Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ask the Internet: Breadmaking in Winter?

This week’s question comes from reader Amy, and it’s going out to all the semi-experienced breadmakers out there, of which I am not one.

Q: Through a lot of trial and error (and some inedible bread), I've realized that my apartment is too cold to activate yeast when I'm making bread. Since I can't do anything about the temperature in the apartment (the heat is set between 65-70 during the winter), I've been trying to find other ways to make the yeast happy enough to do its job.

From Flickr's adactio
I've seen a few recipes where they say to warm the oven, turn it off, and then put the dough into rise. I'm sure that works well for short rising periods but some recipes call for a 2 hour rise. Turning the oven on and off during the rise to maintain heat seems a bit silly. I've also tried turning the oven to 350 and putting the bowl over the vent and that works okay but that's also impractical for a long rise period. Should I just cut my losses and accept that yeasted bread and I aren't meant to be in the winter? Are there any tried and true methods for getting around this?

A: Bread folks? Whaddaya think? At times like this, I would buy a loaf from the local Italian place and pretend it was my own. But, um, I don’t think that’s what Amy is looking for.

Want to ask the interweb a question? Post one in the comment section, or write to Cheaphealthygood@gmail.com. Then, tune in next Tuesday for an answer/several answers from the good people of the World Wide Net.

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49 comments:

mamagrainne said...

Heating pad on low, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

a desk lamp kicks off a good amount of heat- (using a traditional bulb), and if that does not work you could always slip a heating pad underneath it. (protect it from moisture, of course)

Anonymous said...

I rarely bake bread on the same day I make the yeast. Instead I toss the dough in the fridge to rise overnight (or over a couple of days). So far I've had good luck with this. The yeast will still rise at cooler temperatures, it will simply take longer. There are actual recipes out there that recommend refrigerated rise periods, but offhand I can't point any out. I just ignore the rising directions, place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it, and then pull it back out about two hours before I plan to bake it.

Claire said...

Are you sure your yeast isn't dead? I used to make all our bread and we keep our place around 63 in the winter. Yes, it took longer for everything to happen, but it still worked. One good trick you might want to try is to put the bread in the oven (off) but turn on the light. That seems to be just enough heat in an enclosed space to get things going. This is very easy if you have an oven with a window, as there's a switch, but if you have a window-less oven, you could try propping the door open with one or two folded towels. Just enough so that the door doesn't hit that little switch to turn off the light, but also not letting out all your incandescent light bulb-heated air. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I've just recently started baking yeast breads, and I live in Vermont, so I feel your pain.

One idea that's worked fairly well to me is to put the bread in the (unheated) oven to rise, along with a bowl/pan of very hot water (I heat almost to boiling). It tends to stay pretty warm and moist in there.

I've also tried letting things rise on top of my cable box, which works moderately well.

Finally, I've read in several places that yeast *will* rise eventually even in cold temperatures, but it will take a lot longer. Some recipes (like no-knead bread) even include options for letting a loaf rise in the fridge overnight.

I've also found that the yeast itself makes a big difference. Trying the same recipe with active vs. instant has made a difference (with instant tending to rise more/faster in the cold).

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Just let your dough sit on the counter--or even in the fridge--until it rises, and it will, eventually. Yeast doesn't need heat to be activated, it just needs to not freeze.

Anonymous said...

I put mine on top of the dryer to rise while I'm doing a load of laundry.

Cathy said...

I would try a pizza stone to hold the heat longer at a steady temp. Also, I've heard of wrapping it in some kind of insulating blanket.

Anonymous said...

My flat in the UK is also cold in the winter (wearing a scarf and fleece as I type) but I don't generally have this problem. Usually if I have the water warm enough and keep the bowl out of a draft while the dough rises that works fine. The oven trick might work, mine stays warm for about half an hour, and that should get the yeast started. We don't buy bread anymore, so a cold apartment doesn't mean you have to forego good bread!

Jen said...

If you have a radiator you can put the bowl on top of that for heat. If your oven is gas heat, it will be a few degrees warmer than the rest of your apt even when it's not on, due to the pilot light. Failing that, just turning the oven light on should warm it up at least 5-10 degrees. Good luck!

Michael said...

