Controlling the breads proofing temperature can be the difference between a great loaf, and an epic bread failure. Temperature is the key variable when it comes to controlling the rate of dough fermentation. It’s impact is massive!
If the dough is too warm, yeast activity is unmanageable. Too cold, and dough quality changes plus, you’ll have to wait ages for it to rise. If you want to know what changes in the dough when the bread proofing temperature and humidity alters, and how long bread takes to rise, read on!
The ideal temperature to proof bread depends on the bread you are making. High output bakers will set their proofers at 38C (100F), yet artisan bakers prefer slower rises. This is in favour of increased flavour and structural development so they will proof bread at temperatures close to 26C (75F).
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What happens during proofing?
So first off, “what is proofing bread”? Well it’s what happens after the dough exits the mixing bowl until the bread “proves that it’s ready” to go into the oven. It’s common to break down the proofing stages into two parts.
The first is called the first rise, or “bulk fermentation”. Here, the batch of dough is left to develop naturally until it becomes mature enough to move on to be divided and shaped into its final design.
The next stage is the “second rise”, or the “final proof”. This is where the mature dough fills its pockets of gluten with gas. Once the bread rises high enough it can then be baked in the oven. During the bake there will also be an extra rise called “oven spring”. I cover this in another article titled oven spring (funny that?!), so check that out if you want to learn more.
Proofing vs bulk fermentation? What’s the difference?
The same things happen during the first and second rise. Yeast produces gas throughout both processes. The difference is they are both trying to achieve different things.
During bulk fermentation, the dough is maturing. This by:
- Strengthening its gluten network.
- Breaking down starch into sugars to feed the yeast cells.
- And developing organic acids.
During proofing, the dough still does all of those, but it’s aim is to get the dough to rise, ready for the oven.
Tip: It's expected that the bread has doubled in size before it bakes. For a more accurate test you can use the poke test.
The impact proofing temperature has on the bread
The anaerobic fermentation of the yeast increases and decreases depending on the temperature of the dough. When warm, yeast produces more gas as it burns through the sugars it has available to it. It hits its peak at around 36C (97F), after this gas production starts to slow down until it reaches 68C (155F) and it’s permanently deactivated.
Yeast does still work in cooler conditions however the key enzyme, Amylase, operates between 25-32C (78-90F). Amylase has a very important rule as it breaks down the starch in the flour into simple sugars called monosaccharides. This is important as complex sugars are too large to penetrate the cell walls of the yeast. This means that yeast struggles to operate below 25C (78F) for long periods.
Humid conditions are also excellent for yeast fermentation. The moisture increases water activity which makes it easier for the dough to ferment. This accelerates carbon dioxide and ethanol production.
What happens when the breads proofing temperature increases?
We’ve covered what’s going on when the temperature of the dough increases, but how does the dough change and what’s going to happen to the bread? Well, there are 4 key factors that change as the temperature of the dough alters.
Dough proofing at warmer temperatures will be ready for the oven quicker. This is great for speeding up the baking process. Though in busy production, mismanaging the proofing temperature can cause everything to ready at the same time. This can create bottlenecking at the oven.
2) Flavour & aroma
Enzymes and bacteria found in the dough prefer different temperatures. Like wine, if the dough is proofed in warmer temperatures it will be lightly flavoured. If it’s a cooler temperature, it will be more aromatic.
If fermentation is sped up by increasing the temperature, gas will be created but the dough can lack maturity. We can mix the dough for longer to improve the strength of the gluten network, but the dough will still miss some vital organic acid maturity.
Underdeveloped bread can contain irregular holes throughout the crumb -sometimes known as “tunnelling”. Dough improvers such as ascorbic acid counteract this issue but aren’t always necessary.
4) Keeping quality
Bread made slowly will develop more organic acids which mature the dough. This benefits the gas retaining properties of the dough as well as increasing the acidity of the bread. A more acidic environment is harder for mould to develop whilst making it harder for the regeneration of the starch. This keeps bread softer for longer and delays the setting of mould. Warmer, faster rises don’t make fresh lasting bread without extra manipulation.
What happens if you don’t control temperature? – Why consistency is important!!
Temperature is often referred to as an ingredient by bread makers. It is often thought to just impact the timing of the rise but it alters so much more! If selling bread, a baker needs it to taste and look the same every time. Providing consistency for customers is key to growth.
But even bakers making bread to eat at home want to achieve consistency. The aim here is to keep this key variable in the process the same. It will mean our bread behaves and tastes the same when you open the oven door.
