The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How do you cover your doughs during bulk fermentation?

Anonymous baker's picture
Anonymous baker (not verified)

How do you cover your doughs during bulk fermentation?

Watching this clip on the LA Times website ["Nancy Silverton Explains How to Make Focaccia"], I noticed that Silverton loosely covers with plastic wrap during bulk fermentation (and secures it with another piece of plastic tied around the bowl and knotted).

I've always used one piece of plastic wrap tightly stretched over the bowl such that, as the dough ferments, the plastic wrap inflates into a dome. (The domed plastic wrap never explodes, but I'll admit to worrying that it might!)

Have I been doing it "wrong" all along?

How do you cover your doughs during bulk fermentation? Tightly? Loosely? Other?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

sometimes with a wet towel, sometimes a large lid or inverted bowl just sitting on the dough bowl, or many times I use a cheap plastic shower cap.  I used a large plastic container once with a lid that snapped down tight.  The BOOM from the built up gases popped the lid and my peaceful afternoon.

booch221's picture

For my no knead bread, I rub a little oilive on a sheet of plastic wrap and then place the plastic loosley (oil side down) right on the dough.

The oil and plastic wrap prevent the dough from drying out and forming a crust.

While giving it plenty of room to rise.

proth5's picture

depends on your environment.  I'm living on the high, dry, prairie and if I covered my dough loosely with plastic wrap I would end up with a thick crust on the top of my dough.

I use large Cambro containers that have a lid that snaps on, but leak enough so that the dough can expand.  I will also use vinyl bowl covers that have elastic to cover the bowl pretty tightly (similar to plastic shower caps, but a bit sturdier).  I've also used wet towels, but the bowl covers and Cambro containers mean one less thing for the laundry.

My obsession with tightly covering my dough is not required when I bake in very humid environments.

A continuum lies between the two.  If you dough comes out of the container without a skin - what you are doing is OK.

Happy Baking!

lumos's picture

My vote is always for shower caps. It fits almost all sizes (for home bakers), big and small, any shape. Not air-tight enough to cause an explosion.  The material is stiff enough to 'stand' up away from the dough, so no need to grease it to prevent it from sticking.  You can use it many, many times, and if it becomes too tatty, you just chuck it and use new one, because it's quite cheap.

I use it both for bulk fermentation and final proof over banneton or loaf tin.

flournwater's picture

A lose cover (wet towel, plastic wrap losely layed over top of bowl, plate, etc.) is enough.  You're only trying to maintain an even temperature and prevent the dough surface from dying out.  The container doesn't need to be air tight.

lesparza5's picture

I always put my dough in a 3 1/2 qt container with a lid. It works great for 1 or 2 loafs. I put a mark where the dough is and can see when it has doubled.

GSnyde's picture

Sometimes I cover tightly with plastic wrap (and never had an explosion).  Sometimes I use a damp dish towel (especially if I'm going to use the dishtowel for covering the proofing loaves as with baguette on a couche).  The dampness of the dish towel, of course, increases the humidity of the proofing dough's environment, which is good on a dry day.

I have noticed no difference between the two approaches.


proth5's picture

I used to use the wet towel option for covering baguettes on a couche.  Worked...ok, but I wasn't thrilled about geting my couche damp. not a big deal for me, but I was baking in a more humid environment and encountered a moldy couche.  Now that's nasty (I was told to proof on it anyway...long story).

Then I encountered covered half-sheet pans (mine are Nordicware).  Since my couche fits nicely on a half sheet pan  it works great and the plastic cover snaps on tight.  Works like a champ.  Why..not..years...ago.  Also good for smaller braids/rolls/etc and etc.  Not expensive.  Multi-tasker.

Just sayin'


dmsnyder's picture

It's a wast of fossil fuels and fills too many landfills.

I use two methods of covering fermenting dough, and sometimes a third.

If the eventual dough volume is less than 2 liters, I use an Anchor-Hocking glass measuring pitcher with a tight-fitting plastic top. 

