The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Cold Weather Baking

IanS's picture

Cold Weather Baking

I need some help. During the summer, when I starting baking bread, it was good. But after a month long break, the weather has changed, and my baking fortunes have not been so good. Mostly, I have a problem with rising. Even giving breads some extra time, they don't see to rise to the level they should. This culminated today with my attempt to try the Buttermilk Cluster. It did not rise at all.

I live in Maryland, and I am cheap. We set the thermostat to 68 F, and the gauge is in the warming part of the house. My kitchen is likely around 65. And I think the buttermilk cluster failed because in addition to having a cold room, the milk was right out of the fridge. It's not really possible for me to just heat up the kitchen, so I am looking for any tips and tricks you all may have for winter baking.

Should I be heating all the liquid ingredients to 80-90 F before mixing? Winter is the perfect time for me to be baking, getting that extra heat in the house when I need it. But the bread (or rather my skill with the bread) just isn't cooperating.

I greatly appreciate your help,

staff of life's picture
staff of life

Because temps too cool can kill yeast.  Mixing it with the flour first can help, or you can proof it in a little bit of warm water first if you don't want to have to heat up the milk first (which will give you a fluffier loaf if you do heat it up, and while you're at it, why not heat up a bit extra for some hot chocolate?  It'll help with those cold temps.)


IanS's picture

Well, I didn't do that. I use instant yeast, so I mixed it with the flour well, then I mix in the salt, then I add the wet ingredients. But I still think the cold milk is what did the yeast it. It may not have killed it, but it prohibited it from rising.

I'm baking a bagette and a plain old round loaf tomorrow. I'll try warming up the liquid.


mse1152's picture

Cold temps don't kill yeast, but they do slow it down.  Heat eventually kills yeast, as the temperature rises in the oven.

Something simple to try would be to turn your oven on for 5 minutes at a low-ish temperature, whatever the lowest setting is on your oven.  Turn it off, then put the dough in the oven and close the door.  The warmth ought to last long enough to get your dough rising.


SourdoLady's picture

I sometimes use my oven for quick rising recipes, but I only preheat for less than a minute (mine would be too hot after 5 minutes) and then I leave the oven light turned on. The warmth from the light bulb maintains a cozy temperature for the dough to rise.

Sourdoughs, on the other hand, are much better if left to rise cool and slow. I like to shape my loaves and then let them proof overnight in a spare room that has the heat vents closed. The temps in the room are usually in the 50's and by morning the bread is perfectly risen and ready to bake. Of course, this only works in the cold months of the year.

JMonkey's picture

When I want a little more heat, I'll do one of two things:

  1. The picnic cooler method: Here, I'll put an upturned bowl in the bottom of a picnic cooler, set the bread on top, throw a cup or so of boiling water in the bottom and close it up quick. It'll bring it up to about 85 degrees or so. After an hour or 90 minutes, I'll refresh it with another cup if necessary.
  2. The heating pad method: I'll take a heating pad, plug it in at the lowest setting, and put a towel on top. Then, I'll put the bread on it and, if I have a container big enough, will set it on top to cover it all. It'll keep it between 75 and 85.
The oven method works pretty well, too. You can also boil a cup of water in the microwave and then pop the bread in and close the door. Don't turn the microwave back on!

Hope these help.
ejm's picture

We keep our house even cooler; the kitchen is around 15C (about 60F) in winter.

I use active dry yeast and start by rehydrating it in a separate small bowl with about 1/4 cup of baby bottle temperature water. I then mix the other ingredients in the large bowl. Any remaining liquid I add is quite hot, which cools almost immediately by the addition of the flour which is about 15C because it's stored in the cool kitchen. I stir it all together (without the rehydrated yeast), check the temperature with the back of my wrist to make sure it is cool enough before adding the rehydrated yeast and stirring again to encorporate it. I let it all rest about 20 minutes, then knead...  

After kneading, I let the dough rise in the oven with only the light turned on. This generally works very well and the dough rises in approximately the same time that it does in the summer when the kitchen is around 25C.

As already mentioned, cold does not kill yeast but just slows it down. However, yeast can die of old age. Have you double-checked your yeast for viability? 


IanS's picture

Thanks everyone for your input. I tried the oven trick this morning, turning it on for about 20 seconds, then turning it off. I placed a candy themometer inside, and it got to about 110, so I left the door open for a bit, closed the door again to get a good reading, and it was at 91. I put the doughs in there with the light on, and it stayed between 80-90 for several hours.

The bagette dough double perfectly, so thanks to everyone for their input and help.