Whether you’re a frequent baker or just getting into the world of homemade breads, October is the perfect time of the year to start baking your favorite seasonal loaves. However, there are some essential things to understand about bread making before you get started, including the bread fermentation process.

How Does Bread Fermentation Work?

Bread fermentation is the process responsible for dough rising before and during baking. This occurs when yeast changes sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide without using oxygen. The carbon dioxide gets trapped as tiny air pockets, causing the dough to rise. This process also causes the alcohol produced by the yeast and water to evaporate during the baking process, causing a variety of unique and amazing flavors.

Depending on how long you allow your bread to ferment, it can play a large role in the bread’s final quality. If you only allow your bread to ferment for a short amount of time, it could lead to a strange texture, less flavorful bread, and an overall poor-quality loaf. Mass-produced breads often lack flavor because they are churned quickly, allowing the company to make more bread in a short amount of time.

Most companies that mass-produce bread use a machine called a dough conditioner, which speeds up the fermentation process. While this results in relatively uniform loaves, the taste tends to be blander than bread made lovingly at home—or by your favorite local bakery.

Allowing your bread to ferment for a longer period of time will create extraordinary flavor and near-perfect texture almost every time. The length of time will depend on a few factors, including the type of bread you’re making and the environment in which it’s fermenting.

Fermentation Steps

Fermentation takes place in five stages:

  • Pre-fermentation: an optional step that can improve flavor and shelf life
  • First fermentation: pre-fermented ingredients are mixed with the other ingredients
  • Second fermentation: occurs after the dough is punched
  • Proofing: also called the “final rise” or the “rest period”
  • Baking: where the final magic happens

Tips for Fermenting Correctly

The fermentation process is essential for baking delicious bread. Here are a few tips you can follow to ensure that your dough ferments correctly.

Prevent Dough from Sticking

Keep all surfaces where you intend to work your dough lightly floured or oiled. This helps ensure the dough will not stick and leave any excess behind.

Use Big Containers

When putting your dough aside to ferment, be sure that the container you put it in is at least 2-3 times bigger than the dough. This leaves room for the dough to rise during proofing and fermentation.

Check the Temperature

Check the temperature of the environment where you intend to let your dough ferment to ensure it’s not over 100 degrees or under 40 degrees. Otherwise, your dough will lose its gluten structure or go dormant. The perfect temperature for dough to rise correctly is around 55-80 degrees. Putting your dough in the fridge is typically the best place for it to rise.

Cover Your Dough During Fermentation

Cover the container with a clean cloth to protect the dough from dust. This also keeps the dough from drying out and forming skin-like shell.

Learn More From Backwards Bread

When it comes to breadmaking, it’s always easier (and more fun) to be taught by a professional, so check out our volunteer program at Backwards Bread! Explore the world of breadmaking and gain essential knowledge for creating your own delicious loaves. We also offer educational tours, so you can get behind-the-scenes info on how we make our artisan loaves, organic sourdoughs, and pastries. Contact our team to learn more.

Explore the Backwards Bread menu on our website to find your next carb-based addiction, like our cheddar garlic sourdough or our wild rice and thyme artisan bread. If you’re not local, don’t worry—you can find us at a variety of farmer’s markets and events. Learn more on our website!