This has several advantages. It is obviously transparent. I can see how well the dough is aerated. It is graduated. I can see how much the dough has expanded. It has a cover. I don't need to use plasti-crap. It's easy to wash. It is multi-purpose. We do use it as a batter bowl and as a measuring cup, for example, for soup and sauces we are going to package for freezing. It's only disadvantage is its size. of I'm making a larger batch of dough than it can hold, but that's unusual.

The other method is to use a large glazed ceramic bowl and a silicon bowl cover. I have these in 3 different sizes from 7 to 14" in diameter. I believe the type I have is no longer made, but there are others available. 

Occasionally, I use a kitchen towl.


flournwater's picture

Fortunately, "Plasti-wrap" is recyclable in our region.  But I concur with your assessment of the product where no recycling service for that material is at hand.

alabubba's picture

+1 On the shower cap, Actually, Mine are "Food Covers". I get 20 of them in various sizes for $1 at the local dollar store. they are reusable too, but cheap enough that I don't worry about tossing one if it gets funky.


PiPs's picture

I hand mix in a metal mixing bowl. I add a small amount of water when adding the salt to the dough and this cleans up the mixing bowl nicely.

After mixing or kneading I place the dough in a oiled container with a lid. Easy to stretch and fold the dough in it if you wish, and being see through you can watch the doughs development and look for tell tale signs of fermentation i.e lots of bubbles forming :)

Easy to clean up.

Chuck's picture

I have an old Tupperware "cake carrier"; the top is a cylinder about half a foot deep and a foot across (I don't use the bottom). I just leave my lump of dough on my counter/work-surface, and set the top of the cake carrier over it.

(For me, often the "stretch and fold" sequence and the "bulk rise" sequence become inextricably intermingled, so the dough gets touched every half hour or so, which is probably not quite what the words "bulk rise" typically suggest:-)

If I'm doing an overnight in the refrigerator, I put a bit of plastic wrap over the top of the container (I reuse the same piece over and over, any "stickiness" disappeared long ago) and secure it with a rubber band. (I'd re-use an old "shower cap"  ...except being a male who lives alone there aren't any laying around my apartment.)

These minimal techniques don't seem anywhere near "right"; in fact the first time I tried them I was rather surprised they worked at all. But now I do it all the time. I live in southern New England, only a couple miles from the seashore; although it's not "steamy" here it's by no means "dry" either (except in midwinter in this heated apartment). I suspect if I lived in a notably dry climate or at a notably high elevation, my kludges wouldn't work so well (on the other hand I've never had a problem with a dough drying out even in mid-winter).

flournwater's picture

Thanks for the tip.  I have an old "Tupperware" cake carrier taking up space in a rarely used cabinet.  I'll give that "leave it on the counter and cover" technique a try.

This Day's picture
This Day

I usually use a shower cap, but when I'm bulk fermenting dough for six loaves, I cover the giant bowl with a round pizza pan. I put a weight on it to make a better seal.

EvaB's picture

at the moment, have used a plate set on top of the bowl, a tea towel (do no use a terry one) (don't ask) one of those screen things for picnic tables with the towel draped over it, a bowl , the plastic shower cap thingies from Dollarama, which don't fit my largest bowls at all! but very rarely the platic wrap, and I wouldn't waste it like that by putting a piece on the bowl and then tying it with another, talk about waste, and I can recycle the wrap here as plastic film.

Oh and I don't oil any of them. I live in what is supposed to be a semi arid area of BC, the humidity is about 65-70 right now and I'm running a dehumidifier as I like the humidity to be closer to 45 my lungs appreciate it as well, they are not happy with high humidity and this summer was horendous, the humidity most days was 110 (it rained almost every day in June and July)

noonesperfect's picture

I have a  nicely sized plastic bag (with zipper) that used to contain blankets or sheets.  Two proofing baskets fit inside nicely, and it is sealed enough to keep out drafts.  It's also sturdy enough to stand away from the dough, and big enough for expanding gasses to not be a problem.  I have no plastic guilt <g> since I am reusing something, and it's easy to clean.



