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Can You Refrigerate Bread Dough?

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Baking is one aspect of cooking that can be intimidating, especially for beginners. After all, with so many processes and steps involved, messing up seems unavoidable.

For instance one of the most common problems home chefs have when baking bread usually involves the dough. This hardly comes as a surprise. One of the most commonly asked questions that amateur home cooks have is about storing dough in the refrigerator.

Can you refrigerate bread dough? Yes, you can refrigerate bread dough, and in fact, this will often yield better and tastier results. However, as with everything else in the kitchen, there is a proper procedure that you need to follow.

This is what this bread dough refrigeration guide will explain. We’ll delve into the reasons why you would want to put your dough in the fridge and for how long. So, be sure to keep reading! 

Everything You Need to Know About Refrigerating Bread Dough

So before anything else, you need to understand that all types of bread dough are safe to refrigerate. This is done immediately after mixing your ingredients and kneading to create the dough.

Now, refrigeration serves a specific task: slowing the activity of the yeast without completely stopping it. 

While you are free to leave your dough at room temperature, you need to remember that it will rise much more quickly. However, by refrigerating the dough, you are giving your yeast has more time to do its job. This is called a slow and cold rise.

However, it is worth noting that leavened bread, the kind of bread which uses yeast or a sourdough starter in their recipes, needs to be proofed and allowed to rise twice. In both cases, it is highly recommended that you make full use of your fridge for the best results.

Materials to Prepare

To properly refrigerate your dough, make sure that you have all the kitchen equipment ready beforehand. After all, the art of baking is all about precision and efficiency. The last thing you want is to waste time fumbling for tools during the process itself.

That said, make sure you have the following on-hand:

  • Plastic Wrap
  • Self-Sealing Plastic Bag
  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Baking Sheet
  • Clean Towel
  • Oil

Fermenting Your Dough’s Yeast in the Fridge

The steps presented below should be done immediately after kneading the bread. For the best results, be sure to follow these steps closely:

  1. Place your dough in the large mixing bowl. Alternatively, you can also use a self-sealing plastic bag. Whichever method you choose, make sure that the container is lightly covered in oil to prevent the dough from sticking.
  2. If you are using a mixing bowl, cover it tightly with your plastic wrap. Make sure that it is completely sealed before placing it in the refrigerator. 
  3. You can leave the dough in the refrigerator for as long as 24 hours. When you need to use it, just take it out of the fridge, punch it down, and allow it to rest before shaping. 

This is the best way to refrigerate your dough during the first stages of baking. The time spent in the fridge will be the dough’s first rise.

After that, you can proceed to shape your dough into the desired shape. So, if you are making rolls, loaves, or other more complex shapes, then now is the perfect time to bring out the mold. 

Refrigerating the Risen Dough Before Baking

Now, a common question amateur cooks ask: can you refrigerate the dough after it has risen? Yes, you can put the dough in the refrigerator after proofing. In fact, doing so is a common practice among aspiring and professional bakers alike. 

As explained earlier, yeast is significantly more active at room temperature.

By chilling the dough, the refrigerator is effectively letting the yeast take its time. This is because lower temperatures lead to slower chemical processes. That said, the yeast is still alive and doing its job. This process is called retarding.

In simplest terms, the process of retarding, as its name suggests, slows down the dough’s final rise. That said, this is also the last step before the dough is ultimately put in the oven for baking.

So, follow these steps to properly retard your dough:

  1. Put your and arrange them on a bowl or a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. 
  2. Cover the dough using a clean towel. 
  3. Place it in the refrigerator. This final refrigeration process is often done overnight. To be more precise, we suggest leaving the dough in the fridge for at least 12 hours in order to give the dough enough time to rise and develop the complex flavors you want. 

That said, your dough can last much longer than that. To be more precise, you can leave it for as long as three days in your fridge and it will still be safe to use. However, just remember that if you want the best possible results, you should use your dough within 48 hours.

Benefits of Refrigerating Bread Dough

Now, you may be wondering why you should even bother with refrigeration in the first place. After all, you can let the bread dough rise in the span of an hour at room temperature. Some may find the process tedious and think it just prolongs the baking process.

Of course, in the art of cooking, quicker doesn’t necessarily mean better.

As the adage goes: good things come to those who wait. This rule certainly applies when you are handling raw bread dough as the additional waiting time will consistently yield a superior product.

Listed below are just some of the benefits of refrigerating your dough:

  • Better Tasting Bread – The prolonged rising time will only serve to increase the flavor of the bread. By slowing down your yeast, you are helping the dough develop deeper and more complex flavors.
  • Better Looking Bread – Aside from improving the taste of your bread, the longer proofing time also improves the way it comes out. In particular, it helps the crust develop a more vibrant and darker color as it comes out of the oven.
  • More Complex Textures – Other than taste and color, the texture is another important aspect of bread that we pay close attention to. This is true whether you realize it or not. After all, the bread’s texture is one of the first things you notice when you take a bite out of it. Needless to say, the extended proofing time in the fridge will help your bread achieve these.
  • Total Control Over the Baking Process – Refrigerating your dough also gives you the ability to approach bread-making at your own pace and with total control. After all, making bread in one sitting can take a long time and will likely eat up most of your day. By putting your dough in the fridge in the crucial stages, you get to pace yourself and learn the craft.
  • Efficient Use of Time – Putting things in perspective, time is often the biggest issue why people tend to avoid baking in the first place. Refrigerating your dough means being able to efficiently maximize your time. For instance, instead of using up 6 full hours of your day, kneading, mixing, and baking, you can instead opt to divide these different steps over the course of a whole weekend. 
  • Unparalleled Convenience – The best part of refrigeration is that it keeps food fresh for extended periods of time. This certainly applies to bread dough as well. This means that if you are interrupted during the baking process for any reason, you should have no trouble picking things up where you left them. After all, the process of refrigeration and retardation gives you all the time you need. This way, you can return to the cooking process without a hitch.

If we were to sum things up, we’d have to say that the best thing about refrigerating bread dough is the flexibility it grants and the superior quality of bread that it produces. It’s hard to argue with that.

Taking Your Dough Out of the Fridge

Once you have finished proofing your bread dough, you can then proceed to the baking process itself.

However, there are a couple of things you need to remember. Listed below are some of the things you should consider when you need to take your dough out of the fridge to bake it:

  • Do Not Bake With Cold Bread Dough –  Taking your cold bread dough directly to the oven for baking is a recipe for disaster. You need to ensure that you give the dough enough time to warm to room temperature. To do so, let it sit on the counter as you pre-heat your oven. 
  • Only Take Out What You Need – If you are not going to bake all the dough in your fridge, then only take out what you need. It would also be smart if you divided your dough into batches for added efficiency and less food waste. 

There you have it, everything you need to know about refrigerating bread dough. If you want your bread to be as tasty as possible, then be sure to follow the tips presented in this guide. Good luck and happy baking!

Up Next: Can You Freeze Sourdough Bread?

One Comment

  1. Thanks Jaron for the almost scientific details about refrigerating bread dough 🙂. Based on your suggestions, half of my doughnut dough is going to the fridge till tomorrow.

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