Temperature plays a massive role in dough fermentation. In warmer temperatures, yeast activity increases and the dough fermentation process accelerates. When the dough’s cold, yeast activity slows down and the proofing process is extended. The desired dough temperature (DDT) is the expected temperature of the dough after mixing has been completed. To determine the desired dough temperature, a baker uses a formula and takes temperature readings of the environment and the ingredients to be used. The formula then provides the ideal temperature of the water. The water is then heated or cooled to match the stated temperature before adding to the dough mixer. After mixing the dough should reach the desired dough temperature. In this desired dough temperature guide I’m going to explain the formulas used to achieve the perfect dough temperature, understand the importance of DDT and why it doesn’t always work seamlessly!
The Desired Dough Temperature (DDT) is the dough temperature you wish to achieve. The Final Dough Temperature (FDT) is the temperature that was actually reached. Ideally, they will be the same, which is why Desired Dough Temperature is sometimes called Final Dough Temperature and vice versa by some bakers.
The industry-standard Desired Dough Temperature for artisan bread is 24-26C (75-79F). For heavily mixed quick-bread, a DDT of 28-32C (82-86F) is generally preferred.
The perfect dough temperature can also be set individually for the type of bread being produced. This method uses a Base Temperature (BT) measurement, we’ll cover this later on.
If using the recipe from my how to make bread course, DDT should be 24-26C (75-79F).
To achieve a DDT of 24C (75F), readings are made before the inoculation of ingredients. The flour and room temperatures are measured with a temperature probe. To do this you’re going to need a decent thermometer. This probe from GDealer has quick read functionality and pretty durable. If you are looking for a low cost probe I recommend it! With these two readings we can find the water temperature to aim for.
This is the simplest way to work out the water temperature, and the one that pretty much everyone uses.
Key for the formulas:
WT = Ideal Water Temperature DDT =Desired Dough Temperature RT = Room Temperature FT = Flour Temperature
3 x DDT - RT - FT - 18 = WT For example: RT = 21 FT = 18 DDT = 24 72 - 21 - 19 - 18 = 14C Or on a hot day: RT = 28 FT = 25 DDT = 24 72 - 28 - 25 - 18 = 1C
This method also works in Fahrenheit. Instead of 18, take away 30:
3 x DDT - RT - FT - 18 = WT
In an example:
RT = 80 FT = 75 DDT = 75 225 - 80 - 75 - 30 = 40F
After kneading, a temperature reading of the dough is taken with to check the FDT is correct. If the temperature is too high or too low, there are action that can be taken during the first rise stage.
Some recipes will base their mixing duration on the temperature reached, for example: “mix until dough temperature reaches 24C”. If the reading is below, mixing continues. This method only works if the recipe is followed by a baker using the same machinery and ingredients (house recipe).
When we calculated the water temperature a moment ago, you might have wondered why we took away 18 in the Celsius formula and 30 in the Fahrenheit version. These figures are actually variables, called the Friction Factor (FF). Friction is created by the action of kneading (either by machine or by hand), and increases the temperature of the dough. The factor typically ranges between 12- 24 using Celsius, or 20 – 40 when using Fahrenheit, with a higher factor when longer and/or more intense kneading is committed. Whilst friction is less significant when kneading by hand, heat is transferred from hands into the dough to warm it.
FF = Friction Factor
Without extensive testing of your mixing action or dough mixer, your exact friction factor is not known. What you need to do is use a base friction factor, and take the FDT to see how close it is. You can make adjustments going forward.
This figures will depend on the efficiency and speed of the mixer, or the hand kneading technique used. You may find it helpful to draw up your own table similar to mine with your own findings.
To discover the friction factor of your hand kneading or mixer, you can rearrange the formula shown below after you’ve prepared a dough. I recommend you do this a 3-5 times and use an average.
FF = (3 x DDT) - RT - FT - WT
A decent container for bulk fermentation is recommended. One big enough with a sealed lid, and strong enough to withstand plenty of use. I recently got this tub and it works great, you might like to try it?
The 240-factor is commonly used in the US, as readings are taken in Fahrenheit and a final dough temperature of 80F (27C) is desired. It uses the same method as the previous formula, it just always makes an DDT of 80 degrees!
(3 x 80 = 240) - RT - FT - FF = WT
The 240 factor looks like this:
240 - RT - FT - FF - WT
If using a sourdough starter or other preferment, follow this formula to work out the correct water temperature. It takes a reading of the preferment temperature which is then taken into account to find the DDT.
PT = Preferment/Sourdough starter Temperature
WT = (4 x DDT) - RT - FT - FF - PF
As you can see we now multiply the final dough temperature by 4, before taking away the preferment temperature as well as the other known readings. You could use this formula for other major additions to the dough as well if you really wanted too, but I can’t think of an example where it would be a good idea.
