The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Monitoring fermentation parameters

TerryTB's picture

Monitoring fermentation parameters

I am trying to improve my bread consistency and bake a
better loaf to my tastes. I am an electrical engineer by trade, and have begun
thinking about a microcontroller system to monitor variables to know my dough's
status, and trend data over different bakes so that I can compare
taste/mouthfeel versus the characteristics of the fermentation through dough

Dough density (?)
pH (?)

I am working toward a retarder/proof box (basically a small fridge with a
heating element) that will control itself based on possibly more than just
temperature and humidity.

>>>>>"too long; didn't read": Can you accurately measure pH and density of

Thanks everyone, I look up to you dedicated bakers out there.

Terry Bache
Chicago, IL

Doc.Dough's picture


If you can get to the compressor motor power wiring, you can splice in a 120V plug and use a digital temperature controller such as the Johnson Controls A419 (see link below - get one with a power cord). You may want to put a small muffin fan in the box to keep the circulation up while the compressor is off (and act as a small heater if you want the box to be warmer than its surroundings).  I think there is a way to use the setback feature to produce a two step profile but I have not ever used it. Keep the dough covered with plastic wrap and you don't have to worry about humidity until it comes time to retard/proof, then you just need it to be in equilibrium with the dough so put the dough in a bag and seal it so it doesn't dry out.

You should not try to control to pH since it doesn't mean anything.  What matters is TTA (total titratable acidity) which is not a good process variable. Design the ingredients/time/temperature profile to get the TTA you want, then contol to that.

You can control the starting point (starter, flour, water, salt), autolyze, bulk fermentation time and (through stretch and fold steps) dough development. Initial dough temperature is important to the time it will take for bulk fermentation but you set that with your ingredients and your mixing.

You will find that how you handle the dough has a much larger impact on the final product than just about any automated process control you can dream up.  Just look at the most sophisticated artisan bakeries for examples.  You don't see much instrumentation on the floor (maybe some back in the lab - but the bakers don't use anything but a scale, a clock, and a thermometer).