The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How Do You Define "Overnight"?

lagoldberg8397's picture

How Do You Define "Overnight"?

Everyone's bread baking schedule is different and the dough certainly doesn't have a wristwatch so I'm not sure why cookbooks use the term "overnight" rather than giving a measurable timeframe.  When a recipe instructs you to rest the dough in the fridge "overnight" how long do you think it needs to be there?  I'm guessing 8 hours but would like to know what other folks think.

ehanner's picture

For me, overnight means from when I close it up until 6AM when I haul my self out of bed to make breakfast for my daughter. That's usually a 6-7 hour window of cold ferment time and enough for those little bubbles on the skin and a more flavorful crumb.


ericb's picture

Same for me: 6-7 hours. I also consider "at work" to be the same as "overnight," although it's closer 9-10 hours. I have, on occasion, let "forgot about the dough over the weekend" define "overnight."

You get the idea.


Elagins's picture

i like to try to get my dough mixed or my next-day loaves shaped by 8:30 or 9:00pm, figuring on a benching/shaping or bake time anywhere from 7:00am to 10:00am, so the math gives me a range of 10 to 13.5 hours for cold retardation or for the maturation of a sourdough.

yeasts, both wild and commercial, are very forgiving and bread baking isn't rocket science, so a matter of 2-3 hours of cold ferment may have some effect on how much flavor you'll be able to coax out of your flour, but shouldn't cause you any actual baking problems.

Stan Ginsberg 

dmsnyder's picture

In commercial bakeries with specialized "retarders," the usual cold retardation temperature is around 54ºF, as I understand it. If you are using your home refrigerator, the temperature is generally around 40ºF. This makes a significant difference in that the metabolic processes in the dough are very temperature sensitive. The cooler, the slower.

For practical purposes, since everything is slowed down at cooler temperatures, the cooler the environment, the longer the fermentation. However, it's also true, I believe, that your flexibility is greater regarding timing at cooler temperatures. So, in practical terms, overnight retardation of anywhere between 8 and 16 hours isn't going to make a great deal of difference at 40ºF.

If anyone (Debra Wink?) has data to the contrary, I'd appreciate hearing about it.


davidg618's picture

it supports your practical advice. I didn't know commercial bakers use 54°F, but I did know they retard at temperatures higher than 40°F. Everything I've found searching the web, so far, and my own limited experience refrigerating starters and bread doughs supports my arguement that yeasts go dormant at refrigerator ambient temperatures. We see our retarded doughs increase in volume only because it takes considerable time to cool a kilo, or more, of dough to refrigerator ambient temperature from room temperature.

By the way, your latest rye bread post: great loaves!

David G.

Islandlakebaker's picture

I have found that overnight means a minium time to develop flavors that are desirable.  Today I made pugliese that wanted an overnight biga.  I made the biga yesterday in the morning.  I started the dough this afternoon.  My loafs just came out of the oven and look wonderful.  Too hot to cut into yet.  I do live in Northern Minnesota, it is Winter, but my house is warm.

I do make a dough for cinnamon rolls that sets overnight but in the fridge.  I have found that if I work with 12-14 hours later, it takes longer to rise after taking out as the yeast has been put into hibernation.  As Stan stated, most yeasts are very forgiving.  I though have found that high hydration breads like ciabatta and pugliese do require more percise weights and time to achieve a good result.


flournwater's picture

"Overnight" can mean different periods of time to different people so the author that uses the term in one recipe may mean 8 - 12 hours while another may mean 12 - 16 hours.  But as dmsnyder points out, when it comes to bread, there's another factor to consider because the temperature of the author's regrigerator may or may not coincide with yours.  Genarally speaking, yeast activity divides/doubles with every seventeen degrees in temperature.  So a professional environment specifically designed for breads to ferment at 54 degrees will double nearly twice as much in the same amount of time you'd see at 40 degrees.  Time = flavor, but too much time can = disappointment.  So you have to monitor what's going on and not rely on the clock to make those kinds of decisions/

davidg618's picture

,,,when I was trying to develop a baguette formula that would become my standard. Baguettes and sourdoughs are our two daily breads; I bake each of them about once each week. What I've settled on, borrowing from Peter Reinhart's pain a' l'ancienne in BBA, and Anis Bouabsa's formula and especially his processes as interpeted by dmsnyder, and others, is a 72% hydrated dough, retarded over at a specific temperature and for a specific time.

Coincidentally, I'd been doing a lot of searching and reading about the behavior of sourdough starters. One of the references, investigating the behavior of the L. bacillius and yeast strains most frequently found in San Francisco sourdough (and subsequently others) reports that yeast growth essentially stops at approximately 8° C (46.4°F). I've subsequently found this generally true for commercial yeasts as well. Consequently, under these conditions, I think overnight is defined as "when the dough reachs the refrigerator's ambient temperature, or a little before then"; ambient temperatue is usually about 40°F. When that happens depends mostly on the beginning temperature of the dough, its mass, and its shape; i.e., more correctly its surface to mass ratio. The point is, not an easy time to estimate.

The formula I now use, retards the dough 15 hours at 55°F, a temperature at which the yeast is still active, at a slower rate. In fifteen hours my baguette doughs double nicely, and repeatedly.

So, for me overnight is 15 hours at 55°F. Ironically, when I settled on this baguette formula about four weeks ago, I nick-named it Overnight Baguettes


David G.

flournwater's picture

I like the scientific logic of your approach, David.  Nice piece of work there.  I'm gonna work with your theory and see what improvements it might offer.  Thanks for sharing that ...