Desired Dough Temperature

Appears in


By Jeffrey Hamelman

Published 2004

One of the most important skills a baker must learn is the ability to accurately control dough temperature. The benefits are clear and immediate: more consistency in fermentation and in bread flavor, and more predictability in the overall production schedule. If a dough is coming off the machine at 65°F one day and 80°F the next, there will not be uniformity in the results. For the professional baker who is filling the oven over and over, accurate dough temperatures mean there will be no long gaps when the oven is burning fuel but empty; neither will there be times when more bread is risen and ready to bake than can fit into the oven. Because the home baker is always at a disadvantage—not able to mix doughs to the level of strength that the professional can, and lacking good steam—it is particularly important to do absolutely everything possible to benefit the doughs. By mixing doughs that are in the temperature zone that most favors both fermentation and flavor development, the home baker is well on the way to making consistently high-quality bread. After all, with something so emphatically alive as bread dough, we must do all we can to keep the billions of toiling microorganisms happy. And we do so by providing them a temperature that encourages good gas production from the yeast (for loaf volume), and at the same time good flavor development from the lactobacilli. For the most part, the temperature zone that works best, particularly for wheat-based breads, is 75° to 78°F.

Desired dough temperature is not an exact science, and there are numerous variables that can alter the results. It is, though, the best tool at the baker’s disposal for consistently mixing doughs that stay within expected temperature parameters. The calculation of desired dough temperature involves taking into consideration several factors. These factors are the variables over which we have no control when we enter the bakeshop or kitchen and prepare to mix the dough: the air temperature, the temperature of the flour, the “friction factor” of the mixer, and the temperature of the pre-ferment, if any. After figuring these, it’s easy and quick to compute the water temperature (the only variable over which we do have control).

Let’s assume that we want a desired dough temperature of 76°F. With a straight dough we multiply 76 by 3, and if there is a pre-ferment we multiply it by 4. The result is the total temperature factor. Once this factor is determined, the known temperatures are subtracted from it, and the result is the correct temperature of the water for the dough. Here are two examples:

Desired Dough Temperature (DDT) 76°F 76°F
Multiplication Factor X 3 (straight dough) X 4 (dough with pre-ferment)
Total Temperature Factor 228°F 304°F
Minus Flour Temperature 72°F 72°F
Minus Room Temperature 68°F 68°F
Minus Preferment Temperature n/a 70°F
Minus Friction Factor 26°F 26°F
Water Temperature 62°F 68°F

For the straight dough, water at 62°F gives us a final dough temperature of approximately 76°F. With a pre-ferment, water at 68°F yields a dough temperature of 76°F.
What is this “friction factor,” and how do we come up with its value for our mixer? As a dough spins, heat is generated by the friction caused by the action of the dough hook and bowl on the dough. In the course of the mix, a considerable amount of temperature increase is directly due to the friction being generated, enough so that we must consider it when we make the computations for desired dough temperature (in fact, for doughs that mix for 3 minutes on first speed and 3 or 4 minutes on second, the friction factor for most mixers is in the range of 24° to 28°F, quite a substantial temperature increase). Several factors affect the amount of friction generated during mixing, such as the type of mixer being used (stand, spiral, oblique, or planetary), the length of mix time, the mixing speeds used, and the quantity of dough in the bowl.

There are a couple of ways to establish the friction factor for a given mixer. The first is to wing it: Make the calculations for desired dough temperature and ascribe, say, 26°F as the friction factor, then mix the dough as you normally would. After the mix, take the dough temperature and see how accurate the actual temperature is compared to the desired temperature. If the dough is, for instance, 2°F cooler than anticipated, decrease the friction factor by 2°F, and the next time you mix use this lower figure when doing your calculations. The more scientific method used to determine the friction factor for a given mixer is first to make a trial dough. But for this dough, water (and not friction) is considered one of the variable factors, and we arbitrarily decide on a certain temperature for the water. We take the temperature of the dough after mixing and use the results to calculate the friction factor. It is important to mix the dough as you normally would, for instance, 3 minutes on first speed and 3 minutes on second. Once we arrive at the amount of friction generated by that mixer and those mix times, we use that friction factor whenever we compute desired dough temperature. Here are two examples:

Actual Dough Temperature (After Mixing) 78°F 78°F
Multiplication Factor X 3 (straight dough) X 4 (dough with preferment)
Total Temperature Factor 234°F 312°F
Minus Flour Temperature 71°F 71°F
Minus Room Temperature 73°F 73°F
Minus Water Temperature 66°F 66°F
Minus Preferment Temperature n/a 78°F
Friction Factor 24°F 24°F

A true story: On September 1 a number of years ago, I was on the bread shift at the King Arthur Flour Bakery. The summer had been a hot one, and when I arrived in the early hours, the windows were all wide open. I took the temperature of the air, flour, and poolish, as the bread mixer does each morning (we know the friction factor and don’t need to determine it each day), and calculated the water temperature for the French bread dough: I needed 34°F water. We keep large buckets of water in the retarder all summer, and I put some ice in a couple of them to bring the temperature down to the required 34°F. When I mixed the bread, the temperature came out at 75°F, just as I had wanted.
Four days later, I was again on the bread shift. Again the windows had been open wide overnight, but this time, the first early harbinger of fall had come down in the night on the winds from Canada. The bakery was chilly and cool—a delight! I took the temperatures of the air, flour, and poolish, and this time needed 96°F water for the French bread. I rubbed my eyes a couple of times, but put aside any incredulity and got that warm, warm water from the sink. Once mixed, I had French bread at 75°F. In the course of four days, the dough water had more than a 60°F change of temperature, and in both instances the final dough temperature came out where I wanted it—for which I could only thank those quick calculations that are the heart of desired dough temperature.