The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Fresh Bread by 8 in the Morning?

Fresh Bread by 8 in the Morning?

buttermilk bread

Recently I've wondered, short of getting up at 2 AM to begin making the dough, what is the best way of having a fresh, hot loaf of bread ready first thing in the morning?

I've experimented with delayed fermentation techniques a couple of times in the past week, and been pretty successful with it. Read more for info on the techniques I've tried as well as the recipe for this wonderful buttermilk bread.

Time & Temperature Redux
As I talked about in Lesson Three, two of the most important variables the baker has control over are time and temperature. Longer, slower rises using less yeast result in a more flavorful loaf of bread. Refrigeration is the most common way to retard the rise. Most bakers agree that rustic bread doughs with few ingredients beyond flour, yeast, salt, and water benefit the most from being allowed to rise in the refrigerator overnight, though other breads may benefit as well.

Aside from the benefits to flavor, bakers also use refrigeration to control the baking schedule. My recollection is that in the commercial bakery I used to work in large batches of dough were made in the morning and allowed to rise through the day. In the afternoon the dough was shaped into loaves and panned. After being allowed to rise for an hour or so in the pans, the loaves were placed in a large walk-in refrigerator for the evening. The bakers arrived in the bakery around 2 AM, pulled the pans of bread out of the refrigerator, and put them into the hot oven with little delay.

My thought is that this technique works well enough for professional bakers, so why not try it at home?

My First Try

The first evening I tried this, I made up a simple buttermilk bread recipe (and didn't keep very good notes, so if you try this one at home the proportions may need to be adjusted a bit. I'd recommend the second recipe in this article over this one anyway):

3 cups flour (I did 2 cups all-purpose unbleached and 1 cup whole wheat)
1 cup warm buttermilk
2 teaspoons instant (AKA rapid rise or bread machine) yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey

I mixed everything together, adjusting the flour and water until the dough was tacky but not sticky. I then poured the dough out onto a floured cutting board and kneaded it for approximately 10 minutes. I put the dough back into a greased bowl, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and then let it rise until it had doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes.

At that time I shaped the loaf and placed it into greased pan. I like sesame seeds, so I misted the top of the loaf with a little water and sprinkled sesame seeds on top. I enclosed the bread pan in a plastic shopping bag and put it into the refrigerator overnight.

As you can see below, the dough continues to rise in the refrigerator overnight:

In the evening, before putting into the refrigerator

First thing in the morning, right before going into the oven

As soon as I got up, I pulled the dough out of the refrigerator and preheated the oven to 350 degrees. When the oven was hot, about 10 minutes later, I placed the bread in the oven and baked it until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center read 185 degrees. This took about 55 minutes.

"A Learning Experience"

For a first try, this wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as I had hoped. The bread ended up fairly heavy. Not as bad as some bricks I've baked in the past, but not quite as light as I was shooting for.

I learned something though. I noticed that, because the loaf was so cold inside, it really didn't rise in the oven until about 15 minutes into the bake; It simply took that long to take the chill off the loaf so the yeast could reactivate. Unfortunately, by that time the crust on the outside of the loaf was starting to form, so I really didn't get the rise I was hoping for. My thought was that next time I would set the dough out for a while and allow it to warm up to room temperature before putting it into the oven.

I also learned that a cold loaf takes about 10 minutes longer to bake than a loaf that goes into the oven at room temperature. Not surprising, but good to know.

I also learned that, for a honey buttermilk bread, one third of the total flour being whole wheat flour was too much for my taste. I decided to scale back on the next try.

Take Two

This time I used the honey buttermilk bread recipe from Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible. Despite my dislike of the typography and a few of the other aspects of this book, there are some solid recipes in it. This one is top knotch.

The recipe as printed in the book but not quite as I baked it, as I discuss below:

3/4 cup warm (105-115 degree) water
1 tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups flour (I used 1 cup bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, and 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour)

Beth says to mix the active dry yeast with the water and sugar and let it sit for 10 minutes until it becomes foamy. I didn't have active dry yeast around, so I used bread machine (instant) yeast, which doesn't need 10 minutes to activate. I simply mixed the water, the yeast, and the sugar together and then proceeded to add the buttermilk, melted butter, and honey. When they were thoroughly mixed I added the salt and 3 cups of the flour.

I continued adding flour, a half a cup at a time, and mixing it together until the dough reached a kneadable consistency. At this point I poured the dough onto a floured cutting board and kneaded it for about 10 minutes, sprinkling on a little bit more flour each time the dough started to stick to my hands or the cutting board.

I put the dough back into an oiled bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise. I let it rise long enough to watch a movie (The Wild Ones, starring Marlon Brando, if you must know). The run time was 79 minutes, which was about long enough to allow the dough to double in size.

I split the dough into two pieces. One piece I shaped, panned, and covered with a plastic bag, just like the previous loaf. The second piece I punched down but did not shape: I just put it into a greased bowl and covered the bowl with plastic. I intended to shape and pan this one in the morning to see how well it would rise the next day. I put both pans into the refrigerator until the following morning.

