When the temperatures outside are freezing, there are few better activities than baking bread. The heat of the oven combined with the wafting aroma of the bread is incredible. Yet you’re not the only one to be impacted by the lower winter temps, as your bread dough is as well. How do you ensure you get high-quality bread whenever you’re baking in cold weather?
The following 4 hacks are some of the best for cold-weather bread-baking:
- Use warmer water than usual
- Wrap your bread in a towel
- Add more leavening agent
- Proof your bread in a proofing box or in your oven
You really need to take into account your environment when baking, especially bread with yeast. By your environment I mean you need to take into account the following:
your room temp first and foremost. Then if you have a stone counter you will notice that it is much colder than usual during the winter months. Your bowl temperature and even your ingredients will also be several degrees colder in the winter than during summertime.
If you haven’t heard of these awesome bread hacks before, then you’re going to want to keep reading. In this article, we’ll cover all 4 hacks in more detail, including actionable tips so you can bake bread successfully no matter the season!
Baking Bread in the Winter? Make Sure You Check Out These 4 Great Baking Hacks
Use Warmer Water for Your Bread Dough
The main problem with baking bread in colder weather is that it takes much longer for your bread to reach its ideal proofing temperature. That’s 72 degrees Fahrenheit or 22 Celsius, more or less.
Yet since it may be more difficult for the bread dough to reach that optimal proofing temperature of about 72 degrees, you can help it along by increasing the temperature of the water you for your dough.
Your water temperature typically varies during the winter and summer months. As your pipes in the winter months are much colder than during summer so is your water.
During winter months not only your water is colder but also all of your other ingrediants.
you’ll want to use water that’s about 75 degrees Fahrenheit or 24 degrees Celcius. This is room temperature water or just slightly lukewarm. Not hot water. These couple of extra degrees will help balance out the rest of your ingredients and after mixing your dough should increase in temperature due to friction as well.
Cover Your Bread Dough in a Towel
Another hack you can try that is a lot easier than pulling out your phone calculator to do all that math is to take a tea towel and put it over your bread dough. Then you wait for it to rise.
This is probably something you already do already when baking bread, or at least, it should be. A towel will prevent dust from forming on the top layer of your bread dough, which yes, can happen. Also, the top of the dough won’t dry out, forming an unappealing crust.
Since the weather outside is particularly chilly, the best reason to cover your bread dough this time of year is to insulate it. Cold drafts can’t get through to your bread as easily, which will allow it to stay at the ideal temperature of 75 Fahrenheit or 24 Fahrenheit degrees, give or take.
If you didn’t already know, when your bread dough is exposed to too much cold, it takes far longer for it to rise. You want to do all you can to prevent that from happening.
You don’t necessarily have to use a tea towel if you don’t have one handy or if it isn’t clean. Plastic wrap is another easy to cover your bread dough. Some particularly inventive bakers have even used a clean, fresh shower cap, putting it over the bowl with the dough inside!
Boost the Quantity of the Leavening Agent
Here’s another handy hack for baking bread in the cold: add more leavening agent! A leavening agent or a rising agent can be one of three different types. The first is steam, then a combination of baking powder and baking soda, or yeast.
Steam, which acts as a vaporous type of leavening, occurs when your oven hits 212 degrees. The water within the dough becomes a vapor. As this happens, the volume of the steam increases by 1,500 times. You’re more likely to see steam used as a leavening agent with choux pastry or puff pastry than bread, but it is an option.
By combining baking powder and baking soda, you get a chemical reaction that works as a leavening agent. That’s due to acidity of the baking powder, which interacts with the much less acidic baking soda. The gas produced from this chemical reaction is carbon dioxide.
If you’ve ever followed a quick bread recipe, then the leavening agent it called for most certainly was a mix of baking powder and baking soda. All it takes is honey, molasses, sour cream, yogurt, lemon juice, or buttermilk to get the baking soda ready to react.
Baking powder needs a bit of wetness to react, which it does twice over. First, the baking powder is activated through the chemical exchange with the baking soda. Then, when you put the bread dough in the oven, the baking powder again gives off more gas as it’s exposed to the heat.
By far the most common leavening agent for baking bread is yeast. When you feed yeast a source of sugar, it begins fermenting, releasing carbon dioxide as it does. With instant dry yeast, you can skip the proofing and add it right to your flour, and with active dry yeast, you have to proof it first.
Since leavening agents encourage the bread dough to rise, upping their quantity should speed up the amount of time you have to wait for your dough to proof. That should be true even if the weather is cold out.
Just do be sure you don’t use too much leavening agent. Overdoing it on the baking powder will affect the taste of your dough, giving it an unappealing bitter flavor.
From personal experience I only use yeast or any other version of it such as fresh yeast, sourdough starter or even instant yeast. There is something off for me in bread made with baking soda. It misses that earthy flavor or fermented taste.
Proof Your Bread in a Proofing Box or Oven
We said we’d get back to proofing your bread, and our last hack is a doozy. Instead of proofing your bread with some time and patience, speed things up with a proofing box.
A proofing box, also known as a warming chamber, induces humidity and slowly rises the temperatures so your yeast can ferment faster and the dough can rise. Brod & Taylor’s proofing box is a favorite of this blog; that link will take you to a review of the product.
What’s nice about the Brod & Taylor proofing box is that you can put in two pans of bread at once so now you can proof twice as quickly. Make sure your proofing box is set to at least 86 degrees, as you’ll get the best fermentation at that temperature. An external thermostat can confirm your proofing box’s temperature so you know your dough is ready.
Don’t have a proofing box? Or maybe you ordered the Brod & Taylor, but it’s not here yet. In the meantime, your oven can double as a proofing box. To use it this way, take your top oven rack and put it in the middle of the oven. Underneath that, add a cake or loaf pan.
Next, put your bread container on your middle rack. In the pan beneath the bread dough, add boiling hot water, 3 cups. Then, turn your oven light on and close the oven door. The heat from the water will rise up to your bread dough’s container, helping the dough proof.
Managing your heat is important when proofing your dough in either of these ways. Too much heat can cause the dough to proof faster than anticipated, possibly spilling out the top and over the sides of its container.
Unusual tricks and hacks I encounter over the years
Here are some creative ways I’ve either heard or read about where home bakers try to balance out that temperature during the winter months. I have not tested or tried them but just by reading them, I believe these would work. You are welcome to try them out and let me know how it turned out 🙂
- Heat some water in a bowl and place your proofing bread next to it. ( I would just place your bread in the oven with a light on and add a bowl of boiling water. )
- Proof your dough over your dryer while it’s on! ( I guess your drier would emit heat so it could work. Let’s hope the dryer does not shake too much or your proofing dough may collapse )
- Other objects that radiate heat and can help your dough proof – near your radiator, your refrigerator, or even your computer.
- This one is drastic: let your dishwasher work for a few minutes and then stop it. After the water, stops dripping place your dough on the rack to proof.
- Put your proofing dough in a Dutch oven and wrap the Dutch oven with an electric blanket.
Baking in the winter is actually much easier than in the summer months. During summer the dough can get out of hand where in the winter you have much more time and control over the dough.
You will notice this to be true after you have gone over a full year cycle baking the same recipe during winter and summer. You will then gain the expriance to be able to adjust to the summer heat or the cold winter weather.