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Do the Thermo-Dance

with 14 comments

A time has come that my hunt for better brread coming out of the kitchen oven will take paths bordering on professionalism. Employing techniques formerly thought of being only useful to the pro baker, is no longer a luxury for me but just the next step forward. Yes, yes, and let it be known that I will no longer accept the ridiculously unprecise ‘warm water’ in bread recipes!

Well. Of course, that is perfectly acceptable in any baking book, but it is important to note that adjusting and monitoring dough temperature is a powerful (and standard) tool for bakers who wish to reach the best quality of their bread and maintain it. Why?

-Dough temperature relates to proofing times. A baker who keeps the doughs at a certain temperature, can expect them to ferment at the same speed, given the same ambient temperature. A sound prediction what is going to happen makes timing effective and the following actions more efficient.

-There is an ideal dough temperature for every dough. Is it too cold, it will be sluggish, is it too warm, it will also be rendered unresponsive, even before the yeast cells die. Somewhere in the middle is perfect. (The axes in the diagram from a former post could just as well be labelled ‘dough temperature’ (x-axis) and ‘volume’ (y-axis). A curve of this shape is a fundamental thing in nature because many processes – biological, psychological, economical, whatever – have a saturation point, a point of doom. If an average person drinks a small glass of red wine each day, her health points will go up, but if she drinks more than that health goes down again. Etc. etc.)

Taking temperatures with an analogue meat thermometer can be tricky though. In the picture at the top a couple of fallacies are illustrated already:

-Thermometer is sticking halfway out of the substance, we want to take the temperature of; here: flour. Even under the surface of the mass of flour the probe is not enclosed totally by it. Reading will be inaccurate.

-Photo’s perspective on the thermometer is not parallax-free. Temperature shown by ‘naive’ reading: ~24.8°C, but actual temperature shown on the thermometer: 22°C

Solution? Hm. Switch to a more precise, preferably digital, thermometer might be an option. But then the fun can begin. Look for temperatures around 25°C, more precisely, taking into account the ingredients:

i) Cool doughs (22°C – 25°C): 100% wheat or spelt
ii) Moderately warm doughs (25°C – 27°C): More than 20% and less than 50% rye
iii) Warm doughs (27°C – 30°C): More than 50% rye
iv) Very warm doughs (30°C – 32°C): Rye meal breads

To obtain the desired temperature, the handy formula

2 x T_d - T_f = T_w

can be used, where
T_d = Desired dough temperature
T_f = Temperature of the flour in = Ambient temperature if storing the flour away from cool or hot spots
T_w = Temperature of the liquid to add

(All temperatures in °C. Temperature is an ‘intensive’ property, i.e. not additive, this formula is only an approximation. Simple sums or subtractions of temperatures are usually rather useless, unless you’re changing the scale from °C to Kelvin for example)

Example: We’re making a dough with 40% rye flour. Desired temperature: 27°C. Ambient temperature is 21°C. So the temperature of the water should be 2 x 27°C – 21°C = 33°C. If we’re using a pre-ferment like rye sourdough, minor adjustments may be needed.

Breads made with the best temperatures will follow. I am expecting better results. Plus, fiddling around with a thermometer adds another shade of comical value to the home-baking effort, it becomes a waltz around the bowl of dough.

Written by theinversecook

15 April 2009 at 15:17

14 Responses

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  1. Fine, you’ve impressed me.

    I normally measure the inner temperature of my baked loafs to check for doneness, but never ventured to read the temperature in my flour… well, now I recall to do it sometimes with the water. And in summer I use water I keep in the fridge, my kitchen has a southern exposure, a real one.


    15 April 2009 at 15:28

    • Taking temperatures in a flour bag is geeky, I must accept that (knowing ambient temperature suffices). I wonder where this quest for ideal dough temperature will take me. There is a certain limit of manual and theoretical excercise I am willing to put into this :-)


      17 April 2009 at 00:34

  2. i should try this :)

    artikel kesehatan

    16 April 2009 at 12:14

    • Yes! :-)


      17 April 2009 at 00:40

  3. Boy, what have I started? My new shiny thermometer is still in the package, but I will put it together as well my notes from school regarding temperatures!


