A while back, member November showed me a neat little trick to be able to tell how much a dough ball has risen. It is an extremely simple trick but it does require a calculator or access to a cube and cube root calculator such as the one at http://www.csgnetwork.com/cuberootcubecalc.html
. Having used the trick several times recently, I thought that others might like to try it also.
The trick entails putting two small seeds 1" inch apart on the dough ball after the dough ball has been placed in the container in which it is to rise. In my case, I use two poppy seeds. They are small, black (for contrast), uniform in size, and will stick to the dough. Larger seeds can be used, or something similar, but the seeds should be measured on centers. The photo below shows two poppy seeds that I placed on a recent dough ball I made.
The technical part of the trick is that as the dough rises, the spacing between the two seeds will increase. When the spacing increases to a bit more than 1 1/4" (it's actually 1.2599"), the dough should have doubled in volume. To get the actual volume expansion, the number 1.2599 is cubed. So, 1.2599 x 1.2599 x 1.2599 = 2, or double. For most people, just using the 1 1/4" measure should be close enough for a doubling. That is what I did with the dough shown in the photo below. I placed the two poppy seeds as close to the middle of the dough ball as possible.
The math also works for other volume expansions. For example, when the spacing between the seeds increases to almost 1 1/2" (the actual number is the cube root of 3, or 1.44225), the volume of the dough should have just about tripled. At 1 1/8", the dough expansion is 1.125 x 1.125 x 1.125 = 1.42. In some recent dough balls I made, I tracked the volume expansion of the dough balls over time by watching the increase in spacing of the two poppy seeds and cubing the spacing to get the volume expansion numbers.
I understand that there are some limitations to using the trick described above. For example, it perhaps won't work properly if the dough expands and then recedes or collapses because of overfermentation or some other problem. It may also not work if the gluten network is compromised in some way (e.g., the gluten is attacked by enzymes over a long period of fermentation), or if the dough is overly restricted by its storage container. The trick will work for both room-temperature fermented doughs and cold fermented doughs so long as the dough balls are not overfermented or have compromised gluten structures or other biochemical problems. I can't say that the trick is 100% accurate, but it will produce results that are good approximations for our purposes. I used the method for same-day doughs and for a two-day dough with very good results. I haven't gone beyond two days so I can't say how well the method works over longer periods of time.
I might add that there is no particular magic to using 1" for spacing purposes. One can use 1 cm. just as well and the math still works.