Refrigerating your dough for an extended period of time is a game-changer in the bread-baking world. Once you go from making bread in a day to making it in two or three, you’ll notice that it becomes much better.
Dough can be put in the refrigerator to slow the rise dramatically and improve the flavor of the bread. The cold temperature slows the activity of the yeast, which leads to a slower production of gas and therefore a slower rise.
Most beginner home bakers aim to get fast rising times so they can make their bread as fast as possible. This is good in some eyes, but many experienced bakers know that allowing the dough to rise for a long time will lead to bread with a much more complex and addictive flavor.
This method of slowing down the dough’s rise is commonly known as ‘retarding’ the dough.
Some of the best bread you can get goes through some form of cold fermentation period since this is what boosts the bread’s flavor.
Why Refrigerate Bread Dough?
There are a few reasons why you might want to go ahead and refrigerate your dough. Refrigerating your dough slows the rise dramatically, but this generally isn’t what makes people want to do it.
You see, when the dough rises very slowly, the yeast gets busy and gets more work done. The yeast gets to work by breaking down the starch in the dough, which improves the flavor of the bread and makes it more complex, so a long rise is desired by many bakers.
This isn’t the only benefit you get from refrigerating the dough though. With the long rise, the gluten will develop more and strengthen over time. This extra gluten development helps to make your dough more elastic and can improve the texture of your bread.
Another great thing about refrigerating dough is that it can save your dough from over proofing if life ever gets in the way.
If you ever don’t have time to bake your dough on the day, you can just put it in the fridge for a day or more without having to worry about it.
What You’ll Need To Refrigerate Your Dough
The refrigerator is quite a harsh environment for dough if it’s not stored properly. If you don’t take good care, you risk the surface of your dough drying out and developing a similar texture to leather. You want to avoid that, trust me.
In order to keep your dough in the best condition possible, you want to store it in a somewhat humid environment. This can easily be done by making sure that the dough is stored in an airtight container. Be sure that the dough is completely airtight or the moisture will be pulled from the surface of the dough.
Here’s what you can use to store your dough:
- Large Bowl or Container
- Plastic Wrap
Instead of a bowl/container and plastic wrap, you can use a large bowl/container with an airtight lid for the same results.
The process of refrigerating your dough is very easy once you have everything on hand. Here’s what you need to do:
- In a large bowl or container, add a drizzle of oil and spread it around. This can be done with your fingers or with a kitchen towel.
- Form your dough into a ball and put it into the oiled bowl. To help prevent drying and sticking, toss the dough around in the oil to coat it completely.
- Take your plastic wrap and tightly cover the top of the bowl. You may want to add two or three layers if you don’t get an airtight seal initially.
- Put your dough in the fridge and be patient.
It really is that easy. The oil is to help prevent drying and sticking so you can get the dough out easier, but it’s not necessary if you’ve got the right dough tools to get it out of the bowl/container without making a mess and tearing the dough.
All you have to do now is wait, but keep an eye on it within the first few hours to make sure that it doesn’t rise too quickly. If you notice that it gets to double in size very fast, you may want to punch it down and allow it to rise again.
Can You Refrigerate Dough Before It Rises?
Some believe the misconception that putting dough into the fridge stops the rise completely. This is understandable since so many beginner recipes imply that dough can only rise in warm environments. Fortunately, this isn’t the case and dough can continue to rise in the fridge.
Dough can be put in the refrigerator before it has risen. The cold temperature only slows the rise rather than stopping it completely. Your dough will rise completely within 12-24 hours depending on how much yeast you use and the temperature of your refrigerator.
You can go straight from kneading your dough to proofing it in the fridge if you want. It’s as easy as forming the dough into a ball and throwing it into an airtight container in the fridge. Leave it alone for a few hours and you’ll notice that it has started to rise.
Can You Refrigerate Fully Risen Dough?
Once your dough has risen, it might seem like it’s close to over proofing, but you might not have to worry about it.
If you can’t reshape your dough or bake it right away, you should be able to get away with putting it into the fridge for a short period of time.
Dough can be placed into the fridge to drastically slow the rise once it has fully risen. You should avoid leaving it for too long as it’s at a higher risk of over proofing. Chill the dough as fast as possible for the best results. This is best done with a small volume of dough.