Many bakers suffer from up’s and downs in bread quality. One day their loaves come out amazing, and the next not so good. By making the temperature the same during every bake, we can eradicate this variable and fix problems. If we have an issue with a loaf we can look to improve something else such as the ratio of ingredients or the amount of time spent mixing.
The benefits of cold proofing temperatures
Proofing bread in low temperatures (below 10C) will slow alcoholic fermentation from the yeast. However, some dough maturation from Lactic Acid Bacteria still continues, as do other enzymes which break down the starch in the flour. Though not as prolific as amylase, these enzymes offer the ability to degenerate more complex starches. This releases new flavours in the bread. The hydrated protein also continues to form a close knit network of gluten to further mature the breads structure.
Here’s some key points into what happens when dough is proofed in the fridge.
- Enhanced gluten structure making it possible for larger air pockets and a more ”open crumb”
- Better gas retention for a bigger rise and lighter texture
- The bread flavour and aroma will be more intense and deep
- An improvement in dough handling properties (machinability)
- The dough will take longer to be ready for the oven.
- Dough can lose extensibility if the dough is proofed for too long, causing a broken gluten structure.
- We risk over oxygenation from continued exposure to air
- We can get a gummy crumb in the centre
- If the dough is baked from cold, larger loaves can suffer from core of the loaf remaining cold and reducing the oven spring or turning out dense
So some good, and some bad. If you’re yet to realise, there is no fix-all solution in bread baking. Every change you make has a positive and potential negative!
How to control temperature when making bread (BPT)
For the most accurate control when managing a proofing environment a proofer is used. They are amazing bits of kit, whatsmore, you can actually get one at home for a very reasonable price!
The quality of the Brod & Taylor proofer shown below is outstanding. Not only does it control temperature, but also the humidity of the proofing chamber. There’s no need to cover the dough to stop it drying up and you can be accurate with your timings. Basically by getting a home proofer will put to bed all of the issues described in this post!
How to manage proofing temperature without a proofer
It is hard to create the ideal proofing temperatures at home without the use of a proofer. In a small set-up, this can be done somewhat by placing the dough in a warm area such as near a heating oven. You can also move the dough around the house to be near various heat sources to get the best temperature. It’s not accurate, but it will speed things up!
Many modern ovens have a proof setting that you can use to proof bread. You can also use an oven to proof baked goods. Just be quick when shutting the oven door to not loose the heat! This is likely to be set at a fairly warm temperature, so expect a fast proofing dough!
Do I need to make a DIY proof box?
Building your own proofing box is a sensible option. I’d rather buy one considering the hassle it is to set it up. To find out how to do it and for other ways to proof bread at home without a proofer. Just click the DIY proofing box link.
How final dough temperature affects the proofing
This is the temperature of the dough after it has finished kneading. Getting this correct means you have the best start for dough fermentation. Get it wrong and you might need to change the temperature of the proofing environment to get out of jail.
How it works:
Bakers use a Desired Dough Temperature (DDT) calculation to determine the ideal temperature of the water used in the dough. Depending on the temperature of the other ingredients, the ideal water temperature is worked out. This the aim is then for the dough to be at the correct DDT at the end of mixing. There’s a table below that shares the ideal temperatures that many common bread doughs should aim for.
The dough temperature is taken at the end of mixing to check that it is correct. If it’s too warm or too cold, the proofing environment may have to be cooled or warmed to control the doughs rise.
Here is the temperature probe that I use in my home bakery:
What should I do if the final dough temperature is too hot or cold?
If the dough is too warm after mixing, you might be able to lower the temperature of the proofer. But if I can’t do this, place it in the fridge for ten minutes to cool down. After this it can be removed and can continue to develop at the expected rate.
If it’s too cool, I would ideally increase the temperature of the proofer slightly to compensate. If I can’t do this, I’ll put it in a warm place for a short period to warm up. As long as it is not above 38C (100F), there won’t be a problem.
What should I do if I can’t change the proofing temperature?
If you can’t change the temperature of the proofing environment, many bakers will change the length of the fermentation period. This will create different characteristics but at least you will have a loaf of bread.
Another solution is to increase or decrease the Desired Dough Temperature to compensate for the cool or hot environment. This is especially common in summer where ice is used in many bakeries to cool down the temperature of the water.
How yeast fermentation process changes with temperature
Yeast activity increases in a ratio against heat. It works out that at 20C (68F) the rate of proofing is half of that at 30C (86F). Left to proof at 20C (68F), dough will take twice as long to rise than at 30C (86F). You can use hot water or cold water to adapt the temperature of the dough.
Deciding the breads proofing temperature
The ideal proofing temperature is going to be different between types of baked goods. As mentioned, the temperature is going to affect how the loaf looks, feels, smells, tastes and stays fresh.
It gets even more complicated when you consider that both the first rise and final rise can be at different temperatures. This is especially true for artisan breads where the dough is lightly kneaded. Followed by an extended bulk fermentation to develop the dough. Place the dough in the fridge for the first or final fermentation to not only develop the properties of the dough, but to help you manage timing. You don’t really want to be getting up in the middle of the night to check your dough, do you? (I went through this stage and seriously no, you don’t!)
Here are some of the most popular categories of bread and their ideal proofing temperatures:
Imperial proofing temperature table
|Bread||Dough Temp||Proofing Temp||Bulk Fermentation Duration||Final Fermentation Duration|
|Pullman loaf – commercial||84F||100F||nil||60-90 mins|
|Soft Rolls||84F||100F||nil||60 mins|
|Artisan Loaves||77F||80F||3-5 hours||2-3 hours|
|Baguettes||77F||80F||90 mins||60 mins|
|Sourdough Bread – light||77F||72-79F||4-5 hours||3-4 hours|
|Sourdough Bread – acidic||84F||88-94F||3 hours||2-3 hours|
|Sweet bread||77F||81F||1-2 hours||1-2 hours|
|Pastries & croissants||69-75C||81F||2-4 hours||2 hours|
|Rye bread||84F||81-88F||90 minutes||1-2 hours|
Metric proofing temperature table
|Bread||Dough Temp||Proofing Temp||Bulk Fermentation Duration||Final Fermentation Duration|
|Pullman loaf – commercial||28C||38C||nil||60-90 mins|
|Soft Rolls||28C||38C||nil||60 mins|
|Artisan Loaves||24C||26C||3-5 hours||2-3 hours|
|Baguettes||24C||26C||90 mins||60 mins|
|Sourdough – light||24C||21-25C||4-5 hours||3-4 hours|
|Sourdough – acidic||28C||31-34C||3 hours||2-3 hours|
|Sweet bread||24C||27C||1-2 hours||1-2 hours|
|Pastries & croissants||20-23C||27C||2-4 hours||2 hours|
|Rye bread||28C||27-30C||90 minutes||1-2 hours|
Comments on the proofing timetables above
These are subject to the standard mixing applied for each dough type. If the dough is mixed for longer the first rise will need to be reduced.
Why set the proofing temperature at 38C?
If yeast is most active at 36C, why would you set the proofer at 38C? This is a great question that took myself a long time to understand. What happens is gas production is slower at the start of entering the proofer. But as the dough warms up through the 30’s, fermentation increases. Of course the inner core of the bread won’t be as warm as the outer.
Once the outer core reaches 38C, it slows down gas production, whilst the centre of the dough continues rising. By adding the perfect amount of yeast, once the bread reaches 38C throughout the core and outer, the bread is ready to bake. As the yeast is a little too warm now it works slower. There is now more breathing space for the bread to be loaded into the oven. Handy when there isn’t an oven available, or if the baker’s not fully alert.
Also at 38C (100F), certain acid bacterias are more effective. These add extra flavour to the bread and aid the shelf life of the bread.
Artisan proofing temperatures
Artisan bakers prefer a cooler bread proofing temperature, typically in the region of 20-26C (68-75F). Yet many bakers prefer an overnight bulk fermentation in the fridge, or to conduct the first rise at a warm temperature and the final rise in the fridge.
Can I use a fridge rise for any of these doughs?
Yes absolutely! The fridge will improve the structure of the bread and encourage a more open crumb. Just expect it to take longer to rise.
Can I bake the bread from cold or do I need to let the dough warm up?
Small diameter breads are fine baking from cold. Larger bread is best baked at room temperature to allow the dough to warm and have the best rise in the oven.
Sourdough is lightly kneaded as its levain is less vibrant than bakers yeast. It will need a longer time to rise and is often placed in the fridge to mature. It is still important that it spends some time during bulk fermentation or its final proof at warmer temperatures.
Can I proof rye bread at a cooler temperature?
As there is less strong gluten in rye flour, it is best risen in a warmer temperatures. The warmth will increase the amount of gas produced. At 27C (81F) the dough also produces enzymes which support the dough’s ability to retain the extra carbon dioxide.
Frequently asked questions about bread proofing temperature
Can I change the bread proofing temperature if the final dough temperature is too high?
Yes, if the final dough temperature is too high it is wise to lower the temperature of the proofing temperature. If you can’t do this, place the dough in the fridge to cool down for 5-10 minutes. If the dough is too cool, you can place it in a warmer area for a short period to get it up to temp.
How to proof bread dough in summer without a proofing box
Bread made in the summer can get hot very easily. When kneading warm dough it can get very sticky and hard to mix! Before you reach for an extra handful of flour, try lowering the temperature of the dough. Here’s a few ideas:
- Cool everything, the water, the flour, the mixing bowl, the room….everything!
- Use a fan to cool the room – but not directly on the dough.
- Use the fridge to cool the dough during autolyse and bulk fermentation.
- Reduce dough handling – don’t touch it too much with your hands!
- Use a wood surface that doesn’t transfer heat to the dough.
- Add prefermented dough to the mix and reduce mixing time and bulk fermentation time.
How to proof bread in winter
Proofing bread in winter can get frustrating. Sourdough becomes much less active in cool temperatures. I’ve heard of many people who give up starting a sourdough in cold weather as it will not work at room temperatures.
Ideally, you want a consistent temperature at each stage of bread production. Bulk ferment at night in the fridge and final proof in a warmer place in the day. If you use the oven as a proofer you can remove the bread once it’s almost fully risen to preheat the oven.
You can also increase the yeast or levain used in the recipe, or make your sourdough more runny to encourage activity.
How to proof bread at altitude?
Bread will rise faster at higher altitudes. The best solution is to alter the temperature and humidity using a proofer. Lower the proofing temperature and increase humidity (pressure) so slow down how long it takes for the dough to rise. It is also possible to use less yeast in your loaf.
What temperature to proof sourdough?
Sourdough it is quite happy operating at a lower temperature but it is more active at 34C (93F). Proofing at a high temperature supports bacteria multiplying which makes a more sour tasting bread. Lower temperatures create a more acidic, vinegar-like flavour. For more acidity, proof at 31-34C (88-94F). For a lighter more aromatic loaf, the ideal proofing temperature should be 21-25C (71-77F).
Can I make bread without a rising twice?
Yes you can make bread with just a final rise! The Chorleywood method of bread making is used in supermarket and commercial bread production. They use high powered mixers to reduce mixing time and prevent oxidation. Including ascorbic acid to the dough recipe is key to the process. It is recommended that activated malt flour or sugar is added to ensure there is plenty of food available for the yeast. This is because complex starches won’t have enough time to break down and feed the yeast which results in a dense bread. Malt flour increases the rate in which simple sugars are presented to the yeast.
What should I do if I forget to take a temperature reading?
This happens all the time. All you can do is estimate. For instance, fill up another jug of water and test that, or probe another bag of flour? Then continue with the formula. If you have forgotten to take any readings and realise midway through mixing, take a reading as soon as possible of the dough. You know the final dough temperature of the dough is going to be a little warmer due to friction.
Why do I not see bakers temperature check bread proofing temperature on the internet?
The reason some bakers aren’t seen to be making temperature checks is they are baking bread in the same environment for potentially hours. They know the approximate temperature of the water from the tap or fridge, the flour and the room. It is not going to be as accurate as it should be but it’s pretty close.
Some do take bread proofing readings, they just do not show it on screen. Bread can be made complicated very easily and some new bakers get put off.
Does it matter what yeast I use to make bread?
Active dry yeast, instant yeast and fresh yeast have different concentrations of water in them. They also have different methods of production and sometimes additional dough enhancers.
If using active dry yeast, use half the amount stated for fresh yeast. When making bread with instant yeast, divide the fresh yeast amount by 3.
Active dry yeast must be bloomed in warm water for 10 minutes before use. Warm water at 34C reactivates the levain for the maximise dough rise. The proofing yeast water will start to bubble and smell yeasty.
Instant and fresh yeast do not require activation in warm water. Instead they can be added directly to dry ingredients to make your baked good.
Can I proof bread dough in the fridge overnight?
Absolutely! Bread dough can be left to rise overnight in the refrigerator. The cool proofing environment slows down the yeast to prevent over-fermentation. Bread baked after an overnight rise tends to have a sweeter flavour and a open crumb structure.
Can I proof bread in the sun?
Yes, why not? As long as the dough is covered to stop it drying out you can place it in a sunny window, or even outside. The extra warmth will warm up the dough and the bread will rise faster.
Can I proof bread in my oven?
Yes you can proof bread in an oven. Set the oven to around 30C, or place a dish of steamy water in it. Place your bread on the middle rack and quickly shut the door! The water will warm up the oven and stop the dough from drying out – just what you want for a gread rise!