There are many options and people are very inventive making their own proofing cabinets. Ed has also made one in the past, just a cardboard box lined with some foam with a light bulb as a heating element. You can find many DIY projects on website like the Fresh Loaf (…oofing-box). Buying a professional cabinet is a bit of an investment. These days we use our small Rofco oven or sometimes or our Siemens household oven as a proofing place. We also use a digital thermometer to check the temperature of the oven is around 25 to 27 degrees.

      If you get creative we would love to hear about it!
      Good luck and happy baking,

      Ed & Marieke

  13. Peter Cotton says:

    Obviously to get an idea of one and a half to twice the volume of dough then proof in a tin instead of a banneton or colander. Useful for the inexperienced. One soon gets to know whats happening together with the poke test.

  14. Ray says:

    Thanks for these tips! Almost got caught out today as this morning is a beautiful sunny day and the kitchen has been streamed with sunlight. i usually prove for about 2 1/2 hours but today my sourdough is ready after 90 minutes. I tried your finger poke test and i think it is ready…. we shall see!

    Thanks for sharing the resources on your site, it is a real help for amateur beginners like me.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Glad you like it Ray!
      And glad the weather is improving and hope the finger poking test will be of help to you too.

      Happy Proofing & Baking,

      Marieke & Ed

  15. Weekend Bakers says:

    Hi Freerk,
    The thing we hold on to ourselves
    First and most important measure : When dough temp is ideal 24/25 degrees C, proving times given in the recipe are (just about) right. A big help.
    Second, to check: the finger poking test described above.
    So measuring and feeling works way better than looking and guessing.

    Of course post sharing is OK :)

    Keep up the wonderful baking!

    Ed & Marieke

  16. freerk says:

    I’m so guilty of doing it myself in a recipe…

    Is there a good compact description that is more true to the actual process? I never seem to be able to find it, and I try every time. It gets more complicated, I find

    Any pointers appreciated, ’cause i would love to be more accurate with this as well

    I’m sharing this post on my FB if that’s ok with you guys!


  17. gill says:

    I have used the float test several times with your SD sourdough recipe. But only prior to making the main dough. I think its the tartine chaps that advocate this. Each time my teaspoon of starter dough has sunk! However if you just leave it in the jug it floats up after a short time which is when I move on to make the batch dough. This might just be due to temperature change as when I drop the dough in it has just come out of the fridge. End result is always good! This probably your excellent recipe.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hi Gill,
      We never tried it ourselves. The question remains that if something floats does that mean it is ready or could it also mean it is already overproofed, because an overproofed piece of dough will surely float I guess.
      Still if the method used results in great loafs it is clear that this method works for you.
      And the fact remains that you still have to judge with other methods when your shaped loafs are ready for the oven.

      Happy baking,

      Ed & Marieke

  18. Magda says:

    I will start using the poking method.
    Thanks for the tips!

    One question though: if a dough overproofs, is it beyond salvation? Do I throw it out?

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hello Magda,
      Our best suggestion would be to give it a quick knead and try again. We have not tried this ourselves, only read about it.
      But the end result will not be the same of course. Still worth a try if the alternative is trowing it away, and if the bread is not that great you can always use it like you would do with stale bread. (see tips:…w-it-away/).

      Hopefully with the poking and other tips you will not encounter many ‘overproofings’!

  19. Jeremy says:

    So glad you eventually got to methods for testing whether your dough has proved enough; I was spluttering the whole way through that doubling means nothing anyway.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      I even read somewhere that novel bread bakers are afraid to ask what double in size means, afraid it is found a ‘dumb question’ and every real bread baker would immediately understand and know what to look for.

  20. Joanna says:

    You are so right! :) So many instructions are fraught with conceptual problems and the people who get caught out most by ‘the double in size’ one are beginners who rely on and follow instructions to the letter, as they don’t really have any alternative.

    I am sure I have come across someone who had a bread proving straight sided glass or plastic container and they used that to judge the doubling, presumably that was a volumetric doubling like your first drawing… just been and had a look… here’s an example…ing-bucket what do you reckon? would that be helpful? I don’t see how it would help with the final prove though….

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hi Joanna,
      Like they also say on the King Arthur website:
      “How good are you at eyeballing whether a batch of dough has “doubled in bulk”? ”
      You are so right, how would you judge the final proofing of your shaped loaf…
      Still, it is unclear if this doubling also gives you optimum proofing and it also depends on the type of dough of course if doubling is enough or too much.

      I say get to know your dough by measuring and poking and feeling…

      Thanks for your contribution!

      Lots of loaf,


  21. nbeespace says:

    Has anybody ever tested the theory that if you put a golf ball size piece of dough in a pot of water and when it floats the bread is proved?

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      We know about the method. The dough starts to float as soon as enough carbon dioxide gets trapped to get an equilibrium between the volume of the dough and the weight of the water being displaced by this volume (Archimedes). We have never tried it though. It will be interesting to see, but I think the method will only work during bulk fermentation because you would not want to take a piece of dough from a shaped loaf. Holding a golf ball size piece back before shaping would mean this piece, being so small, will act different from the bigger piece of dough (esp. temperature wise, less thermal mass). It will also depend on the type of dough made (e.g. slacker dough holds less air than a stiff high gluten dough)

      And does floating also equal optimal proofing?


      • Karin Anderson (Karin's Bäckerei) says:

        Maria Speck in her excellent book “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” (no – I don’t get a commission!) has a recipe for a “Floating Sesame Loaf”, where this method is used.
        I made the bread, the loaf really rises to the surface when it is proofed enough. But I find this method a bit awkward to work with (dripping wet loaf), more an interesting experiment, than a practical everyday technique.
        I use the finger poke test, and base my subsequent observations on the very sophisticated, extremely accurate, highly scientific scale Nontox ( ) came up with:
        1. The dough feels firm and elastic: “I’m just getting comfortable in my basket, please leave me alone!”
        2. The dough feels already a bit spongy, but springs right back: “I have enough pressure to stand for another half hour.”
        3. The dough is nice and fluffy, but still springs back into his old shape: “I’m barely proofed, and can go into the oven, if you really want the slashes to crack wide open.”
        4. The dough keeps the dent for a while, and then slowly comes back: “I’m ready for baking – now or never!”
        5. The dough moans, caves in a bit where it was poked, and doesn’t recover again: “Now! Please now!”
        6. The dough turns to dust – even at the slightest touch. “I already was with Ramses and Tut-Ankh-Amun – let me die in peace….”

        Happy Baking,

        • Weekend Bakers says:

          Hi Karin,
          Thank you so much for your addition. We love the way you describe the scale, educational and very funny:))
          We will check out the book by Maria Speck too.

          Lots of loaf,


  22. J.A.I.L. says:

    Similar idea with different drawings (in Spanish)