Temperature is essential for fermentation. Not managing the temperature will lead to bread that looks, behaves and tastes different every time. For consistency, the perfect dough temperature during mixing, at the end of mixing and during first and second rises is vital. Here are the key impacts poor temperature management can have on bread dough:
If the dough is too cold, fermentation of the yeast or sourdough starter slows right down. The cold dough will need longer to produce enough gas to rise. A long proof is not only infuriating for a home baker, but can cause massive issues with oven bottle-necking in industrial situations. It will also affect the flavour, texture and behaviour of the dough.
Many bakers hand kneading are forced to end kneading when the dough gets too sticky. This means that a dough that gets warm because the ingredients were too warm will under less gluten development. To get a nice, light and airy crumb it is important to knead the dough for the correct amount of time. Dough which has been under-kneaded will be dense and like a brick.
Oxygenation of the flour is the action of oxygen getting absorbed by the flour. In small amounts, oxidation is handy to give the gluten strength, but too much oxygenation is not good. During an extended fermentation stage it is common for too much oxygen to be absorbed into the flour which deteriorates the breads taste and aroma.
Bleaching is especially common with heavy or intense mixing and at dough that is mixed at 28C (82F). The visible effect that bleaching has on the dough is the colour turning white. The loss of colour indicates a loss of minerals along with much of the bread-like flavours and aroma.
Long fermentation supports the multiplication of lactic acid bacteria in the dough. A lower PH value, caused by the increase in lactic acid can have many benefits, but will change the flavour of the bread.
Over fermenting due to high temperatures can cause the extensibility of the gluten to decrease. This is where the lactic acid bacteria and the enzyme protease increase too much and destroy the gluten strands.
If the dough is too warm, the first rise and/or proofing times will need to be reduced. Doing this decreases the development of the gluten structure and the generation of organic acids. This lack of dough maturity creates issues in gas retention. This diminishes the rise and oven spring of the bread leading to a potential dense crumb.
The professional formula for calculating the water temperature uses what’s called the Base Temperature (BT) variable. This figure is provided in many advanced bread recipes. It is basically the Desired Dough Temperature and the Friction Factor combined. The reason for this is because they are both related to each other, and the recipe author will be expecting the baker to be using a professional dough mixer.
Base temperature is usually between 50-80C (120-175F). If you do not have the base temperature with a recipe, use 55C (130F).
BT = Base Temperature
(FT + RT) - BT = WT
The best place to start is the cold tap, which in cool weather is fine. To drop the temperature further you can fill a jug with water and put it in the fridge overnight. This dramatically cools the temperature to around 3C (37F).
If you are in a very warm climate you are going to need to cool the water further. Add some ice to a bowl or jug of water. The temperature will drop to around 0C (32F). It’s not advisable that you pour ice into the mixing bowl before letting it melt as you might break your mixer!
Most bakers don’t use the formula for every recipe. In fact, you can get away without following a formula at all*. What you want to do is take a FDT reading after the first mix of the day. If it reads too high, the water temperature is dropped for subsequent doughs. Of course, if it’s too cool you can raise the water temperature with warmer water. Keep taking FDT measurements throughout the day and correcting your water temperature. A difference of +/-2C is to be expected. When baking in the same environment each day you’ll soon learn how much change is needed.
When baking several batches, use a formula to calculate the water temperature for the first mix, and adjust off the cuff by just testing the temperature of the dough at the end of mixing and adjusting the water for the following mixes.
When hand kneading, the friction factor is higher and even when using ice-cold water the dough can get too warm. For this reason, it is a good idea to use a kneading technique that transfers the minimum amount of heat from your hands into the dough. Hand kneaders can also make use of autolysing to develop flour fermentation naturally. I’ll often place the dough in the fridge for 5-10 minutes halfway through kneading when attempting to reach the windowpane stage. This cools the dough down (and gives my arms a rest!).
Bread Proofing Temperature is the temperature of the environment in which the dough proofs or ferments. If the Desired Dough Temperature is not ideal you can sometimes compensate the proofing temperature to proof bread efficiently. If the room you are proofing in is extremely hot or cold, you may want to increase or decrease the DDT further to compensate!
We don’t always get it exactly right, especially when kneading by hand. But getting close to the expected temperature is much better than being miles off!!
If the Final Dough Temperature is too warm you can either:
There are some great tips on how to do this on the bread proofing temperature page.
If you are happy with gluten development, the best solution is to place the dough in a warmer place to rise. A home proofing box offers exact temperature control, so you can increase or decrease the temperature of your proofing environment with accuracy and without stress.
Do not sweat, this happens all the time! Whilst you are not going to get a reading as accurate as you would normally, you make a good estimate. If it is just one reading that you are missing, you will have to make an educated guess. 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 that roughly the final dough temperature of the dough will be a little warmer due to friction. Taking a late reading won’t change the FDT, but it will allow you to prepare a warmer or cooler temperature for proofing or fermentation.
I think you can see the impact of manipulating the temperature of your dough to suit your needs. Whilst it’s felt like a long topic, I hope you’ve found it useful and that you put these formulas into practice! Let me know if you use them and how the work/don’t work for you in the comments below.
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Hi, I’m Gareth Busby, a baking coach, lecturer and bread fanatic. My goal is to help you become a better baker.
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