Why do bakers proof sourdough in the fridge? I think we hear this question so often because we recommend doing the final rise (proof) in the fridge for most of our sourdough recipes. Or maybe, it’s just recommended by so many bakers that it can start to feel like you have to proof sourdough in the fridge.
However, even though proofing in a fridge is often suggested, sourdough does not need to proof in cool temperatures. In fact, proofing in warmer temperatures will produce a quality loaf of bread.
So, why do bakers prefer using a fridge or cool environment for proofing? The answer lies in the fact that cooler temperatures improve many qualities of sourdough bread, especially flavor.
When sourdough is proofed in a warm environment, the bread can become over-fermented and taste too sour. By proofing in the fridge, bakers are able to slow down the fermentation process and produce a more flavorful loaf of bread. In addition, bread that has been proofed in the fridge will have a more tender crust and a softer crumb.
Proofing dough at warmer temperatures is primarily done in order to save time. When bakers need sourdough bread in a hurry, they’ll take steps to ensure that everything is done at a warm temperature. For example, they’ll use warm water to create a warm dough, and then do what they can to keep the room temperature or proofing box upwards of 80° F. In some cases, bakers might even go upwards of 90° F in order to speed up the process. However, going above 90° F can result in negative consequences, such as poor gluten development and flat sourdough bread.
While proofing at warmer temperatures does save time, there are some trade-offs that should be considered. For example, the flavor and texture of the bread may be compromised. Additionally, warm-proofed dough is more likely to overproof, so bakers need to be careful not to let it Proof for too long. Overall, though, proofing at warmer temperatures is a viable option for bakers who need sourdough bread in a hurry.
Warm Dough is Harder to Work With
Temperature plays a critical role in the baking process. When dough is proofed at a warm temperature, the yeast becomes more active and produces more gas. This gas makes the dough rise more quickly and makes it harder to handle. The warmer temperature also causes the gluten to become more elastic, making the dough harder to shape. Finally, warm temperatures make the fat in the dough melt, making it stickier and harder to work with. For these reasons, bakers often prefer to proof their dough at a cooler temperature. By doing so, they can better control the rising process and produce a finished product that is more consistent in shape and texture.
- Resisting Gravity: When you dump out dough from a proofing basket, it will begin to flatten out. This has a good bit to do with how well you shape dough, but, when shaping is accounted for cold stiff dough resists being pulled flat by gravity longer than warm dough. This means you have less time to score and transport your dough before it goes flat with warm dough. So you’ll need to work quickly. If you are working with cold stiff dough, you can take your time in scoring and shaping it. However, if you are working with warm dough, you will need to work quickly to prevent it from flattening out. Therefore, it is important to know the difference between cold and warm dough in order to resist gravity and prevent your dough from flattening out.
- Scoring Dough: Any baker knows that the key to a perfect loaf of bread is in the scoring. Scoring the dough allows the bread to rise evenly and prevents it from developing an unsightly crust. However, scoring dough can be a difficult task, especially if the dough is warm and sticky. Cold dough, on the other hand, is much easier to work with and results in a cleaner score. For best results, use a wet blade or razor when scoring cold dough. This will help the blade glide smoothly through the dough, resulting in a perfect score every time.
- Transporting Dough: When it comes to transporting dough, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, warm dough is more likely to lose its shape than cold dough. This means that you need to be careful when handling warm dough, and try to limit the number of times you have to touch it or move it. Second, each time you have to handle proofed dough, it will get pushed or pulled out of shape a bit. This can cause gas to escape from the dough, which is not good. Finally, cold dough is stiffer than warm dough, and this can make it easier to transport without losing its shape. So when transporting dough, be sure to keep these things in mind in order to ensure that your dough retains its shape and quality.
Warm Dough is Often Less Developed
Bread makers often use a slow-rise or cold-fermentation method to produce a bread with a higher gluten content.
However, this method has one major disadvantage: it can result in a flat or misshaped loaf of bread. This is because the gluten doesn’t have enough time to fully develop before the yeast starts to work.
While this may not be a problem for experienced bakers, it can be a challenge for those just starting out.
- Starting With Bread Flour: When it comes to baking sourdough bread, flour is an important ingredient. Bread flour, which is also known as high gluten or strong flour, has a higher content of protein. This protein turns into gluten when combined with water, and gluten helps the bread to rise. All-purpose flour can also be used for sourdough bread, but it may not produce the same results. The key is to start with a high protein flour and to add water gradually so that the gluten can form. With bread flour, you can expect delicious and fluffy results.
- Autolyse: When working with a recipe that will be completed from start to finish in warm temps, methods to accelerate gluten development are often needed. One common method is to add a small amount of vinegar to the dough. The acetic acid in the vinegar helps to break down the proteins in the flour, making them more elastic and easier to work with. Another popular method is to knead the dough for a longer period of time. This helps to further develop the gluten network, resulting in a more springy and responsive dough. Finally, many recipes call for using a higher-protein flour. This type of flour contains more gluten-forming proteins, which helps to ensure that the dough will be able to withstand the rigors of baking. By taking these steps, you can be sure that your recipe will turn out perfectly, regardless of the warm temps.
- Knead: The next time you make bread, try kneading your dough for a few extra minutes. Kneading helps to develop the gluten in the flour, which in turn gives the bread a better texture and allows it to rise more evenly. Although many recipes will call for a brief kneading, taking the time to really work the dough will result in a superior loaf of bread. In addition, kneading also helps to relax the muscles in your hands and arms, so it can be a great way to reduce stress while you bake. So don’t be afraid to put a little elbow grease into your next loaf of bread – it just might be the best one yet.
- Extra Folding: When it comes to baking bread, there are a few key things to keep in mind in order to ensure a perfect finished product. One of those things is the importance of extra folding. If you are working with a dough that requires a longer rise time, folding it more frequently can help to give the gluten the added punch it needs to keep up with the yeast. Yeast is a beast when it gets warm, and gluten needs to be given a fighting chance to keep up. This extra folding will also help to prevent the dough from becoming overdeveloped, resulting in a tough and chewy final loaf. So, if you want your bread to turn out perfect every time, remember to add in a few extra folds!
Warm Dough Proofs Faster Than Flavor Develops
If you’re a fan of sourdough bread, you might be wondering how to get more of that sourdough flavor.
The answer is simple: let the dough proof for a longer period of time. A long, cold proof will produce more flavor than a quick, warm proof. However, it’s important to note that a warm-proofed dough will still be delicious – it just won’t have as strong of a sourdough flavor.
If you’re looking to add more sourdough flavor to your bread, you can also add extra starter to the dough. Just be careful not to add too much, as this can cause the bread to be spongy. With a little experimentation, you can find the perfect balance of time and starter to create sourdough bread that is packed with flavor.
If I Want to go Cold, How Long Should I Let it go?
If you want to go cold, the sweet spot for flavor and development is between 12-24 hours. Our preferred time is 18 hours in the fridge. We find that our loaves have better color, flavor, and rise when we bake at around 18 hours into the cold-proof. Some suggest dough can go upwards of 36 hours in the fridge, but we find we start to get diminishing returns after 24 hours. So we do not advise going longer than that unless you need to, or are following a specific recipe that calls for it. If you want to go cold, how long should you let it go? Our advice is no longer than 24 hours, with 18 hours being the ideal timeframe. This will ensure your bread has the best flavor, color, and rise.