How To Control Temperature When Making Bread

Published on
14 September 2022
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

If you’ve clicked on this page I’m guessing you’re aware that temperature is a baker’s secret ingredient, if not – Surprise! The reason for this is that temperature affects yeast activity. In warm conditions, yeast is more active. In fact, an increase in temperature of 10 degrees C has such an effect that yeast activity increases by 50%. It, therefore, means knowing how to control temperature when making bread is so vital. That it can make difference between a great loaf, and an epic failure. So let’s learn how to master the art of managing bread proofing temperature.

What happens if you don’t control temperature? – Why consistency is important!!

High yeast activity can cause detrimental consequences for the dough, such as:

  1. Gas will be created at such a rate that the unprepared gluten structure won’t capture as much as it should, resulting in big air bubbles remaining in the dough and a more dense loaf
  2. The yeast consumes sugars faster, leading to the sugar supply running out. This reduces the volume gain in proofing and oven spring
  3. Dough continues to rise and over-proofs

If the dough is colder than desired, it’s not such a problem. You will have to wait for ages for it to rise. You might also notice a difference in the texture and flavour of the bread, this can be beneficial in many cases. Only when the rise is slowed right down will the gluten begin to degrade.

The basics of managing temperature when proofing

There are two primary factors that create the temperature of the dough as it rises. The temperature of the dough at the end of mixing, also known as the Final Dough Temperature (FDT), and the proofing environment. The principle of managing temperature during proofing is to adjust the temperature of your ingredients and the area you are proofing, so your dough rises at the optimum temperature.

What is the ideal proofing temperature?

Many bakers prefer to proof their dough warmer than the FDT. This allows the dough to warm up gradually to the new temperature, giving time for the gluten to rebuild after shaping so it’s ready to capture gas efficiently as the dough becomes warmer. For artisan and slow, double risen bread, 24-28C (75-82F) is a typical bread proofing temperature. For faster risen bread, 32-38C (89-100F) is the ballpark.

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What is the ideal Final Dough Temperature?

It’s usual to aim for a FDT of 24-32C (75-89F). Some recipes will provide the optimum temperature, but if you’re not sure, just aim for 25C (77F). It’s the perfect temperature for artisan bread. There are exceptions to this rule, which I’ll share in a moment. But first, let’s discuss how to achieve the ideal FDT.

How to achieve the ideal Final Dough Temperature

As shared in the desired dough temperature page, before you begin weighing your ingredients you’ll have decided on your Desired Dough Temperature (DDT). With this figure decided you’ll take temperature checks of the flour and room with a temperature probe, and use them in the formula below to produce your ideal water temperature. 

Basic DDT formula:

DDT x3 – Room temperature – Flour temperature – 18 = Water temperature

Example For a 24C DDT: Room temperature is 25C, and the Flour temperature is 20C:

72 – 25 – 20 – 18 = 9

The water temperature should be 9C

This method also works in Fahrenheit. Just subtract 30 instead of 18

You’ll then need to mix your water with warm or cold water until the determined water temperature is obtained. Once you are happy, proceed to knead your dough.

After mixing, probe the dough to discover if your DDT, is your FDT! If it’s not (and it’s not always perfect), note the difference and make adjustments in your next batch. The more you do this, the more you’ll learn how much warmth your kneading method (or mixer) adds to the dough and how mixing times impact dough temperature. If, however, your FDT is miles away from what you expected, I have some tips near the end of this post.

How to control temperature when proofing bread (BPT)

To control the temperature of the proofing environment, first off, you’ll need a thermometer! This can be the same probe used to measure the dough temperature or any room thermometer.

At a basic level, if you need to cool the proofing environment, look for cooler areas in your home. Places such as a cellar or cold oven can be used. But it’s more common that bakers need warmth for their dough. This can be achieved by finding a warm area. Placing dough near a heater can work, although when direct heat arrives in one direction, you have to turn the dough around regularly for an even rise. Windowsills and summerhouses are handy in summer, but make little impact when the weather is cool. Airing cupboards can work, but they can often be too warm, with temperatures surpassing 40C (104F) common. To increase proofing temperature all year round at a high degree of accuracy, consider a proofing box.

