Artisan Breads 1..2..3..      
                Techniques and Tips for your Easy Artisan Loaves
Rising/Proofing/Fermentation

“Baking is a relaxed art.  There is no step in the bread making process that cannot, in some
way, be delayed or moved ahead just a bit to make it more convenient to fit into a busy
schedule.”  -Bernard Clayton Jr. in The Breads of France

One of the best things about using the techniques described in this web site is the flexibility
afforded by proofing alternatives.  After the gluten strands have organized, proofing is
needed to allow the yeast to produce gas to give the dough its rise.  Like most
microorganisms, the time it takes commercial yeast to do its work is proportional to the
temperature.  Higher temperatures produce a faster rise,  and at lower temperatures the rise
takes  longer.  

The yeast will do its work in any reasonable temperature range, say 40 – 100 degrees
Fahrenheit, so manipulation of the room temperature will allow flexibility in rising times.  
With the basic white loaf for example, the following time & temperature combinations will
produce an equivalent rise, with the rate of rise doubling for about every 17 degree rise in
temperature.

Temperature, F        Time to Double in Volume
92 degrees                           1 hour
75 degrees                           2 hours
58 degrees                           4 hours
41 degrees                           8 hours

For example, if you want fresh baked bread for supper, you can form the loaf in the
morning before going to work, put it in the refrigerator all day and pop it in the oven when
you get home.  Or, you could form the loaf when you get home from work ,proof it at 85
degrees and then pop it in the oven.  The flexibility makes things easy.

While higher fermentation temperatures maximize gas production, lower temperatures
maximize development of the flavor components of bread, so
warmer is not necessarily
better when it comes to fermentation.
 Fortunately, a kitchen with a temperature in the
70-80 degree range provides a temperature that (for most types of bread) gives a good
balance of gas production and flavor development.

I don’t feel that there is one ideal temperature for rising dough.  The rising temperature
should be determined by the type of dough you are aiming for and the conveniently
available time and temperatures.  It makes no sense to rig up a proofing box and try to
ferment your dough at 92 degrees for 1 hour when a ferment of 2 hours at the temperature
of your kitchen is much more convenient.  That being said, don’t ignore the natural
variabilities of temperature in your house or apartment.  In the winter, the warmest spot in
your kitchen will be a nice comfy spot to ferment your dough.  In the summer, the
refrigerator or a cool basement may be the perfect place.

Back when I was young serious home bakers had to rig up some type of proofing box,
either a box that was heated slightly with a low watt bulb or a slightly warm oven.  My
mother would heat up water in the microwave, and then place the dough in the warmed
microwave with the warm water.  Nowadays though, yeast is better, kitchens are warmer,
and our thermometers are better, so the old proofing box just isn’t needed.

When using commercial yeast, water or milk warmed to 105-115 degrees will provide
enough warmth to the dough to keep it growing in a 70F kitchen or even in a 45 degree
refrigerator.  A secure cover will help keep the heat in also.

With regards to sourdough, a 70 F kitchen is the perfect temperature for a long slow rise.

Many recipes call for letting a dough rise until doubled or almost doubled.  This is a good
rule of thumb for breads made with all-purpose or bread flour, but may not happen with
whole grain breads or some pastry doughs. Instead, look for a dough that has risen a good
deal (buy not necessarily doubled and has lots of gas bubbles in the dough (this is why
clear containers are so nice for fermentation, as you can peek at the bottom to see how the
gas bubbles are forming.

When the barometric pressure is low (typically a stormy day), bread rises more quickly
than it usually does, since there is less resistance to air bubbles forming in the dough.  This
might explain why old-time sourdough bakers like to wait until a rainy day to get a new
sourdough starter going.

First Rise, Second Rise

Although most contemporary bakers use the terms rise and fermentation interchangeably.  
I’ll always refer to the resting period immediately after mixing up the dough as the first rise
(or first fermentation).  This is called the pointage by the French.  As discussed above, it
may take place at room temperature or at refrigerated temperatures.  

The second rise or proofing (called the Appret by the French) is the additional rising or
fermentation that takes place after forming a loaf, roll or pastry.  Again, this can take place
at room temperature or the refrigerator.  The length of the second rise may vary from a
few minutes at room temperature to several hours in the refrigerator.  Old-time recipes will
typically recommend a second rise of an hour in a warm place or rising until the dough is
doubled in size.  For most breads, waiting an hour or waiting for a doubling in volume isn’t
necessary.  Breads that are under-proofed can actually have more oven spring and the
length of the second rise doesn’t seem to affect the final loaf much either way.  In this
book I’ll list recommended lengths of time for the second rise but the length of the second
rise should be dictated by your schedule and preferences and not by my pronouncements
in the recipe.  Since my oven and baking stone take about 30 minutes to warm up, I’ll
typically take dough out of the refrigerator when I start to preheat the oven, form the
loaves, then start baking once the oven is warmed up.  Breads that are lower in moisture
(<65%) typically benefit from a longer second rise, while higher moisture breads do well
with shorter proofing.

Cover Up During Rising

To help protect dough from the draftiness and drying, dough should be covered during the
first and second rises.  Old timers use a damp cloth, but using a plastic container with a
fitting lid for the first rise is easier.  Among contemporary bakers, plastic wrap seems to
have replaced a damp cloth for the second rise.  One potential advantage of the damp cloth
is that evaporation from the cloth during the rise may help cool the dough a bit on a hot
summer day or when working in a steamy kitchen.

Rising Options on this Website

Most of the recipes on this site that are made with commercial yeast offer two options for
the first rise.  You may leave the dough at room temperature for the first two hours then
store it in the refrigerator until ready to use, OR you may refrigerate the dough immediately
then wait until at least 12 hours later to use it.  With the former option, the dough is fully
risen at the end of the two hours and refrigeration is an opportunity for the gluten to
develop more fully, organic acids to form to build up flavor and for you to bake at the time
of your choosing.  With the latter option, the first rise will take longer, so it is best to leave
it refrigerated for at least 12 hours prior to baking, to allow the fermentation process to
complete its task.  With the latter method, the dough may look slightly less risen when you
are ready to form a loaf, but no difference will be apparent in the final loaf.

The choice of rising method should be dictated by your schedule.  If you're mixing up a
batch of dough right before bedtime, just stick it in the refrigerator immediately after
mixing, and rest comfortably, knowing that the yeast will do its work overnight in the
refrigerator.  On the other hand, if you're mixing up a batch of dough at 10 am to be baked
at 5 pm, leave it out for 2 hours, then refrigerate it until you take it out at 4:30 pm.

Easier Dough Handling

Another advantage of refrigerating dough is increased ease of handling.  Compared to room
temperature dough, refrigerated dough is typically less sticky and easier to handle, even at
higher levels of moisture.
What do You Call this Process Anyway?

The toughest thing about writing this section
was deciding what to call it!  It seems like
everyone uses a different term for the reaction
mediated by yeast that causes the dough to rise.
Since I can never decide on a favorite term I'll
use the three terms rising, proofing and
fermentation interchangeably at random.