Storing dough in the fridge is a great way to extend the length of the rise, build more complex flavor, and save it from over proofing if you’re short on time.
I personally allow almost all of my dough to rise in the fridge since it improves it so much. This rise be anywhere from 16-72 hours depending on what bread I’m making and the amount of yeast I’m using. A longer rise allows for gluten to develop and the flavors to enhance. It’s definitely worth it.
Okay, so there’s plenty of good that comes from refrigerating your dough, but it can overproof if you’re not careful with your planning.
Dough can overproof in the fridge, but it’s unlikely to happen if you’re careful. The length of time that it can last before overproofing depends primarily on the quantity of yeast used. Assuming you don’t use too much yeast, a ball of dough can last up to a week in the fridge without over proofing.
Over proofing is when the yeast runs out of sugars and starches to feed on. This leads to the dough rising very little and not browning properly during baking. When too much yeast is added, they will eat up their resources very quickly and will therefore speed up the rise.
More yeast equals a faster rise, but it also increases the risk of the dough over proofing in a shorter window of time.
If you’re adding a lot of yeast to your bread dough and storing it in the fridge, it’s much more likely to overproof faster than normal. Make sure that you’re using an appropriate amount of yeast for the length of time that you plan to store it. Less is best for longer rising times.
Keep in mind that dough will still rise with a tiny quantity of yeast, but it will take considerably longer.
How Long Can You Keep Dough In The Fridge?
When talking about how long your dough will last before over proofing, it can be anywhere from a day to a week or so depending on the amount of yeast used. The less yeast and the colder the fridge, the longer the dough will last.
The length of time a ball of dough can last before going bad will vary depending on the ingredients used.
Basic dough that consists of just flour, water, salt, and yeast, will have the longest life in the fridge and can go on for up to a week with some yeast activity remaining. Longer than this and the yeast’s food supply will be depleted, but it will still be bread dough that’s perfectly fine to bake and eat if you wanted to. Keep in mind that it wouldn’t rise if you decided to bake this.
Enriched dough that contains additional ingredients such as milk and eggs will have a shorter life since it contains ingredients that can spoil easily. Whilst there can still be yeast activity after around a week, ingredients such as milk can go bad quickly, so it’s not advisable to bake and eat enriched dough after it has been in the fridge for more than 5 days.
If you do decide to eat enriched dough after this period of time, you’re doing so at your own risk. Enriched dough is ideally baked on the day of mixing or at least on the second day.
To be clear, certain ingredients such as sugar, oil, or butter aren’t going to spoil easily, so any dough that contains these will be able to last for a good amount of time.
Tips For Storing Your Dough In The Fridge
Although it might seem like fairly simple stuff to store your dough in the fridge, there are some pretty simple mistakes that can end up ruining the dough.
In most cases, your dough is going to be just fine when you put it in the fridge, but you still need to be careful and keep these tips in mind.
Use Less Yeast For A Slower Rise
One of the main reasons to store your dough in the fridge is to slow the rise considerably. Whilst the cold temperature definitely does slow it, it’s still wise to cut back on the yeast too.
Adding less yeast to the dough means that the rate of gas production will decrease, which results in the dough rising even slower.
In most cases, you want this slower rise if you’re planning on refrigerating your dough for any more than 24 hours.
If you’re using a standard amount of yeast in your dough, you’re risking it rising too quickly, especially if it goes in the fridge when it’s warm. During the first couple of hours, the dough may still have some warmth to it, so it’s likely to continue to rise more than you’d expect.
Of course, the rate of your dough’s rise is dependent on the temperature of your refrigerator too. The colder the temperature, the slower it’ll rise.
Use An Appropriate Container
Both container material and size matters here.
There’s a lot of debate on the internet regarding the safety of plastic containers when it comes to storing many kinds of foods.
Whilst many do use plastic containers for rising their dough, I’m not one to do so. I prefer to use metal or glass containers/baking vessels for food.
Make sure that its size appropriate too. Factor in the room for rising and ensure that it’s going to be able to fit in your fridge.
Keep It Airtight
Keeping the surface of your dough moist is essential for making sure that it rises properly and doesn’t dry out.
The last thing you want is for the surface of your dough to be as tough and dry as leather, but that’s precisely what you’ll get if you don’t keep it properly covered.
Whether you want to use plastic wrap or an airtight lid, it’s an absolute necessity to have something that prevents it from drying out if you want to make quality bread.
Keep An Eye On It
You should keep a careful eye on the dough during the first few hours after putting it into the fridge. The dough often continues to rise during this time, and it can rise too much/too quickly if it doesn’t get chilled fast enough.
I’d recommend checking on it every 30 minutes to make sure it’s not rising too fast. It should be rising very slowly once it chills to the temperature of the fridge, so you won’t have to worry about it after a few hours.
If you notice that it has risen too quickly and close to double in size, you should take one of two steps depending on your situation. If it’s just on its first rise, you can punch it down, reshape it into a ball, and put it back in the fridge until its ready. On the other hand, if it’s on its final proof and fully risen, you’ll want to bake it soon or you risk it over proofing.
It’s Safer To Refrigerate On The First Rise, Not The Second
Whilst you can successfully make good bread if you’re proofing your shaped dough in the fridge and baking it right away, it’s a lot easier and safer to just stick your dough in the fridge for its first rise.
This means that if it does collapse/overproof, you’ll still be able to shape it and bake it as normal. If your dough collapses/over proofs on the final rise in the fridge, it will be more of a problem.
The dough can be proved either way, but it is much easier to put it in the fridge for its first rise.
Is It Better To Refrigerate Your Dough On The First Or Second Rise?
So it’s well established that refrigerating dough does some great things to its texture and flavor, but what’s not established is whether it is better to allow it to rise on its first rise, second rise, or both.
Since the main purpose of refrigerating the dough is to slow the rise and develop more flavor, it doesn’t technically matter when you refrigerate it. As long as the dough has a long rise, it’s going to get results.
With that said, it’s more forgiving if you refrigerate it during the first rise since it won’t be a big problem if the dough collapses. It can just be shaped and proved as normal after all.
It’s perfectly fine to refrigerate it on the second rise, but you’re going to be disappointed if you leave it for too long. If it collapses in the bread tin/baking vessel, it’s not always easy to reshape and reproof it.
You should be able to refrigerate your dough during both the first and second rise if you wanted to, but it’s not necessary at all. Instead of doing this, it’s much easier to just refrigerate the dough for a longer time on the first rise and have the final proof at room temperature. You’ll still develop great flavor.
Whether you refrigerate your dough on the first or second rise is up to you. Some dough is chilled primarily on the first rise, some on the second, and some on both. What you do should just be your preference, but it would be a good idea to experiment so you can know what each method is like.