What is a proofing box?

A proofer is a confined sealed area, similar to a refrigerator, that controls the temperature and humidity of the chamber. Professional proofers vary in capacity, from being big enough to hold a few trays, to multiple racks of dough. Whilst it’s not possible to achieve the same degree of accuracy at home, we can get pretty close by using a proofing box.

A proofing box is a mini proofer. You can buy one, make one yourself or transform an existing sealed environment (like an oven) into one.

What is the best proofing box?

Proofers

For home use, the proofing box by Brod and Taylor is fantastic! It has a thermostat that allows you to control the temperature with 1° of accuracy. It also comes with a pot that you can fill up with water for creating humidity. You want moisture in the air to stop the surface of the dough from drying out. Simple, robust and foldable, the Brod and Taylor is a great solution for baking small batches. If you would like to check out this proofing box, visit their official site or Amazon.

How to make my own proofing box

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, making your own proofing box is possibly the best way to go. This way you’ll be able to make a larger area for proofing more dough and maybe save a bit of money compared to buying one. You can get your own thermostat to control the heater with accuracy too. The risk of making one is that it’ll be too large for the heat mat (used to create the warmth) and won’t reach the temperature you desire. Still, you could use two heat mats, or keep it small and you’ll be fine! To follow my step-by-step guide to building a proofing box, click the link.

How to use an oven as a proofer

On a hot day, the oven can be the perfect place to cool your dough, but with a small amount of heat applied, you can use it for proofing too. Some ovens have a “proof” setting, which you can use, but if not, you can set the dial in the 30C (86F) region and have moderate success. It’s best to place your own thermometer in the oven to check the temperature, as in my experience the oven thermostat isn’t accurate at cool temperatures.

You can also add a tray of hot water to warm up your oven. By monitoring the temperature throughout proofing you can add more hot (or cold) water to achieve the perfect temperature. This also moistens the air, which is handy.

Another way to use an oven as a proofer is to simply turn the oven light on. After 30 minutes it’ll create enough warmth to proof your dough. The issue with this method is there is no control, so the proofing temperature can surpass 40C (104F) after several hours!

You can also warm the oven up with a heat mat, although when I tried this it would not go higher than 27C (80F) as the mat wasn’t powerful enough. I would double up on the heat mats, but I turned the oven on with the mat inside and now don’t own one.

Whatever route you choose to control your temperature, check your dough every 30 minutes. You can add a bowl of warm water to the proofing box for humidity. You will need to replace it every hour or two as it cools (depending on how long the rise lasts and the proofing temperature). If you can’t add a bowl of water, you must cover the dough. If you don’t do this and the surface of the dough dries up, see the video below:

Overnight fridge proofing (retarding)

Placing your dough in the fridge is a way to slow the rising process. When chilled, yeast activity is reduced to practically nothing, extending the duration of the rise. You can chill dough during the first (bulk fermentation) or second rise (after shaping).

Fridge proofing has practical gains in that you are able to bake bread fresh for breakfast without working through the night, but it can also benefit the quality of the bread. See, whilst enzyme and yeast activity is dramatically reduced when cold, the gluten structure continues to strengthen and sugars continue to be broken down from the starch (albeit, at a slower rate). The result is sweeter flavours, better gas retention, more gas produced and bigger oven spring.

Note: Whilst small-diameter dough pieces drop in temperature quickly when placed in the refrigerator, larger pieces take longer to cool. Fermentation will continue in bigger batches for several hours before slowing to a halt.

Can I bake the bread from cold or do I need to let the dough warm up?

Baking cold dough uses up considerably more heat than warm dough. This lowers the temperature of the oven, which the majority of domestic ovens struggle to regain. Baking at a cooler temperature can result in less oven spring and a thick and rubbery crust. So whilst you can bake from cold, if you are making larger loaves you may notice a considerable improvement in quality by allowing them to warm up before baking. Leaving them on the counter for an hour before baking is normally sufficient.

Can I use a fridge rise for any bread dough?

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.

What if the temperature of my proofing area fluctuates?

Ideally, the temperature of the proofing area should remain constant throughout the rising process, but without a commercial proofer, this is rarely the case, especially when adding warm water for humidity! 

