Why the bread proofing temperature is important
Controlling the bread proofing temperature can be the difference between a great loaf or an epic fail. Too warm and yeast activity is unmanageable. Too cold, and dough quality will change plus, well, you’ll probably get bored waiting for it to rise.
It is helpful to understand dough temperature to make consistent quality products and make 2 am alarms become a thing of the past.
The ideal temperature for proofing bread is between 26C (75F) and 34C (90F). For artisan bread, cooler temperatures are often used which extend the fermentation time. Warm temperatures are used when making lighter tasting bread.
Let's look at how dough temperature is important when proofing bread and how we can achieve the best temperature every time.
Why is temperature important in bread making?
Dough proofed in warm and humid conditions increases alcoholic fermentation from yeast activity, speeding the rate of carbon dioxide and ethanol production. The ideal temperature for gas production is 34C. However, proofing bread at this temperature is not always the best thing to do.
We need alcoholic fermentation to raise the bread. If fermentation is sped up by increasing the temperature, gas will be created but the dough lacks maturity. Dough maturation created in other areas of fermentation does not increase at high temperatures. Dough maturation needs time or additional dough improvers to compensate.
Dough that lacks maturity will have less flavour, less gas retaining properties, less aroma and poor handling properties.
Low proofing temperature
If the temperature of the dough is too high the bread may spoil, too low and the dough changes its characteristics.
Low temperature slows down the effects of alcoholic fermentation, however, dough maturation continues. This creates more smell and flavour, better gas retention and improved dough handling properties. Hydrated flour also presses on in developing proteins into gluten and unravelling starch particles.
The benefits of cool fermentation sound good however if the temperature is too cool:
- The bread will take a long time to be ready for the oven.
- Dough loses extensibility over time causing broken gluten structure.
- We risk over oxidation from continued exposure to air which gives a rancid taste and overly white colour.
- We can get a gummy crumb in the centre
- The bread flavour and aroma will be more intense and deep
Especially if selling bread we want it to have the same properties every time we bake it. Changing the breads proofing temperature will result in altering the construction, flavour and aroma of the bread.
Proofing bread twice
Bakers usually proof their bread twice. The first stage is called the bulk fermentation. Here the dough is left to rest in a bowl to develop naturally, sometimes including “stretch & folds” or “turning” to maintain activity.
The second stage is the final proof. This is when the dough is shaped and left to rise until it has risen sufficiently for the oven.
This first stage of proofing focuses on dough maturation, the second creates gas which rises the bread.
The temperature yeast dies
As the bread reaches 36C (97F) yeast will die making them inactive. This is true of sourdough too.
Final dough temperature
This is the temperature of the dough after kneading has ended. Getting this correct means you have the best start for dough fermentation. Bakers make adjustments to the water in order to get their desired temperature. Here’s an important article that shares the best way to manage final dough temperature.
Further reading: Desired dough temperature
What is the best proofing temperature?
For supermarket/commercial bread, the usual target final dough temperature is 28C (83F). This dough will then be proofed in a proofing temperature of 38C (F).
Gas production is slower at the start of entering the proofer and as the dough warms the rate gas is produced increases. The rise in temperature above 34C creates a slightly different flavour note in the bread by making it more acidic. Normally the final proof will last for 1-2 hours.
Proofing at that temperature outside commercial bakeries is considered too rapid to develop the dough effectively. Additional dough conditioners are needed to artificially mature the dough as the first proof has to be removed. Many artisan bread bakers would look at those temperatures with disgust.
Artisan bakers prefer a cooler bread proofing temperature, typically in the region of 20-26C (68-75F). Some bread uses an overnight bulk fermentation in the fridge.
My prefered temperature set up for artisan baking is a final dough temperature of 22C, a bulk fermentation at 24C and a final proof of 28C.
Is a cold bread proofing temperature best?
Starch is found in abundance in flour. It gets broken down into sugars during fermentation. It is these sugars that are fed to the yeast to make carbon dioxide gas.
If dough is fermented at cold temperatures by putting it into a fridge more complex starches are broken down and converted. These complex starches reveal a sweeter, more attractive flavour and darker colour in the bread. I mean, who doesn’t like sweet things??
How to get the best proofing temperature
It is hard to recreate the ideal proofing temperatures at home without the use of a proofer. In a small bakery, this can kinda be done as the oven heats up the room as the night moves on making the temperature ideal for dough fermentation.
You can sometimes get by with moving dough around various heat sources to get the best temperature but for the most accurate results, a proofer has to be used.
Proofers create the most ideal environment for proofing dough. They come in different sizes, some are walk through where several racks fit inside, others are smaller for trays and now there are home proofers that sit on a kitchen worktop.
