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The heat is, on: 9 ideas for managing dough in summer

Temperature changes bread dough. Cold, hot, mild, warm, cool; all of these make a difference. Sometimes the differences are subtle, other times extreme.

Bread dough is full of enzymes, yeast and bacteria and each of these react and respond to changes in temperature. So, our goal as bread-makers is to adapt and adjust to guide and work with these changes to achieve our baking goals.

Here in Adelaide, Australia, we are entering the summer months. With a few days already reaching mid-300C and overnight temperatures of mid-200C it’s worth thinking through how to make dough within these parameters compared to the moderate days and nights of autumn and spring (I’ll write something about winter in early 2020) EDIT: here is the cold weather baking blog.

These are some tips. Some will suit your schedule, others won’t. Your kitchen may be hotter or cooler. There are many variables at play, so experiment with these ideas to find what works for you.

This blog does assume some sourdough knowledge and experience and is based on my classes.


1. Find somewhere cooler.

Is there a cooler room or area in the home which is suitable for a bowl of dough or container of sourdough starter to rest? For example, our laundry is the coolest room in the house. So, through the warmer months storing flour and fermenting the sourdough starter overnight in there enables more consistency and control.

2. Reduce sourdough starter amount.

The sourdough process requires perpetuating some microorganisms (yeast/s, bacteria, enzymes, etc.) through a piece of dough/batter, commonly referred to as “sourdough starter”. The sourdough starter added to each refreshment or build or elaboration (for my students’ reference: stages 1 and 2) is inoculating the next stage of starter/dough with a quantity of microorganisms. Less starter will contribute less microorganisms, thus slowing down the speed of fermentation.

3. Use cooler water to balance dough temperature.

Flour stored in the pantry is at “room temperature” – however this could vary by several degrees across the seasons. So, the simplest way to adjust the dough temperature is by adjusting the temperature of the water. As we discuss in class, a small amount of dough, for example a loaf or two, will very quickly adjust to the ambient room temperature. So, on the hot days reduce the water temperature to “room temperature” (as a rough guide somewhere between 15-250C). The cooler dough will ferment adequately with the warm kitchen.   

4. Add salt to sourdough starter.

The theory is the salt will slow enzyme and yeast and bacteria activity. This enables the sourdough starter to ferment for longer, without breaking down. This technique could be helpful if the required fermentation time to suit your schedule is a long time (over 12 hours). Reduce the salt in the final dough to compensate. Use at a ratio of 20 grams of salt per one kilogram of flour – adjust quantities for your quantity of flour.  

5. Decrease sourdough starter fermentation time.

This may or may not be helpful for you because it has the potential to mess with a schedule. But one way to manage the heat and associated faster fermentation is to simply respond to the warmth-quickened fermentation by shortening, sometimes significantly, the fermentation times. This may also be used to advantage too. Rather than an extended overnight sourdough starter fermentation, a morning sourdough starter mix can be ready later the same day.

6. Place shaped dough in fridge sooner.

After shaping the final dough, I usually refrigerate it overnight, before baking over the next day or two. Because I like to bake the dough directly from the fridge, I frequently leave the dough at room temperature after shaping to begin rising so it’s “perfectly approximately” risen before being chilled and most of the yeast activity is halted. In winter and even on a cool day this time at room temperature can be 4+ hours, sometimes 8+ hours! However, when the kitchen is warm it can be straight into the fridge after shaping or at most an hour. Quite a difference.

7. Cover dough to prevent skin forming with more fans and air conditioners on.

My observation is dough seems more prone to form a dry skin on the surface in the warmer weather. Possibly because there is more air movement from open doors allowing cool breezes through the home, or ceiling fans and air conditioners being on. Whatever the reason, a thick dry skin on the dough is generally best avoided – a light thin skin is okay. Keep doughs covered, but make sure the cover isn’t touching the dough, because that can cause other issues with dough sticking.

8. Utilise the fridge when required.

Sometimes our best guess isn’t quite right. Perhaps the sourdough starter is unexpectedly nearly ready first thing in the morning, but you are not. The cold of the fridge can be very helpful to slow the fermentation. It’s always advantageous to put the sourdough starter in the fridge before it’s ready, as it takes a while for the sourdough starter (or bulk ferment dough) to cool down.

9. Reduce dough water quantity slightly.

I’m reluctant to include this only because of the myriad of cookbook bread recipes filled with overly dry dough recipes, teaching home bakers to expect an almost pasta-dough-like consistency for their bread doughs. However, a warm dough is softer than a cool dough. And doughs tend to be warmer in summer. So, a little bit less water may be helpful. For home baking I wouldn’t be too quick to reduce the water without ensuring the other key parts of the process are okay (e.g. sourdough starter fermentation). But it is an available technique. Try reducing by 20-50grams based on a recipe with 1kg flour - adjust accordingly.