Most bread recipes have five steps: mixing, bulk fermentation, shaping, proofing and finally baking. Bulk fermentation is the first rise of the dough. The second rise, or “proofing” is what I will address in this post. And there’s a secret . . .
Proofing takes place after the dough has been shaped. I use either a canvas lined bowl or a wooden banneton to hold my dough during proofing. While the bulk fermentation takes place at room temperature, I almost always proof my bread in the refrigerator. Why?
- Proofing bread in the fridge slows down the fermentation. Most of my breads are made with a sourdough starter (levain is a better word). A long proofing stage allows the acid producing bacteria in the levain to create a more developed tangy flavor than you would get if the bread just proofed for a few hours at room temperature.
- Slowing down fermentation in the fridge gives you much more flexibility as to when you can bake your bread. You have to go to work, right? Who has time for a seven hour recipe? Mix the dough when you get home from work. Let the bulk fermentation happen while you watch Netflix. Shape, put the loaf in the fridge and bake the bread when you get home from work the next day. Fresh baked bread for dinner!
- A long slow proofing may give the beneficial culture in a sourdough culture more time to pre-digest the flour. Researchers are looking at the possibility that sourdough cultures and long fermentation times may alleviate wheat allergies. There’s no solid proof of this but it makes intuitive sense to me.
- Loaves proofed in the fridge hold their shape better when baked.
Proofing in the fridge slows down but does not entirely stop fermentation. With the breads I make I’ve found that between 12 and 24 hours in the fridge is about right. Longer and you risk over-fermentation and having dough stick to the proofing basket/banneton.
And note that you don’t have to let dough proofed in the fridge come to room temperature. My dough goes straight from the refrigerator into the oven.