Refrigerating dough overnight is a useful technique for both home bakers and professional bakers. It allows you to make dough in advance and bake fresh bread and other baked goods the next day. Properly refrigerating dough overnight helps develop flavor and texture in the dough. Here are some tips on how to properly refrigerate dough overnight.
Why Refrigerate Dough Overnight?
There are several benefits to refrigerating dough overnight:
- Slower fermentation – The cold temperature of the refrigerator slows down the yeast activity and fermentation process. This allows more complex flavors to develop in the dough.
- Better flavor – The slower fermentation process allows the dough to develop more complex flavors from the yeast and sourdough cultures.
- Better structure – Refrigeration allows the gluten strands in the dough to relax and hydrate further, developing a better structure.
- Flexibility – Refrigerating dough gives you the flexibility to make fresh baked goods like bread, pizza, and pastries on your schedule.
The slower fermentation process that occurs when dough is refrigerated overnight results in better flavor, texture, and structure in the final baked good. It’s worth the extra planning and time to let dough cold ferment in the refrigerator overnight.
What Type of Dough Can Be Refrigerated Overnight?
Most basic yeast-leavened and sourdough bread doughs can be refrigerated overnight, including:
- White bread dough
- Whole wheat dough
- Rye dough
- Pizza dough
- Sweet doughs like brioche and challah
Richer doughs with eggs, fat, and sugar also generally hold up well to overnight refrigeration. Lean doughs without significant enrichment can over-proof in the fridge overnight and lose structure, so they do best with a shorter refrigeration time.
What Temperature Should the Dough Be Before Refrigerating?
The dough should be fully risen and ready for shaping before refrigerating. A good rule of thumb is to refrigerate dough once it has doubled in size from its original size after the initial mix and bulk fermentation. The temperature of the dough at this point is usually 78-82°F.
Refrigerating a dough that is still too warm can shock the yeast and sourdough culture, slowing fermentation too quickly. Allow dough to rise fully at room temperature before chilling it.
How Should You Prepare the Dough for Refrigeration?
Here are some tips for preparing dough for an overnight refrigeration:
- Do not punch down – Gentle fold or press down dough to deflate after bulking fermentation. Do not punch down aggressively.
- Portion dough – Divide dough into loaf pans or portions for shaping. Allow portions to relax 20-30 minutes before chilling.
- Shape loaves – Shape dough portions into balls or loaves for second proofing after refrigeration.
- Cover dough – Cover dough loosely with oiled plastic wrap so gases can still escape.
- Label – Label each container with dough type and date.
Preparing the dough gently for refrigeration will ensure the structure developed during fermentation is preserved overnight.
How Long Can Dough Be Refrigerated?
Most dough can be held refrigerated for 12-72 hours depending on the type:
|Maximum Refrigeration Time
|Lean doughs like pizza dough
|Enriched doughs like brioche
Sourdough and enriched doughs have more flavor complexity so they can cold ferment longer. Lean doughs have less structure so limit refrigeration time.
What Temperature Should You Refrigerate the Dough At?
For best results, refrigerate dough at 34-40°F. This maintains dough at optimal cold proofing temperature. Some tips:
- Use refrigerator’s main compartment – Crisper drawers may be warmer.
- Avoid opening refrigerator – Opening lets warm air in.
- Chill dough rapidly – Put dough in fridge immediately after preparing.
- Monitor temperature – Use a thermometer and adjust fridge temperature as needed.
Consistent cold proofing temperature prevents dough from warming and over-proofing.
Should the Dough Be Wrapped Airtight?
The dough should be covered but not wrapped airtight. Here are some tips:
- Cover dough loosely in oiled plastic wrap – This allows gases to vent.
- Use containers with lids – Cover bowl or pan with lid for more protection.
- Do not use airtight plastic bags – Can trap gases and cause dough to over-proof.
- Use parchment paper layers – Separate dough balls on parchment sheets if stacking.
Loosely covered dough gives gases room to escape and prevents dough from drying out in the refrigerator.
What Happens to the Dough as It Refrigerates?
Several things happen to dough during an overnight refrigerated proof:
- Yeast growth stops – The cold temperature stops yeast growth.
