The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Water Temperature

CountryBoy's picture

Water Temperature

I am a novice and so have no context for facts.  Specifically, it is my understanding that the whole concept behind artisan bread making is that the retardation adds taste. Yes? I put the starter after an hour in the fridge and let the yeast sleep.  Then the next day I mix in my flour mix and let it rise twice and then put it in the fridge again so the yeast can sleep and let the bacteria go to work.  That at least is my concept. In R L Barenbaum's bread bible she makes baguettes with water at the temp of 75-90 degrees....But on the KA flour package in front of me  their  French baguettes require cool water for the Starter. 

And again with Peter Rinehart and his very much loved Pain à l'Ancienne in his Bread Baker’s Apprentice lists the following recipe for baguettes with ice cold (40°F) water:
Days to Make: 2
Day 1: 10 to 15 minutes mixing
Day 2: 2 to 3 hours fermentation, shaping, and panning; 15 to 30 minutes baking
Makes 6 small baguettes, 6 to 8 pizzas, or one 17 by 12-inch focaccia
6 cups (27 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons (.56 ounce) salt
1 3/4 teaspoons (.19 ounce) instant yeast
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons to 3 cups (19 to 24 ounces) water ice cold (40°F)

With that as preface I ask a simple question, why do so many recipes for regular bread call for warm water rather than ice cold water, if what we want is in fact taste and we can only get that with slow retardation and that to get that we know we must go to cold temps.

Can anyone understand my question? I sense that everyone else in the room knows the answer but me...gulp.  Thanks, CB

tattooedtonka's picture

I dont know the answer.  But I got a guess, does that count?  From what I have found in my own kitchen is that my Instant Yeast loves warm.  Not hot, but warm.  With warm, feeding speeds up, and gas production really gets going.  So warm does make some nice rise. 

Cold on the other hand, slows the little buggers down, and they take their time feeding.  They still feed, this is evident in a rise, but it is at a much slower rate. 

With that said, the slower the rise, the more time for the sugars to be broken down so we can taste them.  The better end result I get with flavor.

Warm does make it fast, but though the looks may be good, not enough sugars have been broken down to give me a real nice flavor.  Good flavor sure, but not AS good, as I get with cold.

Again, I may be all wet in this. But it is working for me. 


JIP's picture

Well I am not an expert but as far as I know you need warm water to "wake up" the yeast after that as the previous poster said the cold temperatures slow down the rate of feeding to add more flavor.

CountryBoy's picture

in its recipe on the flour package. JIP, I hear you and I always start with warm water but I am wondering:

  1.  If I start with cold water
  2.  If I have lots of patience and
  3.  If I keep it within a 3 day time frame

That the yeast will still be alive and do its stuff. 

I wonder if any Pros out there have experience with cold water.......

 thanks, countryboy

todbramble's picture

Here's the deal with water temp. What is most important is your dough temperature. Most breads call for a dough temp of around 76degrees F. In your bakery/home there are many variables that you can't really control including the temperature of the bakery/kitchen, the temperature of the flour, the temperature of your starter/preferment and how much your mixer is going to heat up the dough as it mixes it. The one variable that you really can control is the water temperature.

So how do you go about getting the desired dough temp of 76 degrees F (or whatever it needs to be)? Page 382 in Jeffrey Hamelman's book Bread-A Bakers Book of Techniques... goes into how to easily calculate the appropriate water temp for a desired dough temp.

It goes something like this. Say you are making a straight dough (no preferment). That means you have 3 variables: room temp, flour temp and water temp. If your desired dough temp is 76 degrees you multiply that by 3 (in this case - for each of the variables). So 76 x 3 equals 228. From 228 you subtract your room temp (say 68 degrees) and your flour temp (say 72 degrees). That gives you a number 88. You might be temped to think that is your desired water temp. But you can't forget that your dough is going to heat up in the mixer. So you need to subtract something called friction factor. This is a number you are going to have to experiment to come up with. In Jeffrey's example he uses 26 degrees. So if you take the 88 we had from above and subtract 26 you end up with 62 degrees. This should be the temp of your water to give you the desired dough temp of 76 degrees. Like I said though, use the 26 degrees as a starting point for your friction factor (yours may be less or more). To figure it out measure the temp of your 'dough' once your ingredients are incorporated in the bowl and then when the dough is finished mixing. That difference should be your friction factor.

Finally, if you had a preferment you would multiply your desired dough temp by 4 (instead of 3 as we did above) and along with your other subtractions you subtreact out your preferment temp.

If you have Jeffrey's book please read it because he does a much better job of explaining this.

Hope that helps.

CountryBoy's picture

Todbramble, thanks very much for your very comprehensive answer; I sincerely appreciate it. Yes, I read Hamelman's book Bread-A Bakers Book of Techniques and think it is great.  I hope to buy it when I can scrape together the money for same; in the meantime I have extensive notes from when I read it 6 months ago but the notes don't include info re water.

I understand what you say when you mention that "the desired dough temp of 76 degrees F" but what I am asking is it optimum for getting thru the baking process at maximum speed or for taste development.  If retardatiion leads to great taste then will more retardation lead to more taste?  As I mentioned above Peter Reinhart used 40 degrees in his bread.  I actually went off line and called KA and was speaking with Mary on the customer service line there where you work and she said that yeast works with cold water but that people don't use it since it lengthens the process too long.

So in summary, can one use 40 degrees water on regular bread and really lengthen out the entire process or will it kill the yeast and not be that useful to the taste of the end product? My understanding is that yeast will last about 3 days.