The best way to deal with temperature fluctuations is to have a thermometer in the proofing area. Ideally, you’ll be able to check the temperature of the proofing area without having to open the door -which would release the warmth and provide an inaccurate reading. 

By using a thermometer and checking every 30 minutes you can adapt the temperature of the area to suit your target proofing temperature. If the temperature of the proofing area drops considerably, try to warm the area or you’ll have to wait longer for it to rise. If it becomes considerably warm, place the dough in a cooler area, using the fridge if you need to. Once it’s cooled a little, you can return the dough to the warm proofing area or if it’s ready, put it in the oven.

Probe your dough regularly during the first rise, but don’t stick a temperature probe into the dough after it’s been shaped, as this can damage the dough and make it collapse. 

You don’t really need to know the temperature of the dough during the second rise, it’s handy, and you can use an infrared thermometer if you wish. As long as you take a temperature reading before it is shaped and are monitoring the temperature of the proofing area, you’ll have a good idea of how warm your dough is.

How to proof bread dough in summer

Being considerably warm in your baking area brings other challenges. A warm dough rises too quickly, so you’ll want to look for ways to slow down the rising process. Here are a few ways to do it:

Use less yeast or sourdough starter

When it’s warm it’s a sensible idea to use less yeast or percentage of starter in your recipe. If making sourdough bread you will have to increase the size of the recipe to compensate for the loss of flour and water lost from using less starter.

Use less water

Water is used to transfer molecules between cells. When there is less water in bread dough, sugars are presented to the yeast cells at a slower rate, resulting in slow gas production.

Use more salt

Salt inhibits the transfer of cells by soaking up water which slows the rising of the dough. You may want to increase the amount of salt if you wish to slow the rise a little, but this will affect the flavour and texture of the bread.

Follow a recipe with prefermented dough

It’s a bit of an advanced transition, but one that I prefer when baking professionally. You could prepare a preferment, such as a biga the day before baking. This essentially matures the flour by combining it with water and a little bit of yeast and letting it sit. By doing this in advance, your bread can enjoy are faster rise without losing quality.

Use the refrigerator

A great way to drop your dough temperature by a couple of degrees is to place it in the fridge for 30 minutes. This is the perfect solution when the dough is warmer than desired after kneading. Of course, you can increase fridge time if a more drastic drop is needed. Be sure to cover your dough to prevent it from drying out.

Lower the desired dough temperature

I said 25C (77F) is the perfect desired dough temperature. But, when dealing with especially warm conditions you might want to compensate by lowering the FDT. This can be a challenge as the room temperature is a factor in the calculation, but you can do things like chilling the flour overnight and using ice to cool your water.

How to raise yeast activity without a proofing box

If I’m trying to speed up a dough recipe, say I’ve decided that I want to make a pizza for dinner in a couple of hours, there are a few things I do that you can do too. The most important one is to knead the dough for longer to maximise gluten development. Then I’ll incorporate a few of these:

  1. Increase the hydration of the dough
  2. Use more yeast
  3. Use less salt
  4. Find a warm spot to rise
  5. Add some sourdough starter (if there’s some handy)
  6. Increase DDT

This will enable me to quickly make a dough that is mature enough to make a decent, but not optimum, bread.

What if my Desired Dough Temperature is not reached?

If your dough temperature at the end of kneading (FDT) is too hot or cold you don’t need to stress out. If there’s less than a 2C (4F) difference, don’t worry about making any changes, just be aware it might be slightly quicker or slower to rise. If the difference between the FDT and DDT is great, consider increasing or cooling the proofing environment to speed up or slow down the rise.

If the dough is too cool and you can’t warm it up, it’ll just take longer to rise, don’t worry. If it’s too warm, pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool.

So, how to control temperature when making bread?

In this article, we’ve covered the importance of managing temperature when proofing bread dough, how to manage temperature during the proofing process and what to use as a proofing box. I hope you’ve gathered enough information to master the proofing process, but if you’d like to learn more, try my bulk fermentation and proofing bread articles where I discuss baking science in more detail. What did you learn today? Let me know in the comments below.

Frequently asked questions about bread proofing temperature

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