- Enzyme activity continues – Enzymes break down starches for more sugars.
- Fermentation slows – Sourdough and yeast produce acid and gases slowly.
- Flavors mature – Sourdough and yeast flavors have longer to develop.
- Gluten relaxes – Gluten network loosens up becoming more extensible.
The slower fermentation allows the dough to develop more complex flavors. The relaxed gluten creates better structure.
Should You Fold or Punch Down Chilled Dough?
In most cases, it is not necessary to repeatedly fold or punch down refrigerated dough. Some tips on handling chilled dough:
- Don’t punch down – Gluten has relaxed and degassing can damage structure.
- Gently fold once – Can fold enriched or wetter doughs once during refrigeration.
- Press down air pockets – Gently press out large air bubbles without massaging dough.
- Shape loaves gently – Handle dough delicately when shaping after chilling.
Overhandling chilled dough can damage the fragile gluten strands. Fold or press dough just enough to gently shape loaves.
How Do You Thaw Refrigerated Dough?
When ready to use, refrigerated dough must be thawed and warmed gently to avoid shock. Here are a few tips:
- Leave at room temperature – Let sit until dough warms to about 60°F naturally.
- Proof in warm area – Can place dough in warmer area around 80°F to proof.
- Fold dough – Fold dough over itself until pliable and soft.
- Cover dough – Keep dough covered as it warms to prevent drying out.
- Check often – Monitor dough temperature and rise so it doesn’t over-proof.
Rushing the thawing process can shock the dough. Gentle warming and folding helps wake up the yeast and relax the gluten before shaping.
How Do You Know When Thawed Dough Is Ready?
Look for these signs that refrigerated dough is ready to shape after thawing:
- Doubled in size – Dough should expand significantly during proofing.
- Springy – Poked dough will spring back slowly.
- Gassy – Many gas bubbles are visible throughout dough.
- Smooth and elastic – Dough is soft, stretchy, and passes gluten windowpane test.
- Warmed to room temperature – Dough should warm to about 70°F.
The thawed dough will have a noticeably airy and puffy appearance when ready. Handle the dough gently to maintain structure.
How Do You Shape and Bake Refrigerated Dough?
Shaping and baking refrigerated dough requires gentle handling. Here are some tips:
- Shape dough delicately – Handle dough gently and preserve gases.
- Allow shaped dough to proof – Let sit 20-40 minutes before final rise or baking.
- Score bread tops gently – Slash designs lightly with a lame blade.
- Use steam for oven spring – Mist loaf pans or oven walls.
- Bake at high temperature – Bake at 375-425°F depending on dough recipe.
Refrigerated dough should be light and airy after final proofing. Bake at high heat to maximize oven spring.
Troubleshooting Refrigerated Dough
If refrigerated dough exhibits any issues, try these troubleshooting tips:
|Refrigerate for shorter time or colder temperature
|Leave at room temperature longer before baking
|Fold dough gently to retain structure
|Proof dough longer after refrigeration
Make sure to control fermentation time and temperature as well as handle dough gently. This will result in properly proofed dough with good structure.
Storing and Freezing Leftover Dough
Only refrigerate fully fermented dough up to 5 days. For longer storage:
- Tightly wrap portions of shaped, unrisen dough in plastic wrap.
- Place wrapped dough in freezer bags and label with date.
- Freeze for up to 2-3 months at 0°F.
- Thaw dough overnight in refrigerator before using.
- Let dough come to room temperature before shaping and baking.
Well-wrapped frozen dough portions can be thawed and baked fresh weeks later.
Refrigerating dough overnight properly requires paying close attention to fermentation times and temperatures. Handle the dough gently to retain the beneficial structure developed during the retarding process. When done right, you’ll have bakery-quality artisan bread and pizza dough conveniently ready to bake anytime.
- Fully proof dough before refrigerating
- Chill dough at 34-40°F
- Loosely cover to prevent drying out
- Gently fold or press dough only as needed
- Thaw dough completely before shaping
- Shape, proof, and bake dough delicately
With the proper technique, refrigerating dough results in delicious homemade bread and viennoiserie with superior flavor and texture.