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Tips on dough temperature

Not ‘sort of’ or ‘just about’… I want to know exactly!

One thing we learned during our baking adventures is to keep an eye on the temperature of the dough. In our micro bakery the temperature fluctuates between 13ºC/55ºF in the winter and 26ºC/79ºF and upwards during summer. Believe me, this temperature difference has a big impact on the end result of your loaf. When you are baking a lot of loaves in batches and want to get consistency in your end product you need to control the temperature of your dough.

Some tough theory

A few degrees difference in dough temperature can change the duration of the bulk fermentation or the final proofing a lot. When baking bread with regular active dried yeast, the optimum (for speed alone) temperature is just over 27ºC/80ºF. Much hotter and the activity of the yeast declines. Above 35C/95F the yeast is effectively dormant or dead. The bacterial activity peaks at 34C/93F, so some bakers choose to ferment at 32C/90F to get a sourer bread. At 21C/70F the activity of the yeast has roughly halved, so the fermentation will take twice as long.

The right temperature is the single most critical variable. The growth rate of for example the L. sanfranciscensis lactobacillus and C. milleri yeast is ln2 / generation-time, i.e. a growth rate of 0,7 is a generation (doubling time) of about 1 hour.

If the generation time within your dough at 20ºC/68ºF is 1/2 of that at 30ºC/86ºF, the organism will also grow 1/2 as fast at 20ºC/68ºF compared to 30ºC/86ºF. So, it’s not the absolute numbers that matter, but the ratio of growth rate to growth rate at optimum temperature.

Practical tips for consistency

To get consistent bulk fermentation and proofing times, we aim for a dough temperature around 24ºC/75ºF. This is a temperature which gives you a nice balance between speed and taste. You can reach and keep the temperature of your dough with the following techniques;

  • Invest in a good digital thermometer; We use a CDN DTQ450X ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer and a Thermapen which are both excellent, stable and fast.
  • Use warm water in the winter or cold water in the summer to get the dough to the right temperature.
  • The temperature of the water depends of the temperature of your room and the temperature of the other ingredients. For example our Pain Rustique uses a 50% preferment to final dough ratio and thereby uses 72% of the water in the the poolish. In winter we sometimes need very hot water (up to 55C) to get the poolish and the new flour up to 24ºC. However when using a lower preferment to final dough ratio, water of about 30C is often enough to get to 24ºC.
  • Try to keep the dough at a stable temperature. We sometimes put a bowl of dough on top of the Rofco oven covered with a tea towel and on top of a folded towel. Also a preheated and switched off oven to about 30ºC (use a thermometer to measure the inside temperature as your dial on the oven will probably not be very helpful) will work great.
  • Some people build their own proofing cabinet, using an old refrigerator or kitchen cabinet. With the help of a 40W or 100W light bulb on the bottom of the cabinet (warm air rises from bottom to top!) you can easily heat the inside of your cabinet. You can use a simple mechanical thermostat to switch the bulb on and off to control the temperature.
  • When you do not have the means to control the environment temperature of your dough, in summer you can make your dough a few degrees colder and in winter a bit hotter to compensate for the rise or decline in temperature.
  • Water and flour have a different thermal capacity. In bread baking this translates to the influence of water on dough temperature being twice that of flour. The dough calculator you’ll find in most of our bread recipes takes this into account.

Want to learn more on calculating the right water temperature?
Check out this posting on the Wild Yeast blog

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21 Responses to Tips on dough temperature

  1. J. says:

    Oh my…
    Interesting, thanks for posting!
    This is the one variable that I do not have under control. Yet. Although I’ve started to do bulk fermentation in a turned on/turned off oven, I still need to get a thermometer to find out what I’m doing exactly. For final proof overnight I put the dough in the cupboard under the stairs, which is cool and relatively constant. Right now I’m getting pretty good results, but of course when the weather changes I’ll have to rethink this strategy :).