When working with a large volume of dough, it will still likely continue to rise in the fridge since it will take a while for the center to chill completely. This can cause the dough to overproof, so you should make sure to only refrigerate small quantities of dough.
Of course, it can still be done with a lot of dough, but it’s important to keep a close eye on it in case it does come close to over proofing. Since the dough has fully risen, it won’t be able to be kept in the fridge for as long as unrisen dough, since it will overproof/collapse faster.
The duration of time you can store it in the fridge is dependent on the quantity of yeast you use and the temperature of the fridge, so it’s not possible to give you an exact timeframe, but it’s smart to check at least every hour for the first few hours and every few hours after that.
Is It Better To Refrigerate Bread Dough On The First Or Second Rise?
The main purpose of refrigerating bread dough is to extend the duration of the rise, which allows for more activity on a microscopic level. This extra time allows the dough to continue to develop into something that’s going to make better bread.
Since all you need to do is extend the rise of the dough, it can be put in the fridge on whichever rise you want. When you refrigerate your dough is down to personal preference, but I’m going to tell you why I think refrigerating it on the first rise is better (for most dough).
Refrigerating On The First Rise Is Easier And Less Problematic
The great thing about refrigerating on the first rise is that you’re going to save yourself the pain if you mess up.
If you leave it too long so it ends up rising too much and collapsing, you can just get on with the recipe. It doesn’t matter if the dough has collapsed (unless the yeast has run out of food) because you’re going to be shaping it and proofing it again anyway.
If the dough was to collapse during the final proof after shaping, it’s a lot more of an issue since you have to reshape it and reproof it. At this point, the yeast may run out of starches to consume, which will mean that it can’t rise.
Once the dough has had a successful first rise, you just need to take it out of the fridge and let it warm up before shaping it and allowing it to proof at room temperature until it’s ready to bake.
In my personal opinion, your dough should be put in the fridge during the first rise since it’s so much easier. This is especially best for beginners who aren’t confident in terms of knowing when the final rise is ready. If you have a little more experience, there’s no problem in at least trying refrigerating your dough on the second rise.
Generally speaking, the first exception to this that comes to mind is a classic sourdough loaf that is proofed in a banneton. When making a sourdough loaf, it’s common to bulk ferment (first rise) your dough at room temperature in a bowl before shaping, being placed in a banneton basket and allowed to proof in the fridge overnight.
Of course, like any dough, this doesn’t need to be put in the fridge at all, but you create much more superior results by doing so.
Tips For Refrigerating Your Dough
Although refrigerating your dough is fairly simple, there are still some tips that might help you make better bread.
Here are some of the things that will be useful to know when it comes to refrigerating your dough.
Use Less Yeast
Since your dough is going to be rising for a long time, there’s no reason to add a normal amount of yeast. Assuming that you’re using the standard 7g packet of dry yeast, you’ll be able to cut this by 50-80% and still get great (or better) results.
Using less yeast will further slow the rise, which will allow the dough to develop much more flavor. You’ll be sure to notice a difference when using less yeast in your bread.
If you’re not that patient, you can either keep the same amount of yeast or just cut it down by around 25%. This will give you similar rising times, but you’ll still get better flavor.
Keep An Eye On It During The First Few Hours
If you have a large amount of dough and/or it’s warm, it will most likely take a while to reach the temperature of your fridge.
During the time in which your dough is chilling, the yeast may remain somewhat active, so it can still rise fairly quickly. It’s a good idea to keep a close eye on the dough every 45-60 minutes or so for the first few hours so that you can see if it’s rising too fast.
If it has risen too much, you can just punch the dough down and let it rise again. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re using less yeast in your dough.
If you’re worried about this, you can split your dough into smaller dough balls and put them into individual containers. This allows them to chill faster and therefore rise more slowly.
Let It Warm Up Before Trying To Shape It
You won’t have much luck trying to shape any cold dough. You’ll quickly figure this out for yourself when you feel it straight from the fridge. When the dough is chilled, the gluten tightens, so it won’t stretch much and will tear much more easily.
It’s always wise to let the dough sit at room temperature for 30-90 minutes so that it can warm up. The amount of time you need to leave it to warm up for will vary depending on the temperature of the room and the volume of the dough.
Once it’s warmed up sufficiently, you’ll be able to easily shape it into whatever you want since the gluten will be relaxed and much more elastic.