What is Cold Fermentation Dough

Did you know that in addition to standard dough fermentation at room temperature or in a warm environment (such as oven proofing), there is also cold fermentation?

When you knead the dough and leave it to ferment at room temperature, the yeast starts to “work” very quickly, stimulated by the heat and humidity. Yeast consumes the sugar in no time, coming very quickly to the point where fermentation is over and gases are no longer produced. 

However, when you put the dough in a cold environment, such as a refrigerator, the fermentation process slows down. The yeast works longer and slower and it produces carbon dioxide for a longer period of time, which gives the dough more flavor and a rich texture.

What are the factors that affect dough fermentation?

Several factors affect the fermentation of the dough and the most important are the following:

  • Temperature and humidity
  • Yeast quality and quantity
  • The type of flour you use
  • Amount of sugar and salt
  • Dough preparation

Tip: When preparing the dough for cold fermentation, you do not have to add sugar to the yeast to induce a reaction. The sugar from flour will be enough. A smaller amount of yeast does not mean that your dough will not be bubbly – that is why the process of cold fermentation takes longer.

Where to cold ferment dough? 

The term cold fermentation could leave you with the idea that the dough should be at a temperature close to zero. However, the optimal temperature for cold fermentation is 15 to 18 degrees (60 to 65 °F). If you do not use the dough immediately, you will also need a cold place to store it until you are ready to bake it.

You can cold ferment your dough in the refrigerator but your basement can work too (or any cold room of your home).

How do you ferment dough in the fridge?

Once you have kneaded the dough with all the necessary ingredients, it is time for the fermentation. If you decide to cold ferment your dough in the refrigerator, keep in mind that the dough should be in the fridge only during the fermentation period. If you store it there, it could be too cold (fridge temperature is only 4 degrees (40 °F), which will drastically slow down the fermentation process. As a result, you will get very flat dough without air bubbles in it.

So, put the dough in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours and then store it in the basement or another cool place in your home. While the dough is in the fridge do not touch it, just leave it to do its thing.

Tip: Before you put the dough in the fridge, make sure it’s airtight. Cover it with plastic wrap.

How do you ferment dough in the basement?

After mixing all the ingredients, you can cold ferment your dough in the basement of your home. A temperature that is slightly lower than the room temperature (15 to 18 degrees – 60 to 65 °F) will affect the fermentation of the yeast more than the temperature in the refrigerator.

At the same time, moisture from the air will also have an effect on the fermentation of the dough. Be sure to cover your dough bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel to prevent contamination. You can leave your dough in the basement for 24h. You’ll get a higher rise than in a fridge.

Does the cold slow fermentation?

The cold slows down the fermentation of the dough and we’ll explain why that happens. 

When the dough is left at room temperature, the yeast begins to “work” immediately. Yeast consumes sugars and produces gases (Carbon dioxide), making the dough rise and be all bubbly inside.

However, at room temperature, the yeast stops producing gases and compounds that give the dough the recognizable taste after about 3 hours, while at cold temperature fermentation can take 24 hours or more.

During cold fermentation, the yeast consumes sugars and produces carbon dioxide more slowly. The dough fermentation takes longer which gives it more time to develop flavor.

Does cold fermented dough taste better?

Everyone who has tried cold fermented dough agrees on one thing – it tastes better than dough fermented at room temperature. Cold fermentation leaves the yeast more time to ferment and it develops more complex flavors. 

A cold fermented dough has a crispy crust, a richer texture, and a unique taste.

What temperature is best for cool fermentation?

While the optimal temperature for standard fermentation is 30 to 35 degrees  (85 to 95 °F), the best temperature for cold fermentation is 15 degrees (60 °F). 

If you decide to ferment your dough in the refrigerator, the temperature will be around 4 degrees (40 °F) so it might be too cold for the fermentation while the basement temperature is ideal for this purpose.

How does temperature affect fermentation?

Temperature plays a key role in the fermentation process. If you want your dough to rise in a short period of time, the heat is the key to success.

If you are not planning to bake your dough immediately and have time to leave the dough to ferment longer (cold fermentation can take up to 5 days!), cold fermentation will pleasantly surprise you. The yeast will have more time to ferment, which will result in a tastier dough.

How long can you cold ferment dough?

Cold fermentation should take at least 24 hours and up to 5 days. The cold temperature will make the yeast “sleepy” and slow. If you leave it overnight it will give no results.  

Although cold fermentation takes time, the dough cannot stay in your fridge indefinitely. Three to five days is the maximum if you want your dough to have good taste, texture, and be workable. If left too long, your dough could deflate a little.

Tip: Leaving your dough in the fridge for 24h is the bare minimum, but the real taste will develop after a few days. For the best results, cold ferment your dough for 72 hours.

How do I know when cold fermentation is done?

You should check your dough frequently. The dough should double its size, being all bubbly underneath the surface, and when you perform the “poke test” it should bounce back when you touch it.

Tip: Don’t leave your dough for too long after it’s proofed as it may result in an unpleasant “yeasty” taste.

Will yeast die if too cold?

The cold will not kill your yeast but it will put it to “sleep”. You can leave the yeast in the freezer at the lowest temperature. Once you defrost it, it will reactivate. However, yeast will be dormant at cold temperatures and will ferment slowly.

Tip: Make sure you store your yeast properly. If you buy expired yeast, it won’t ferment.