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention A Few Tips on Dough Temperature | Weekend Bakery -- Topsy.com

  3. I searched and found a Stove by Bosch that has a proofing setting.
    I would say not to purchased it for this if you have a good stove but,if you are contemplating buying a new stove this would be a good consideration. I’m very satisfied with it other than some breads it is a little to warm but mostly works great.
    My other option is I have under cabinet lighting under my cabinets and this works great when proofing alot of dough as I run a home bakery. I bring the dough up to tempt under the lights with plastic wrap then flip light off.
    Enjoy your post

  4. Ru says:

    Do you have a degree in chemistry?
    I really do like your composition and format of the page. Very informative!

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hi Ru,
      Thanks! No, not really, but I seem to have a brain that likes this stuff and is always keen on getting to the bottom of things, understanding the why next to the how.

      Ed

  5. Steve Richardson says:

    Since reading this and buying a thermometer, I have been able to produce much more consistent results… Thank you.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for the feedback. This is so good to hear because we might be convinced that it all works much more splendid this way but knowing that it works for other bakers too is the ‘ear on the bread’ :)

      Happy Baking!

      Ed & Marieke

  6. Sarah says:

    I am knocked out by the thoroughness of your brilliant reply. So informed, so scientific and also understandable. Thank you. It will take the guess work out of my bread making forever. Never before realised before quite the mysterious connection between temperature and speed of proof and the taste. All makes sense. I’m off to buy a thermometer and to take the temperature of cupboards ….

  7. Petra Robinson says:

    I have a Thermapen and also use it to check the temperature of the bread when I pull it out of the oven, makes such a difference to the crumb when you get it right.
    I never checked the dough temperature but will do it when I bake next.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Can recommend it Petra, it really works and helps you a lot while proofing. Also when you know you have the right dough temp the proofing times given in a recipe (our recipes at least) are also very much in sync.

      • Siesie says:

        I also check the temperature of the bread when I pull it out of the oven and this is a great help. But how do I check the right dough temperature? Suppose the temperature of the dough is too high or too low, how can I correct this properly?
        Siesie

        • Weekend Bakers says:

          Hello Siesie
          The best way is to have the right water temp and aim at it to be as close as possible to the ideal temp.
          If it is far to cold you can use your oven as a warm proofing cabinet to get it up and you can just give the dough more time to develop. Too warm is more of a problem, because the yeast might be effected. You can use the fridge to try and get it down.

          Have a great baking weekend,

          Ed & Marieke

          • Bread by Ted says:

            Hi,

            I have read your article with interest. However, one main question came up in my mind related to water temperature to achieve the DDT. If you need to add water at say 40 C (104 F) because you have a cold kitchen, your yeast dies. So how to go about this? Instant yeast needs to be mixed with the dry ingredients as per product instructions, hence it will come in contact with the (too) high water temperature. Now you could add it later after initial mix of flour and water, but will it still mix well?

            Greetings from the Netherlands,
            Ted

          • Weekend Bakers says:

            Hi Ted,
            You are right that it would not be a good idea to get yeast into direct contact with water of 40 C or over. Of course we do not do this otherwise our bread would look very different ;).
            Our aim is to get to the ideal dough temperature of around 25/26 C. Normally most of our rustic bread recipes use a poolish or preferment of some kind. The next day water is added to this mass. A big thermal mass to which a relative small amount of water is added. This water can be quite warm to get this whole mass, including the extra added flour which is probably also very cold, to the desired temperature. The yeasts in the preferment are already alive and kicking and the rest of the yeast or sourdough is often added after the phase called autolyse so not at the same time the warmer water is added. This way they will also come into a nice snugg environment of around the 25/26 C, which they like best. You can see how it works in our pain rustique recipe for example: http://www.weekendbakery.com/posts/our-version-of-a-pain-rustique/

            Happy baking,

            Ed & Marieke

  8. Henry says:

    Hi all, seems like the comments are all related to how to keep the dough warm (i.e. most people are in cooler climate regions). I’m wondering if there are any practical ways to keep the dough cool during proofing? I’m in a region with climate that goes above 32c regularly in the summer and therefore would like to hear some of the practical suggestions for keeping dough (up to couple batches of 3kg dough) cool.

    I have try putting ice-pack underneath the bowl, etc, but the condensation from the sweating of the bowl gets water everywhere.

    Thank you up front.

  9. Simon says:

    nb heat does not rise, warm air does. :-)

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Thanks! That is indeed more correct, we will adjust it.