Janetcook's picture

I used to use shower caps but didn't like the smell and they aren't transparent.  Found these on Breadtopia and they work great!  Much stronger than cheaper ones I have purchased else where and can be washed over and over and over again....


Good Luck,


Conjuay's picture

I use a plastic bag from the grocery store. Open end over the bowl then pull the handle loops under the bowl in opposite directions.

Not pretty, but then, neither am I !

G-man's picture

Sometimes I just cover the mixing bowl with a loose layer of plastic, generally do that for yeast doughs.

Otherwise I use Cambro containers. I fell in love with them working in restaurants, they're cheap and they work. The lids don't fit very tight so gas can get out, but they fit tight enough that you don't get a crust on the surface of the bread.

I have rounds and squares. I store most of my dry goods in the rounds, have my flour in 6 quart containers and I keep rice in the biggest container I could find, it can hold 25lbs of rice with room to spare. I had to buy it at a restaurant supply store, it's bigger than the biggest one the company has listed on their site. I use the clear plastic squares for proofing and much of my brining (except brisket, won't fit), they're nice because they've got measurements on the side and are perfectly clear. They're NSF certified.

Highly recommend them.

proth5's picture

I don't know why people need convincing, but those Cambro containers do yeoman's work in my kitchen.  Maybe they just aren't "pretty" enough or aren't what Grandma used.  I myself lived without them for a long time.  Why?  Wouldn't be without them now...

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)
proth5's picture

shucks.  I knew that would come up.  I used to work with really hazardous materials.  I always say that I like to keep just a few toxic materials in my life to stay in training :>)  Won't agree with you, but won't disagree either.  Some folks do find plastics objectionable - that's true. 


PeterS's picture

From your wiki link: "In 2011, the Food Standards Agency's chief scientist said "the evidence [is] that BPA is rapidly absorbed,
detoxified, and eliminated from humans – therefore is not a health concern."[36]"

The BPA hazard appears to have been greatly exaggerated (with ensuing fear mongering) at the levels commonly encountered in consumer use.

All Cambro does not contain BPA, i.e. SAN, PP and PE are BPA free.



thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified) anything like our FDA, which is a round-robin of lobbyists that work for Food, Inc. and BigPharma taking positions at the FDA such that they have the power to (or not to) regulate whatever is most profitable for their overloads, as I'm sure it is, I will be the last person on Earth to listen to anything they have to say, particularly as it concerns the foods I ingest (or what touches my food).

Did you not read the rest of the article (not that Wikipedia is anything close to comprehensive or even reliable) and counterclaims on that page, of which there are many, particularly estrogenicity? How can THAT not concern you!? And how can you only be concerned with human ingestion? Where does BPA go after it's eliminated (if it's eliminated)? What does it do there? What's it doing to the enviroment? Animals? Plants? Ecology? My children? My children's children? The cows that make the milk I use to soften my white bread? The eggs of the chickens I use to enrich it? Ad nauseum?

There's a price for convenience that I, for one, am not willing to pay.

I'll stick with my stoneware bowls–heavy as an ox though they are.

The roll of plastic wrap I own will be the last one I ever purchase, being already ashamed of even having it in my house.

G-man's picture

It is easy to be afraid of everything. Some folks still believe the no-fat diet, and the no-carb diet. Others believe gluten is the devil incarnate. Still others believe vaccines cause autism, aluminum causes Alzheimers, and that the world is flat, because scientists are lying to us.


You can say the governments of the world are thoroughly in the pockets of big business, fair enough, I'm not really interested in arguing for or against that particular point. Letting fear of uncertainty drive us is a natural human reaction to the fact that we really don't have enough immediately identifiable threats to satisfy our lizard brains in the developed world. There's 'scientific evidence' that the wheat we use to make bread is actually hurting us, I'm sure you've seen the articles that have been helpfully posted on these very forums. Are we to stop making bread?


I guess the point I'm driving at is that there are different schools of thought and we've obviously staked out our positions. :) You go on not using plastics, I'll continue to use them. If you promise not to judge me, I'll promise not to judge you.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Peace through attrition is a wet crumb. 

