One of the most annoying parts about making bread at home is waiting for the dough to rise. This can take upward of an hour, and many people struggle to make it work with today’s busy schedules. That might leave you wondering whether you can leave bread dough to rise while you’re asleep at night.
If you put your bread dough in the fridge, you can leave it to rise overnight, yes. The cold temperatures will slow down the activity of the yeast, and prevent the dough from getting overfermented. Most dough can’t be left at room temperature for 8 hours or more, so don’t leave it out overnight.
In this article, we’re going to look at some top tips for making your bread dough’s rising time more flexible, and ensuring you still get a tasty loaf after all your hard work!
Why Refrigerating Your Dough Is Important
When you combine the ingredients necessary to make bread dough, you are creating a variety of chemical reactions, and these will take place much more quickly in a warm environment. One of the most important reactions is that of the yeast.
When the yeast is mixed with water and sugar, it begins to react and produces bubbles of carbon dioxide. These bubbles are what cause the dough to rise. However, the yeast will only produce these bubbles while it has enough food – predominantly sugar, but also starch. When it runs out of food, it will start to overprove, or overferment.
This will result in the dough collapsing, and the resulting loaf will be chewy, tough, and dense. It’s not desirable, and should be avoided if possible. That means that most kinds of dough cannot be left on the counter overnight, because the yeast will run out of sugar in less than 8 hours, and your dough will collapse.
However, if you put your dough in the fridge, you will massively reduce the speed with which the yeast uses up its sugars, and this means you can leave it for much longer periods before it will overferment.
Normally, you want bread dough to rise quickly, which is why most recipes recommend putting it in a warm place. However, if you don’t want to bake the bread until the following day, chilling it is the best option.
This can also make the bread taste better, because the flavors will have more time to develop. Some of the large molecules within the dough will break down, which releases their flavors and improves the bread. This is well worth considering if you’re interested in getting a truly delicious loaf.
Refrigeration becomes even more important if you’re working with enriched dough. This kind of dough usually contains milk or eggs, and these should be refrigerated. You don’t want to leave anything that contains milk out for hours on end, as it is likely to go off. You might end up with a bacteria-ridden loaf of bread.
See Also: Why Your Dough Keeps Cracking
Is It Safe Leaving Your Dough Out At Room Temperature?
This depends on the contents of the dough – as mentioned above, it might not be safe if the dough contains ingredients that usually need to be stored in the fridge. The risk is usually considered fairly low, but if you wouldn’t leave a cup of milk on the counter overnight, you shouldn’t leave dough that contains milk on the counter overnight.
More to the point, however, leaving your dough out like this will cause overfermenting, and will ruin the loaf. That’s true even of bread that contains only ingredients that are safe at room temperature (such as oil, water, flour, salt, and yeast). This kind of dough should not become unsafe to eat after being left on the counter, but it won’t make a good loaf either.
Overall, it’s much better to refrigerate the dough and remove all the risk of both bacterial infection and a ruined loaf. It takes little extra effort to move the dough to the fridge, provided you have enough space – but if you don’t, we’re going to look at some ideas for other storage solutions in the next section.
See Also: Why Your Dough Isn’t Rising
Where Can You Leave Your Dough To Rise Overnight?
As we’ve discovered, the fridge is the best place for storing your dough if you want to leave it to rise overnight, but you may not have enough space in there. After all, even a medium loaf is going to rise significantly while it’s in the fridge, and that means you need a large bowl. If your fridge is small or full, this can be a problem.
Fortunately, though, you might have a few other cool spots where you can place the dough to prove overnight. It doesn’t need to be perfectly chilled – it just needs to be cool! These suggestions will likely work best in winter, but you might be able to utilize them at other times of the year too.
Firstly, consider whether you have an open window you could put the dough beside. A chilly night breeze will help to stop the yeast from working too fast.
Alternatively, your porch or a conservatory may work reasonably well. These rooms tend to be cold at night because they often have stone or tile floors, and they are rarely heated. Placing the dough on the floor in this sort of room can be an effective way to keep it cool.
Another option is your shed, greenhouse, or any other outdoor, unheated building. These will usually be very cool at night, and should make the yeast work more gradually. Your car may also work well if it’s reasonably cold outside.
Of course, these tricks won’t be effective if you live in a hot country or it’s the middle of summer. If that applies to you, you unfortunately will need to make space in your fridge for the bowl, because putting the dough outside won’t work. You can’t store the dough in the freezer either, as this will stop the yeast from working entirely.
You do also need to think carefully about protecting the dough from contamination. If you have pets, make sure the dough is inaccessible by putting a heavy tray or another bowl on top of it.
If you’re going to put the dough outside, consider elevating it, storing it in a container with a lid, or putting a heavy tray on top of it. Wrap it tightly to reduce the smell of food and minimize the risk of it attracting animals.
If you need to leave your bread dough out overnight, here are a few other tips that may make the process easier.
Reduce The Yeast
Reducing the amount of yeast in the dough may increase the overall proving time, so if you know you’re going to let the dough rise overnight, try taking a little yeast out of your recipe. You may have to use some trial and error with this, as different recipes respond in different ways, but this is generally effective.
However, even with less yeast, you’ll need to make sure your dough is stored somewhere cold if possible, or it may still overferment.
Wrap The Dough Tightly
Over time, the dough will start to dry out, which means it’s really important to wrap it tightly or place it in an airtight container. You don’t want the outside to become dry, because it won’t make a nice loaf.
Some people wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap, but other people choose to use a Tupperware container with a lid. This will ensure the moisture stays inside the bread and prevent it from developing a leathery texture.
If you’re still struggling with dryness, lightly coat the outside of the dough ball with oil. This will stop moisture from being lost, protecting the dough.
Decrease The Portion Size
This is probably only going to be necessary if you’re making a lot of bread, but it’s worth looking at. If you put a large ball of dough in the fridge, it will take a long time to cool down, which means that the yeast in the middle will still be active for quite a while.
Splitting the dough into a few small balls will help to ensure that it cools quickly and thoroughly, and this reduces the risk of overfermentation. You can only do this for the first proof though, unless you plan to bake the dough in small portions.
How long does bread dough usually need to rise?
It depends on the temperature, but it will often take between 1 and 2 hours in a reasonably warm kitchen.
Do you need to warm chilled dough up before baking it?
You can bake dough straight from the fridge, but you may want to let it rise a bit at room temperature first. Assess this based on the size of the dough.
Bread dough can be left to rise overnight as long as it is chilled, so make sure you have enough room in your fridge, or in another cold space. This will ensure it doesn’t overprove and collapse before you can bake it.