      Happy baking Simon,

      Ed

      • Hugo says:

        Hi Ed en Marieke,

        Mijn probleem sluit een beetje aan bij dat van Henry hierboven, maar mij gaat het meer om de deeg temparatuur.
        Als ik een poolish maak en die laat staan bij 30 C (kan niet anders hier; de koudste plek in huis, haha), dan heb ik een probleem om mijn deeg temperatuur op 26 C te krijgen.
        Nu kan ik een poolish maken met minder water (80%) zodat ik de volgende keer weer ijswater kan toevoegen. Helpt al een beetje. Kan ook het zout in het ijswater gooien met extra ijsklonten. Gaat de temperatuur een aantal graden omlaag. Maar standaard hier:
        4xTdeeg – Tpoolish – Tmeel – Tomgeving – Twrijving = Twater
        Bij mij dus: 104-30-31-31-10=2
        Kan ik de poolish:
        -aanmaken met ijswater? Denk zelf van wel, want de temperatuur loopt snel genoeg op. Geen alternatief dan voor 12 uur staan.
        -de poolish in de koelkast zetten; hoe lang gaat dat duren? 24 uur, 36 uur of gaat gewoon niet lukken? Weet ik niet.
        -de poolish aanmaken, 12 uren laten staan en dan koelen? Uurtje of3. Koelkast temp = 4C. Gaat poolish kapot? Weet ik ook niet.
        -er gewoon niet aan beginnen? Hela!, zo zitten we niet in elkaar.

        Het uiteindelijke deeg kan ik in een verticale kneder kort kneden of vouwen, maar in beide gevallen heb ik te maken met een erg warme omgeving. Stenen tafel is ook 31 C. Airconditioning zou maximaal 5 graden uitmaken, maar een air in de keuken….goed voor als je mise en place staat te maken, maar als er wat op het vuur staat biedt dat ook geen soelaas.

        Door die warmte heb ik mijn deeg ook in ruim 30 minuten op 200%. Vraag me af of dit ook wel niet te hard gaat.

        Alvast bedankt.
        Grtjs, Hugo
        Thailand

        • Weekend Bakers says:

          Hallo Hugo,
          We hebben geen kant-en-klare antwoorden voor je over hoe je om moet gaan met dit soort temperaturen, gebaseerd op ervaring. De antwoorden die je zelf al geeft zijn allemaal valide. Zelf zouden we in jouw geval ook met name de koelkast inschakelen om de poolish langzaam te ontwikkelen. Je zegt dat de koelkast 4 graden is, dat is redelijk koud, dus de ontwikkeling zal wat langzamer gaan. 36 uur zal waarschijnlijk een goede eerste optie zijn. Als je kijkt naar het recept van de SFS (http://www.weekendbakery.com/posts/san-francisco-style-sourdough-bread/) dan zie je dat deze methode ook wordt gehanteerd. Dit recept zou een goede testcase zijn om te kijken wat hier uit komt onder jouw condities.
          Er zit maar 1 ding op en dat is een aantal rondjes experimenteren en tweaken om dichter bij het gewenste resultaat te komen. (wij vinden niks doen ook geen optie :)
          Kortom: beginnen met de koelkast en waarschijnlijk preferment vanuit koelkast meteen toevoegen aan rest van het deeg (zoals bij SFS ook).

          Succes ermee en houd het hoofd koel!

          Ed & Marieke

  10. Greg Morgan says:

    My recipe says mix up dough and let prove for 12 hours which would be 6 am. The problem is I have mixed the dough but due to a change in my schedule I will need to leave home before 6am and won’t be home till later that afternoon.
    So I need to extend the proving time so I can bake it around 6 pm.
    I assume that if I put the dough in the fridge (which is about 12 c ) that will slow it down ?
    In fact if slow proving means more flavour that should not be a problem – but will it be to cold and totally stop it or cause some other problem ?
    At what temperature does the yeast stop working.

    • Weekend Bakers says:

      Hi Greg,
      No, this is an excellent idea, you should try it and see at what stage it is in after the fridge to judge if it needs some more proofing outside the fridge before you proceed with the recipe. The yeast will slow down a lot in the fridge but will not stop working (see the graph above).

      Good luck and happy baking!