Also to those that are reading this and wish a bit of useful info in amidst my question please note that Mary at KA says the Peter Reinhart class for August is filled up but he is going to also have one in November at KA.

Many thanks, again, CB

todbramble's picture

Countryboy said: "So in summary, can one use 40 degrees water on regular bread and really lengthen out the entire process or will it kill the yeast and not be that useful to the taste of the end product? My understanding is that yeast will last about 3 days."

I see what you are saying, but I think the way to build flavor is not through using cold water temps but through the use of preferments and retardation (cool storage). These are time honored methods that can really be used to consistently build flavor and end up with a great loaf of bread. So if you use a preferment: poolish, sponge, starter, etc you are building flavor, acidity, etc. You have that going for you before you even start your bread dough mix.

I really think that the best way to get a great dough is to mix to a temperature that really favors the yeast and promotes their fermentative activities. A dough around 76 degrees is a dough that yeast do quite well in. But a dough at that temp will really only be able to go about 2-3 hours before it over-proofs. So if you want to extend the development of flavor through a long process (a process that began with the building of your preferment) then you need to put the dough away in a cool environment after the dough has fermented at room temp. Putting the dough in your refrigerator (or a really cool room in the winter) for several hours to overnight can really draw out this process and build flavor. Then, when you are ready to bake you bring the dough out, allow it to come to room temp and proceed with the bake.

Looking at your pictures you all seem to really know how to bake lovely looking bread and probably follow that process I outlined above. My point is that time is the key to developing great flavor, but I don't think it necessarily should be controlled by mixing cool doughs with cold water.

Hope that helps. Tod

CountryBoy's picture

You say that it is in the lengthening of the rising time and the chilling for that process that one can gain additional taste?  Rather than the cold water?. I am a novice here so whatever you say is law as far as I am concerned.  Seriously.

However I am left with a curiosity as to why KA in its recipe for baguettes called for cold water and Peter Reinhold calls for water with a 40 degree temperature with his pain l'ancienne.  I guess I will never know.  thanks, countryboy

susanfnp's picture

Hi CountryBoy,


I'm not an expert, but I think you'll find that most recipes specify the water temperature that will, for that set of ingredients and mixing method, put you in the ballpark of a final dough temperature of 75˚F or so (for wheat breads; for ryes it is a bit higher). One recipe may call for water at higher than room temperature if, for example, it uses a preferment that has been refrigerated, or if it will be mixed for only a short time, or if it designed to be mixed by hand rather than in a mixer. A different dough with different ingredients and method will require a different water temperature to get the same final dough temperature. I made sourdough bagels yesterday and my water was around 42˚F, but my final dough temp still ended up being about 76 (stiff dough, lots of mixing friction). So the ideal water temperature should be considered in the context of a given recipe, not as a universal constant.


While I haven't made Reinhart's Pain a l'Ancienne, in my reading of the recipe it looks like the method may produce a dough that is somewhat cooler than the usual ~75, but then he's letting the dough warm up and continue proofing once it's out of the fridge.


Also, I think it would be a mistake to assume that retardation always produces a better bread. True that longer fermentation times enhance flavor, but it depends on what the flavor is that you're after. Retardation favors development of acidity, and there can be too much of a good thing there. How much a given dough is affected (or not) by retardation depends on the individual formula, and I don't know enough to be able to tell you why one is affected a lot, and others not seemingly at all. One of the really fun things for me about baking bread is experimenting to see how things can be varied to get different results. One thing I have definitely found is that retarding is a great tool for controlling my baking schedule, and I know professional bakers use it in this way, too.


I guess maybe all of this is not so enlightening. Best to experiement for yourself, maybe get a thermometer and start checking your dough temps, if you're not doing that already. Have fun!



BROTKUNST's picture

Tod, just on a side note ... I enjoy reading your posts. Always very usuable and well founded information. Thanks.


browndog's picture

Tod, if you're just going to pop the dough in the refrigerator in the interest of flavor development, is water temp still so crucial, as long as the yeast wakes up? Wouldn't mixing the dough with say, ice water give you a jumpstart on retardation?

ehanner's picture

Not to put words in Tod's mouth but I think what he is saying and what I have come to believe is that you need to mix a dough at a temp that the yeast will grow in, say 76F. After a couple hours the activity has spread to a large percentage of the dough mass and cooling at that point will be slowing down a much larger number of yeasties than if you had just used an ice cold water from the start.

I just started a batch using only 16 grams of starter which is about 1 Tablespoon, in a 1100 g total weight dough. It will be slow to rise and take a while to grow the bacteria to full strength, all the while developing full flavor.


browndog's picture

I've been wondering for a long while why  doughs get coddled only to get chilled in the end. Thanks, Eric.

CountryBoy's picture

Possiby the retardation can be lengthened via cutting back on the amount of yeast.  Of course one has to be very careful but by putting a pinch of yeast in the starter; allowing it to go for 1 hour and then refridgerating, and then the next day putting in 'just under' the usual recommended yeast amount is it possible to lengthen the process that way.  I wonder.

Of course the whole process can not last so long as to kill the yeast, but possibly control of yeast quantities is an option.  If Peter Rienhart can do his baguette thing at 40 degrees then maybe combining the two options is a possibility.


KipperCat's picture

The NYT bread uses a tiny amount of yeast to slow down the fermentation process.  I don't know - is it technically a retardation when done at room temperature?

 One thing I've realized about bread - there are a zillion ways to make good bread.  Some may produce better bread than others, but there are few ways to make a really bad bread.  So, why don't you give your ideas a try?  Ingredients are cheap, and even if  you don't get A+ results, I doubt anyone will complain about eating it. :D