    16 April 2009 at 15:40

    • The thermometer, the rye book – I think you are going to open that bakery.


      17 April 2009 at 00:43

  4. Ich verspreche, ich werde mich bessern!


    16 April 2009 at 22:19

    • Ja, das ist die Frage, ob es eine Verbesserung ist, nicht? Vielleicht Verschlimmbesserung…


      17 April 2009 at 00:39

  5. He this is very interesting. I’m just starting to bake, bought some books but for me (sorry but of a nerd i guess but think that is allright regarding the fact that you’re temperaturing flour ;-) )they are not clear enough. DOn’t you think that the more important thing is to control the dough temperature during fermentation and how can one do that? The fridge is to cold……. Or you should use longer fermentation times. Are there any formulas for that? I guess it also depends on the yeast you are using. Interested in what more is coming on this subject.


    18 April 2009 at 20:23

    • Hi Mart,
      keeping dough temperature exactly 24°C is not a problem if, say, the fermentation is only an hour.Make the dough 25°C and it will quite probably be around 24°C at the end of the hour. For longer rising times, e.g. with the Detmolder technique of building a sourdough it’s trickier, I agree. For French white country breads or baguettes, a lower temperature of 21°C is recommended, which in my case happens to be ambient temperature. A long cool rise is perfect for using the weaker flours like French T55 or Germany Type 550. I do think that rye breads will be better with a warmer rise, rye meal dough being around 32°C ideally.



      19 April 2009 at 18:03

      • Hi Nils,

        Thanks for that. Not sure if i will be banned from your site if i tell you i’m in a no knead phase ;-) Guess if have to ‘master’ dough, meaning hwne is the dough ready to face the oven. I’m going to do some more digging on your great blog. Thanks.


        25 April 2009 at 13:45

        • ban! :-)

          No, I baked the no knead bread from the NY Times recipe. If I had it when I started to bake bread, it would have helped me a lot because it giuves an almost instant success. But I think for the flexibility and easiness it offers, it lacks a bit in control over dough properties.

          No knead pros:
          – Good crust
          – Easy

          No knead cons:
          – Crumb has strong fermentation aroma
          – Adaptability to sourdough techniques is limited (excessive acidity)

          No-knead bread in a cooled environment like the fridge makes sense to me though. Then again, the resulting breads may taste very much alike (imo)


          27 April 2009 at 01:22

          • Hello Nils,

            Thanks, your comment is uplifting :-)) I do agree about the taste and the control. But have to begin somewhere and the bread in the shops here (near Perugia) is terrible. I’m aiming for good sourdough be it french or German (im Dutch) Before i set of on an avelanche of questions let me say i’m using other flour. I’m in Italy at the moment and i make a sicillian no knead bread, i think it is from breadtopia. Not always happy with the result. First time i had a great crust nowadays i have a great crust wich goes ‘stale’ less though. I’m also making focaccia (have to start somewhere) i saw on your blog a recipe for pizza dough wich spends a long time rising. Would that be usable for Focaccia?


            27 April 2009 at 20:20

            • Yes, I think it would make a good Focaccia. Is it the one using the fridge? I would chill the dough. I made this recipe with good results a few times now (Direct link to pdf), it’s from a German baking site:

              – 100% strong white flour
              – 72% warm water
              – 1.5% fresh yeast
              – 2.3% salt

              Mix to a smooth dough, let rest 1.5 hours, stretch and fold once after 45% minutes. Put in fridge overnight. Rest for 30 minutes at room temperature, then shape. Proof for 1-2 hours, bake at 240°C, time depending on dough size.

              That’s a French style country bread with open crumb and hearty crust. An excellent example on how the fridge can be used to develop more flavor and also make a relatively quick bread (not counting the fridge time).


              29 April 2009 at 14:43

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