As for science (and I'll be the first to clutch onto it), read this (longish) article: The Truth Wears Off by Jonah Lehrer.

It's profoundly disturbing; speaks to 'scientific evidence' (and not in a good way).

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I seems like there are as many dough-covering techniques as there are breads.

The consensus is "not too tight", which is quite a surprise.

I'll try a experiment or two in the next month or so to see how both methods affect crumb structure. I rather suspect that the reason my crumbs are always so uniform, even when I barely knead at all, is because of the increased pressure in the bowl (caused by tight plastic wrap).


I can understand the concern about plastic wrap. It would disappoint many of you to learn that (especially now with a world economy as depressed as it is) much of what is recycled ends up in the same landfills as what isn't recycled. There's a limited market for recyclables (even when the economy is strong) and, because the cost of storing recycled material exceeds its nominal value, it's just thrown away–and the energy, time, money, water, etc. that goes into processing for reuse is likewise wasted, compounding the problem).

That's certainly no reason to contribute to the problem, however. I'll make an effort to use less plastic wrap (or use none at all).

What I won't do, however, is use plastic containers of any kind, Bisphenol A being the least of my worries. There's not a Cambro (used to use these all the time), Tupperware, or anything plastic (not even utensils) anywhere to be found in my house. Crazy, but then I've seen (I've ordered the inventory for) the chemicals that make plastic and epoxy. That's all I need to know to stay far, far away from the stuff. That I use plastic wrap at all is rather dissonant, but I just can't find a solution that works even half as well.

EvaB's picture

I agree, and use as little plastics as I can, and while I don't think every bit of it is bad, its certainly not great. I use glass, ironstone, or stainless steel for just about everything.

I learned a long time ago to not take everything that was said by governments and other authority figures as gospel, at one time Aluminum pans for cooking in were the "best" in quality, price and so forth, then they started to discover aluminum dimentia in some people, a build up in the brain of aluminum that caused early dimentia, so then of course they coated the aluminum with teflon which made it even better. Well I don't know about you, but I also don't use teflon covered pots that much! I have a few, but when they get too bad (the teflon comes loose) they get dumped and not replaced.

I use good old cast iron pans for frying, stainless steel pots for cooking (be prepared to pay for stainless steel but you can get it on sale) and if I can afford stainless steel, use enameled iron ware that is cheap and looks nice but cooks fairly well.

My kitchen counters are becoming a problem with the formica coming loose, so when I replace those I am hoping for real butcher block wooden tops, or something other than glued on plastic fake wood surfacing. If nothing else, I will find some nice wooden shelving and use that on the counter, may not be perfect but its better than plastic. I will also replace the carpets with better flooring not carpet that offgasses formaldehyde (a known carcinogin) and my life will be better in my opinion.

I think covering food is better done in a way that works for each of us, and if we don't wish to use plastic wrap (by the way, I have some and wrapped a dough ball in it, put it in the fridge, and the plastic wrap wasn't wrapped around the dough today when I looked, it had split open and the dough was dried out, so that tells me a nice piece of wax paper next time will work just as well.) we aren't going to.

UP with natural glass, and ceramics, and stainless steel!!!!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

my microwave oven and closed the door -- too lazy to cover the dough.  I have also just stood by and sprayed the dough with a water sprayer every few minutes while it was rising -- too much time on my hands.  I have also covered a bowl with a wet t-shirt.  Also a wok lid.  Have a glass frying pan lid that works well and also a cutting board that sometimes ends up on top of my dough bowl.   I have also put the bowl uncovered into a just emptied dishwasher to take on the warmth and the humidity and closed the door.  

When I first looked at the question: How do you cover your doughs during bulk fermentation?  My fantasy got the best of me (as it does with many questions here on TFL.)  I could imagine my dough with a raspy FBI voice saying, "Cover me!"  I naturally replied with actions:  my back to the wall, a massive rolling pin in my hands, glaring at the door in full view, prepared to defend my defenseless dough from anyone entering the kitchen with deflating on their mind.   Na ya.  