The proofer will control the temperature and humidity of the environment making bakers able to proof bread accurately every time.
Here’s one that I recommend:
The quality of these proofers are outstanding and would recommend getting one if you are baking frequently.
Do I need to build a proofing cabinet?
For bakers making bread at home, a homemade proofing cabinet can sound like a good idea. It’s especially tempting for sourdough bakers who want a sour taste in their bread. The issue with home proofing cabinets is:
-The heaters tend to be less regulated meaning the temperature can rise too high and end yeast activity.
- The temperature can yo-yo. Big temperature changes are not good for a consistent dough structure.
- They don’t add moisture to prevent skinning up. Some bakers place a bowl of water in the proofer to counteract this, but it’s not as effective or regulated as professional devices.
Though if you are careful and you follow a thought out process then you can make a successful home proofer.
Busy commercial bakeries need to control their dough proofing temperature. It’s especially important when final proofing so multiple doughs are not ready for the oven at the same time. This is called bottle-necking and can lead to dough not getting baked at all!
How to manage proofing temperature without a proofer
Many modern ovens have a proof setting that you may wish to use to proof bread. This is likely to be set at around 30C so expect a fast proofing dough if you use it.
You may find that just having the light on in the oven creates enough warmth. Others use the microwave light for the same process. You can also place the dough on top of a warm oven, in an airing cupboard or on the window sill to warm
Take temperature readings to be sure you are working at the desired temperature.
Essential tools for managing dough proofing
A thermometer is essential for taking readings when baking bread. I usually use one that you can poke right into the centre of the dough for an accurate reading. Thermometers that read surface temperature can be used. These are slightly less messy but I prefer the ones that can go right to the centre. A thermometer with quick read functionality is a good idea so you are not waiting for the reading for ages. One like this one is ideal:
A decent tub for bulk fermentation is also recommended. One big enough with a sealed lid, and strong enough to withstand plenty of use. I have just bought this tub here and it’s working a treat!
How to proof bread dough in Summer
Bread made in the summer can get hot far too easily. When kneading warm dough it can get very sticky and hard to do!
But, before you reach for an extra handful of flour, try to lowering the temperature of the dough first. 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 preferment 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 activate at room temperature.
Ideally, you want a consistent temperature at each stage of bread production. I would opt to bulk ferment at night on the worktop if it’s 5-10C (41-50F) then final proof when the heating is pumped up a bit in the day.
A proofing cabinet can be used if you feel you need to.
I would stress that consistent bread proofing temperature is best. Don’t put it right next to a heat source for 5 minutes to warm it up. Instead, place it 2 metres away to gradually warm, and keep the heat source going for the duration.
You can opt to increase the yeast or levain amount in the recipe. Make your sourdough more runny to encourage activity. It is likely that you may need to use warmish or tepid water for the dough.
What temperature does sourdough work best?
When it comes to 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 acedic, vinegar-like flavour.
Yeast activity increases by a ratio against heat. This works out that at 20C (68F) the rate of proofing is half of that at 30C (86F). So dough left to proof at 20C will take twice as long to rise than at 30C.
Dough Proofing Temperature FAQ's
Baking without a second proof stage
The Chorelywood method of bread making is commonly 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.
By using this method the baker removes the bulk fermentation (first proof) stage of bread making. The dough process is simplified so that the ingredients are mixed, divided, rested for a couple of minutes, final shaped, proofed and final baked.
What should I do if the final dough temperature is too hot or cold?
You should increase or cool the bulk fermentation temperature. Placing the dough in the fridge for ten minutes is a common trick that I use. It drops the temperature a few degrees so can continue with fermentation.
What should I do if I can’t get change the proofing temperature?
If you can’t change the temperature of the proofing environment you will have to shorten or lengthen the fermentation period. This will create different characteristics but at least you will have a good loaf of bread.
What should I do if I forget to take a temperature reading?
Do not sweat, this happens all the time. Whilst you are not going to get a reading as accurate as you would normally, we can get a good estimate.
If it is just one reading that you are missing can you guess it? 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 the friction factor.
Taking a reading will allow you to prepare the temperature needed for bulk fermentation. Creating a warm or cool environment to get the best bread proofing temperature possible.
Why do I not see bakers temperature check bread proofing temperature on the internet?
Some bakers that you may follow on the internet and YouTube may take temperature checks in front of you. Plenty of others don’t though. The reason for this is that 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. If the temperature is 1-2 degrees out, it could put someone off baking bread. This is the reason why I do not show my readings on every video that I make on YouTube. I don’t want to scare people off baking bread.
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