The next morning I was surprised by what I found: the dough had risen much more than last time. The shaped loaf was pouring over the top of the pan, the unshaped loaf was over double its original size.

Due to this unexpected development I made some adjustments to my plan. I had thought I would wait an hour or so, until I saw evidence that it was really starting to rise, to put my shaped loaf into the oven, but I decided to put in the oven after only being out of the fridge for 30 minutes since it was already large enough. I baked it at 350 until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center read 185 degrees, about 55 minutes again.

The unshaped dough I punched down, shaped, and placed into a greased pan. I sprinkled on more water and sesame seeds instead of the egg wash that Hensperger recommends on this bread, covered it with plastic it, and set it aside to rise.

Because it was cold, this loaf took close to two hours to rise to the top of the pan. Baking it took about 50 minutes, since it wasn't as cold as the previous loaves.

buttermilk bread

The loaf on the left is the one that I punched down and allowed to rise again for two hours in the morning, Notice how it has stretch marks right under the crown. The yeast was active so it definitely got a pop when I put it in the oven.

The loaf on the right is the one that I only set out for half an hour. It didn't get any oven spring, but it was sufficiently risen that it still ended up being adequately risen.

While I was baking them I remembered that instant yeast is more potent than active dry yeast. When modifying a recipe and replacing active dry yeast with instant yeast, you can cut the amount of yeast by around 25 percent. I didn't, which probably accounts for why my loaves rose so much overnight. But it is hard to say that that is the only reason this batch rose so much more than the previous batch. I may have done a better job kneading the dough or had the buttermilk a little bit warmer when I was getting started. It's also possible I placed the loaves in a warmer spot in the refrigerator. Having replaced some of the whole wheat flour with higher protein bread flour may have also been a factor.

Changing from one third to one sixth whole wheat flour definitely improved the flavor of these breads. At least it got me closer to what I was shooting for: a light, slighty sweet buttermilk bread with enough whole wheat flour to make it taste hearty, not heavy.

buttermilk bread

I never quite succeeded in having a loaf of ready by 8 AM, but I did manage to have a couple of loaves baked in time for brunch. Using the refrigerator to delay fermentation is definitely something I am going to continue to experiment with and would encourage other home bakers to tinker with as well.

Have any tips on using temperature to delay fermentation? Do share by posting a comment below.


Altaf's picture

1- Is the instant thermometer important for baking breads?

2- (the first try): did you mix the ingedients by hand or mixer or bread machine?

3- the left loaf looks better than the right one, and thanks for this wonderful article.


Floydm's picture

1. No, you don't need an instant read thermometer to bake bread. You can use the clock or the "tap on the loaf and listen for it to sound hollow" trick to figure out when it is done. But I find the instant read thermometer easier. They are cheap too. See my product review for more info.

2. I mix by hand, since I don't own a mixer. There is no reason you couldn't use a mixer if you have one though.

3. I agree that the one on the left was better looking since it was on the rise. The both tasted great though!

Glad you enjoyed the article.

Bakingbent's picture

I just found your website a few days ago and am very new to baking bread.  But of course, I tried the "No Knead Bread" and am hooked.  I love the idea of fresh bread in the morning so I was wondering what would happen if you put the cold dough in a cold oven and allowed them to warm up together?


gilesb's picture

This is a reply to an old reply on a very old post, so I don't know if anyone will spot it, but, bakingbent, you might want to take a look at this post

which makes it look like baking from a cold oven could work. I tried something similar the other day, as I like the idea of having fresh baked bread in the morning without getting up ridiculously early.

I made a dough, using half the yeast prescribed by the recipe, did the initial rise, then shaped into two loaves and put in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, it turns out I'd used far too much yeast as the dough was clearly exhausted, but I continued with the experiment anyway. I put one loaf in the oven, turned the oven on, and after 20 minutes added the other loaf, baked each loaf for 45 minutes total, and there was no obvious difference in the result.

Bearing in mind the dough was way over risen, the bread still rose a little, was very tasty and edible. Clearly this doesn't answer the question as I don't know how a properly, slowly risen loaf would behave, but for fresh bread ready in a short time in the morning it seemed very promising

Judon's picture

Hi Floyd,

These look beautiful - I am now baking for small children and want to try your second recipe. What size pans do you use?



Floydm's picture

I think they are 8.5 inchers.

Good luck!


MaryEllen's picture

Thanks for the information and inspiration. Last night at 9:00,  I remembered I was supposed to bake a couple loaves of rosemary bread to bring to work for a coworker's birthday. After reading your article, I decided to take a chance with my rosemary bread recipe. I proofed the yeast, kneaded the dough, and placed the covered bowl of dough in a 100 degree slack oven to rise for an hour. I shaped the loaves and set them on a lined pan, covering them with plastic and a dishtowel. In the fridge they went --- at 10:30 pm. Yay! I was off to bed at a decent hour.....I awoke at 6:00 am to perfectly risen loaves of rosemary bread. I preheated the oven while the loaves sat on the counter coming up to room temperature.  It took just a few minutes longer than normal to bake to a golden brown. I left for work at 7:00 am with warm rosemary bread wafting it's yumminess in my car!  Again, thanks for the inspiration!