You might try a small picnic cooler as a fermentation cabinet. Fill it with fairly warm water to warm it up and let it sit for a while to absorb the heat. Then dump the water and pop in the bowl with the dough. I haven't tried it but I think it will probably stay warm long enough to let the yeast work.

j.d said...

i live in the NT/VT area... house around 60 degrees and i just made some great yeast bread by letting it rise by my heating vents on a little stool. i just check it periodically to rotate it make it as even as possible.

good luck

Karin said...

I have the same problem, and was baffled for a long time on how to deal with it!

One day I noticed that when the stove light that is attached to our over-the-stove microwave is turned on, the microwave itself gets quite a bit warmer than the ambient air. It's like a perfect little bread-rising compartment. :)

Even if you don't have this type of microwave, is there another well-lit area of your home that might be a bit warmer than average?

Diane said...

I put mine on top of the fridge. Fridges generate a lot of heat, and it;'s toastier up there than in the rest of teh kitchen. Never had an issue even in winter.

Michelle said...

This is my new go to bread. I never made bread before trying this and it is really easy if you plan ahead. I live in New England and the cold has not been an issue.

http://www.culinate.com/recipes/collections/Contributors/ellen_jackson/no_knead_bread

Anna N said...

You could try making no-knead bread! If you leave it for 18-20 hours it will probably rise plenty even at 65 degrees. It works great in my apartment in the winter, which is usually between 64 and 70 degrees. Plus it's delicious. Or, like the second Anonymous said, make a bread that can rise in the fridge.

NessaAnn said...

I'm with the people above... we keep our house even cooler and I never have any trouble. Just don't pay attention to the rising times listed, watch the bread instead of the clock. I use nice warm water, and rise the bread in a covered bowl that stays warm enough for a first rise. Then I do warm my oven and pop it in when the loaves are formed... that always works perfectly and I make all our bread all winter long! Also, a no-knead refrigerator bread is another great option.

Lisa said...

I found that just leaving the light on in my oven makes it nice and warm. I have some pizza dough in there right now.

SnowCat said...

I wrap a heating pad around my mixer and put a box over it, I keep my house at 60 and there's no way I can do a warm rise otherwise.

Texicanwife said...

I have used a heating pad for this with great results. That was several years ago when I lived in an apartment where the heat was regulated and I had no control over it. I simply sat my dough in a glass bowl on top of the heating pad set on lowest setting. Then covered it with a tea towel. Worked great!

Underflow said...

Turning the light in my oven on keeps things reasonably warm inside the oven.

Eyebrows McGee said...

I nuke a bowl of water in the microwave, then put the bread in the microwave to rise. It holds enough heat from heating the water in that small a space that it rises in around the same amount of time as in the summer.

Sometimes I put it on the counter on top of my dishwasher while the dishwasher runs. Good heat.

Adrienne said...

Put it in the oven, and turn the oven light on. Keep the oven closed... it will be a bit warmer than room temp in there.

That said, I keep my apartment about 62 degrees, and i can still make bread... it just takes a long time for it to rise. I use the "Artisan bread in five minutes a day" recipe which involves letting it sit in the fridge overnight or longer.

Empirical Baker said...

I agree with the no knead bread comments above. Check out http://breadin5.com for a few recipes from their books. It says to let it rise at room temperature for two hours or so, just let it rise until it has doubled (using warmer water can help with this), and it stays in the fridge.

Many commercial bakeries use "retarders," which are fridges that are used to slow down the fermentation of the dough.

Also? The longer that the dough sits before it bakes, the more flavor you get from the bread. So, it may take 4 hours to rise instead of 2, but the extra hours contribute flavor.

Anonymous said...

I turn my oven on and then off and put the bread it and that works great. I've never heard of a recipe that says you have to let it rise for two hours. They usually just say until doubled in size. Putting it in the oven and letting it sit there, mine doubles in size quite easily and fairly quickly. Plus, the heat stays in there for a while if you aren't opening the oven all the time to check on it.

Kelly said...

I put mine on top of a radiator to rise :)

Anonymous said...

We recently made some bread in cold weather. The first batch was ridiculously slow at rising so we gave up and made a second batch. We added a bit of extra yeast and stuck it in front of a space heater. It worked great.

esther said...

I have a gas stove, which means that the stove is always a little bit warm. I let my dough rise there and have not had any issues. Good luck!