EvaB's picture

where I fell while giggling like mad. That is some imagination you have, and its nice to know I'm not all alone on flights of fancy when reading ordinary posts!

tn gabe's picture
tn gabe

and it would be better for you than commercial ground beef or chicken....

is covering a bowl of dough with a trashbag going to kill me? really?

and how will we get online in our plastic free homes? borrow a mini-terodactyl from fred and wilma? ;)

kidding aside, i try and cut plastics out of my food prep. as mentioned, especially hard with the things plastic wrap is best for, like covering laminated dough to rest. as many of these productss predate plastic wrap, any ideas on how croissants, etc were made pre WWII?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

covered with a plate and placed into the pantry (a cooler room off the kitchen or a cellar.)  Other methods of sealing were with waxed paper or waxed cloth.  Oiled cloth was also used.  

EvaB's picture

but having watched my aunt and mother both of whom were well into adult hood before they ever saw electricity in their houses, they probably used the bowl and plate method, or a damp towel over the bowl with the plate on top to hold it in place. My aunt didn't have a fridge until the late 50's and then it ran on kerosene or propane she did have a pantry, and celler though, so if she wanted it around 35 F she would take it down the cellar stairs (not a great stair either) if it could just be a bit cooler it would go into the pantry where it was cooler than the kitchen (by a long shot) and sit on the counter there with a cool damp towel over it. The refigerator was for salad veggies, milk, and other things that were better off cool that didn't mean a trip down a set of stairs that were daunting for even a kid.

hanseata's picture

(after having a vivid image of stags interlocked with their antlers in a clearing). It really depends on the humidity of your environment, and, also, the amount of dough you bulk ferment, and your preferred method to do it.

I usually make batches for several breads and bulk ferment overnight in the fridge (very dry environment). In most cases I divide the dough into portions before the bulk rise. In order to have enough room for them in the fridge, I use the same stackable see-through plastic containers with lids as PiPs. They prevent the dough from drying out, the problem with "explosion" can be resolved by adjusting the size of the individual dough portion (or, if I anticipate it to happen, by placing the containers in a big plastic trashbag before putting them in the fridge).

For everything that has to rise on the counter, I use either shower caps or pieces of plastic wrap that I reuse so many times (for covering rising loaves) until they tear. Not much waste there. Only for breads rising in bannetons that are heavily floured on top I take kitchen towels.

I also recycle what I can (in Germany that was much easier than in the US), and like reusable and/or recycled materials.

Happy and unideological baking



margieluvschaz's picture

I use Reynolds Turkey bags & just put the whole bowl in the bag & tie it iff with a rubber band or I bought a while lexan from San Fran Student

site & I turn it upside down & but it over my loaf pans or half pan with the bread covered by a towel or couche.  I have a great dane/ mastiff dog whose nose id table or counter level so I have to keep things covered or they will get eaten if I leave the house!


hanseata's picture

my dog is known for wolfing down even the oldest sourdough butts... not to mention the toll I had to pay in missing cupcakes, whole baking sheets of whoopie pies, or packaged breads before I learned to move everything out of her reach.


Edthebread's picture

Hi, one strategy I have used with success is to mix my dough in a stainless steel bowl, then invert a larger stainless steel bowl over the top.  While it is not quite air-tight, it stops the dough drying out, and the domed 'lid' allows plenty of room for expansion even if the dough rises to the very top of the lower bowl.

Urchina's picture

Like many others here, I use a food-grade plastic container with a snap-on lid. Mine is a cambro unit, but it's one of the cylindrical ones with volumetric markings on the side so it's easy to see when the dough has doubled. 

Other times, for smaller batches, I use a stainless-steel bowl with a plate inverted over the bowl to act as a lid. 

Or I use a damp towel. Or a shower cap. 

I really dislike working with plastic wrap, so I avoid it whenever possible. 

Use whatever works for you in your climate, home and situation. 

foodslut's picture

I use clear, unscented plastic shower caps, too - if you can't find them in a nearby store, I've used these cheaply to great effect: