The temperature of your dough during fermentation is an important consideration when baking. Professional bakers talk about Desired Dough Temperature (DDT) all the time. They want their doughs to be maintained at the desired temperature so that the fermentation occurs exactly as planned. That way the loaves are ready to be baked when they need them to be and ready for the customer to buy when the bakery opens their doors.
To achieve this professional bakers check the temperature of the ingredients in the bowl, the temperature of the bakery and calculate how warm the water will have to be to achieve a mixed dough with the DDT. They also have to take into account how much of a contribution the friction caused by the commercial mixer will make to increasing the temperature of the dough. The dough is then kept in a proofing chamber set at the DDT. It can get very complicated.
As home bakers we don’t need to worry so much about DDT, but we do need to understand the impact of temperature on fermentation. Because if we understand this then we can manipulate the timing of the fermentation so that we can get on with the rest of our day and return to the dough when we are ready to.
Important considerations for dough temperature
The reason dough temperature is important is because of the yeast. This is true for both commercial yeast (easy bake, active dried, fresh yeast) and the wild yeast in your sourdough starter. Yeast is a living thing and so reacts to different temperatures.
- 27-32C is the optimum temperature for fermentation and is considered DDT by professional bakers
- At 35C yeast is at its most active
- Yeast will die at 55C
- Yeast will continue to work at 4C (fridge temperature) but much more slowly
Dough temperature for the home baker
We can use these numbers to our advantage. If we want our loaf in a hurry we can mix it with warm water and leave in a warm place. That way the dough will ferment quickly and be ready to shape in about an hour. Then it will be ready to make about 30 minutes later. This is great if you have forgotten to make bread for dinner. Alternatively you could make soda bread.
However, bread that has a longer fermentation time is always better than one made in a hurry. Giving bread a longer fermentation time gives it chance to fully develop flavour, it also improves the texture of the crumb and a longer shelf life.
One of the ways of giving the dough a longer fermentation time is to mix a cooler dough. Make your loaf with cool water and leave it in a cool place to ferment. Once you have done the stretch and folds or the kneading your dough will happily sit in the fridge overnight slowly fermenting away. Doing this will not only improve the flavour of your bread but will also allow you to return to the dough when you are ready, rather than trying to fit your day around your loaf.
One word of caution though, if you are using Active Dried Yeast, (the yeast that comes in a yellow container in the UK and needs to be dissolved in water first), then you will need to use water at about 40C to dissolve the yeast. Cool water causes active dried yeast to recover slowly and release a substance (glutathione) that interferes with gluten development (Harold McGee, On Food & Cooking).