We all know that making bread is so much fun, but why do bakers say that you need to keep your dough covered when proofing?
Well, because it’s good for it. As the dough rises, it becomes softer and more pliable. Dough needs to be covered when you’re not using it.
When dough is left out in the air, it will dry out and become unusable. A dry surface becomes tough and difficult to stretch, which ruins the texture of the crust and its ability to rise evenly. The cover also keeps bugs off that would otherwise make their way into the bread.
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These would create an unpleasant experience for whoever eats your bread! You’ll want to keep the cover on until you’re ready to use it.
Before allowing the dough to rest, it must be fully protected. You can cover the dough with whatever you want, as long as it creates a strong shield between the dough and the air around the container.
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What can you use to cover dough?
The reason why I cover my dough is that I want to keep it as moist as possible, here are a few suggestions that you can use to cover your dough:
I used to use plastic wrap (clingfilm) for wrapping all my small batches during bulk fermentation. It creates a tight seal and is possibly the benchmark solution as it’s so readily available. The reason I’ve stopped using it is environmental. The amount of plastic that goes in the bin in Busby’s Bakery became painful to see. Now I opt for a reusable solution.
A fantastic solution that works for bulk fermentation and protecting preferments as they develop. Sadly quite wasteful so I’ve stopped using this solution all the time.
Oil the dough
Dropping some oil in the bottom of a mixing bowl and rolling the dough around in it to cover offers the dough some protection from the elements. This technique works during bulk fermentation though is impossible for the final rise. This would contradict artisan French bakers who prefer not to include oil in the bread-making process.
It’s not the best solution but if you’re only leaving the dough for short periods (or it’s particularly wet) using oil to form a barrier will work well.
Brushing beaten egg over the surface of proofing brioche and viennoiserie provides moisture and protection from drying out.
The egg will create a darker, shiny crust so should not be used on breads baked in hot ovens. This makes egg washing unsuitable for most traditional types of sandwich bread.
If the proofing bread requires an egg wash doing so removes the need for another cover or barrier. Egg washing works well for the right breads but isn’t a fit-for-all solution.
Anything that’s flat!
A dinner plate, chopping board, laptop (maybe not!) or whatever you can find that is level and will cover the mixing bowl will work. They don’t create the tightest seal and can make it easy for children (or partners) to taking off the lid to take a look. They do work providing they fit snuggly over the bowl. If using to protect a dough rising in a banneton be careful that the dough doesn’t rise above the basket.
Not the best seal however I’ve used this method many times and never had an issue for bulk fermentation. The only problem I do have is needing to use the cover to prepare the dinner!
An old plastic carrier bag is one of the items that every household has lurking in a cupboard. Providing they are clean you can use them to cover your dough during bulk fermentation and when using tins or bannetons to protect the dough during its final rise.
By reusing the bag you are help to save the planet somewhat. Most bags are fairly small so can only protect small batches or individual doughs. Does work well for small batches, however, how clean are they if they had your onions in last week?
Plastic Shower Cap
Plastic shower caps are a fantastic way to protect your dough. They fit neatly over a banneton and some small mixing bowls. A great seal is made and you can reuse them several times before they break.
Fantastic for sourdough bakers making small batches and relatively inexpensive.
As a baker, you cannot forget about the importance of fermentation. Fermentation is what makes dough rise and gives it that perfect texture! The container doesn’t matter as long as it’s food safe and airtight when closed. Airtight containers include glass or plastic with tight fitting lids
A totally reusable solution and a fantastic way to protect your dough during bulk fermentation.
Damp Kitchen Towel
Ahh, this brings back memories! It was a sad day when I realised I’d ran out of plastic wrap and had to use wet kitchen towels to cover the dough during a night of production. They helped somewhat to protect the dough but the coverage wasn’t perfect and I still had some dry patches. It also stuck to the dough occasionally when I tried to peel it off.
Only use as a last resort for bulk rises!
A mixing bowl
I use this method a lot. The right sized mixing bowl perfectly covers the top of a rounded banneton. It creates a seal that’s not perfect, but, good enough. It does take up a lot of room if put in the fridge for an overnight rise.
Using the mixing bowl that you’ve used to make your dough to cover the bannneton is a great way to prevent wasted plastic. It is more durable than a thin plastic layer but does take up a lot of space. Can only be used for bannetons and protecting dough as it bench rests.
My go-to solution. Bin liners are big, meaning they go over the largest bowls I have and can every cover trays of proofing rolls without touching the dough. Clean, reusable and very cost-effective.
The ideal solution for many home bakers. Bin liners create a good seal, are easy to remove and are reusable.
When producing big quantities of bread using a rack containing trays is the best space-saving solution.
Racks are used in every small commercial bakery. Purchasing a box of rack covers is relatively inexpensive and box of them is extremely long-lasting. They can be reused many times providing they are good quality, however, don’t provide the best seal.
A fantastic solution in small cottage bakeries where a proofer is out of the price range. Can be used for covering racks with buckets of dough and for proofing bread with the occasional spray with water. Only suitable is you have racks in your bakery.
Placing a sheet of greaseproof or silicone paper over resting dough works reasonably well. It’s not as tight-fitting as other solutions but for short periods can make all the difference.
Not the perfect solution as not airtight but does offer some protection. I used them regularly to protect dough from drying out during bench resting.
How to protect dough from drying out if I can’t cover it?
When proofing big batches of dough it can be impossible to cover the dough effectively without touching it. Believe me, I’ve tried stacking torches, mugs and other items to try and raise a bag over the tray without touching the dough. Most of the time these sorts of solutions end up falling over and less likely to actually keep the dough moist!
Unless a larger cover such as bin liner or rack cover is available, the solution here is to water the dough.
Wetting the dough
Check on the dough every 30 minutes and give it a spray with a water mister. If you don’t have a mister, you can get one here, but a light wipe with a wet hand or pastry brush is almost as good. Every time, you check, see if the dough is dry or not. If it’s still wet, don’t mist and return in 30 minutes. You want to avoid drowning the proofing bread as that’s going to cause issues!
When it comes close to baking, veer on a dryer dough than a wet one. An overly wet dough going into the oven can cause blister and rupturing or the crust.
What To Do If Your Dough Dries Out?
If you didn’t cover the dough well and it has dried out or formed a skin, don’t panic, you can still fix it!
Fortunately, there is a very straightforward remedy that can save you.
What you ought to do is rehydrate the dough’s dry areas, fortunately, rehydrating a dry patch of dough is pretty easy. Take a cup of water and gently brush it onto the dry surface of your dough. You can use a brush, your hands or a trusted water mister to do this.
30 minutes later and the dough should be revitalised! If it’s still really dry, repeat applying water every 15 minutes until the water is absorbed. It should get back to a lovely balanced in no time!