Dough temperature, the bakers obsession
If you’ve looked at any quality bread recipes or books you may have noticed that dough temperature is nearly always included.
An often asked question is whether it really matters. Do we really need to bother with temperature? Is it just for professional bakers or those pedantic and fanatic personality types? I’m sure those personality types would revel in those details, but that doesn’t necessarily mean bread dough temperature is not important. So how important is it for the home baker? To answer that question we should examine the role temperature plays in influencing fermentation and bread quality. Lets start with some fundamentals and elaborate from there.
Micro-organisms are highly dependent on their environment for well being. In a bread dough there are several environmental conditions that influence Micro-organism activity. They are:
- Hydration or water content
- Available food
- Fermentation time
- Seeding ratio
It’s self-evident that each of these environmental conditions can be controlled by the baker. For instance the amount of water in the recipe or formula can be either increased or decreased. The availability of food for the organisms can be varied by the use of different flour types and characteristics and so on. What’s less obvious to the uninitiated is that these factors also influence each other.
How much does temperature influence micro-organism activity? The short answer is – a lot!
But let me give you the slightly longer answer. For instance, bakers know that for every 1°C above or below the required dough temperature (RDT), dough ‘ripeness’ can be as much as 30 minutes either over or under the optimum. This means that if you’re expecting your dough to enter the oven at say 11:00 am, and the dough was 1°C below the RDT temperature, it really needs at least 30 more minutes of DTO time. Conversely, above the RDT by 1°C and it should be into the oven by 10:30 am if we are to achieve optimum ripeness. Of course, there is some tolerance which enables some leeway above and below, depending on your flour quality, the type of bread and the DTO time length. On this last point, the longer the DTO time the more things can go askew if the temperature is out.
Since certain temperature ranges favour micro-organism activity and enzyme activity, it’s important to control the process as much as possible to avoid over maturity or under maturity. Incidentally, extreme dough maturity can result in a bread with poor volume, poor crust bloom, poor flavour, poor mouth-feel and poor keeping qualities. So it’s no trivial matter.
Temperature & Gluten Development
Another important factor regarding temperature is that gluten development is also affected. At warmer temperatures gluten in bread dough exhibits less elastic properties. At cooler temperatures it exhibits more elasticity and even more stability. This being the case it becomes clear that optimum gluten development can be more difficult to achieve at either end of the temperature spectrum – warmer or cooler temperatures.
How To Calculate Required Water Temperature (RWT)
To influence the final temperature of a bread dough its obvious that a constituent ingredient will need to be introduced at a temperature that will, by virtue of its significant volume or weight, affect the whole. Since water is the most convenient to alter in temperature, bakers determine the required water temperature (RWT) for a dough with a given RDT.
So a simple thermometer and a simple method for calculating the temperature of the water is used.
There are several methods used by bakers:
- Major Factor method (MF)
- Simple Factor method (SF)
- Base Temperature method (BT)
The easiest method is the MF method, which allows the baker to determine RWT for a given RDT easily.
The MF is the sum of three temperatures:
- Flour Temperature (FT)
- Dough Room Temperature (DRT) or just room temperature. (RT)
- and finally the RWT.
Since the MF is static in value the FT and the RT, which vary from day to day, can be subtracted from the MF and yield the needed RWT.
One of the most often asked questions I get is “…..but how can I determine the MF for my kitchen?” It’s really quite simple with a bit of trial and error.
If we were to create a scenario it would go like this…
Prepare the ingredients and record the following
- Record the flour temperature (FT) e.g. 20°C
- Record the room temperature (RT) e.g 20°C
- Record the water temperature (WT) e.g. 16°C
Now make the dough as you normally would to the optimum development and finally record the finished dough temperature (FDT). It’s important to note that the mixing and kneading process will produce some friction and therefore will have a direct influence on the final dough temperature. This is one of the reasons the MF will vary from kitchen to kitchen.
For the sake of illustration lets assume your dough finished at 25°C and not the target temperature of 27°C. This will mean we must adjust our RWT with a Bakehouse Allowance (BA) by using the following rule:
- For every 1°C above or below a RDT of 27°C we add or subtract 1.5°C to the RWT.
For example if we apply the rule to our scenario where the target temperature of 27°C was not achieved but instead the temperature of 25°C resulted. We therefore apply it thus – 25°C is 2°C below 27°C we will add 2 lots of 1.5 or (2 x 1.5°C) = +3°C will be added to the RWT. Instead of 16°C our new RWT temperature will be 19°C.
This small figure of +3°C applied this way is referred to as the Bakehouse Allowance (BA). Our RWT will need a BA of +3°C.
This may need to be tried a few times until a consistency is born. Once a consistency is established the MF will be determined by the sum of the three temperatures listed in the calculation.
- flour temperature (FT) e.g. 20°C
- room temperature (RT) e.g 20°C
- The new water temperature (RWT) 19°C
Sum = MF ~ 59
This will then be the MF for your kitchen, mixing your dough for a given temperature. Assuming we find a consistency and apply it to our example above, our MF, in this case, it will be 59.
Thus, if we were making another dough with a RDT of 20°C and on that day, our FT was 18°C and our RT was 19°C, then we would calculate our RWT as 22°C.
FT = 18 RT = 19 + = 37 MF = 59 = 37 - RWT = 22°C ==> To finish at 27°C
However, since our RDT is 20°C or 7°C below 27°C we need to apply a Bakehouse Allowance (BA). Applying our 1 to 1.5 rule, 7 x 1.5 = 10.5°C for our BA and it will need to be subtracted from the usual RWT, in this case 22°C. So for this particular dough our RWT will be 22°C – 10.5°C = 11.5°C.
In baking we will come across formulas where a lower or higher RDT will be necessary. When that’s the case it’s just a matter of employing the same principle to the RWT as illustrated in the above example.
Don’t be discouraged by this appearing to be complex, it really isn’t, once you follow it a few times, it’ll be no more complex than adding up your grocery bill.
Good luck and enjoy not only the bread but the process of creating it from scratch!