Lauren said...

I microwave a mug of water for 4-5 minutes (or until it boils) and then put the bowl of dough in the microwave (with microwave off), along with the mug and its steaming water. This works great with pizza dough that just needs a 1-hour rise. When it's a bread dough that needs a longer rise I'll sometime take the bowl out (very carefully to prevent collapse) and repeat the water boiling. Hope this helps!

Gail said...

What works in my house is sticking the bread in the oven while the oven is cold, but since the pilot light is on it's the warmer than the rest kitchen and draft free with the door shut. To hurry it along if it's not rising fast enough I can turn the oven on for just a couple of seconds, and I mean like 5 seconds. To hot and the yeast dies before it does its job.
If you have an electric stove you'll need a different strategy though.

Leah said...

My friend and I both use a heating pad on low (usually wrap the pad and bowl in a blanket), an electric blanket might achieve the same ends. Works wonderfully.

Susan said...

If you have a light inside your oven, you can just leave the oven off but turn the light on, stick your dough in, and shut the oven door. Small space + minimal added heat...works for me!
If you can turn your oven to a low setting, that works, too--mine has a 100F setting which is just barely on, but on enough. Probably wouldn't work as well in a gas oven (?)

Val said...

I have a tube sock-with-no-mate that I've filled with rice and then microwave for about a minute. It holds a lot of heat and then I just perch the bowl on top of the coiled-up sock. But I also agree that you may want to get some fresh yeast, too. good luck!

Sue said...

The slower the rise the better the bread. You don't really need a warm place, just time.

Kara said...

Add me to the "heating pad" crew. I have a heating pad that stays in the kitchen. I plug it in and put it in the oven on low. Then rising bread, fermenting yogurt, and anything else that needs a warm environment works great. It's just enough heat to warm the oven compartment, but not enough to cook anything.

Em Rohrer said...

In the winter I plan my breakmaking yeast-rising time to overlap my laundry-drying time and I put the bowl of dough waiting to rise on the top of my dryer. This has worked really well!

Jan said...

make sure your yeast is not too old- proof your yeast first with sugar water- try the book Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day- you keep the dough in the frig

Anonymous said...

I used to have the same problem as well. Turning on the oven light works perfectly to make things just warm enough. When it comes time to preheat the oven, I just put the bowl on the stove which warms up some with the oven heat.

Sally said...

I have no idea what the temperature is in my apartment, but it's not overly warm. I make bread at least weekly and never use anything to activate the yeast.

When I first started I'd had the yeast for a while, but it wasn't expired. The bread did raise more slowly then than now when I buy fresh yeast every couple of months or so.

rogowar said...

I'm the household thermostat czar and primary baker, so I feel your pain (in my case self inflicted). I've got a few recipes that don't seem to do well without a bit of warmth, but refuse to heat the whole house to get the dough to double quickly. What I do is create a little rising oven by putting a small space heater into a closet. My mom uses a very small under the stairs closet with a very high wattage incandescent light, which also seems to work well.

amy said...

Wow, thanks for all the awesome suggestions. To clarify, the first time this happened, I blamed the yeast so I bought new yeast and had similar issues during the second trial. It's active yeast, not instant, so I might try instant the next time as well as the oven light/heating pad suggestions.

Jenna said...

Wet sponge in the microwave, nuke for 1 minute until it's nice and steamy - chuck in the bread dough, close the door quick, and let it do it's thing.

Stays warm and humid, no drafts, no worries about pets getting curious, no way to bump it, knock it, or bother it until it's done.

Added bonus - kills the germs on the sponge so it's clean and fresh to wash up the bread pans later!

cmisty2001 said...

I've not done this since I'm not home to make bread from scratch so end up using a bread machine, but microwave:
http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/breads/qt/risetime.htm or I've have done bread in a crockpot with the last rising on low and then switching to high to bake it. I have a large oval that a bread pan fits into with a trivete underneath and a teatowel under the lid to stop drops of water from condensing down. This is a wonderful way to do bread since the smell is in the house for a longer time:-)

Stephanie @ Confessions of a Trophy Wife said...

I also let my bread rise in the oven with the light on like others have suggested. It's surprising how that little light heats up the oven just enough to give the bread a warm environment to rise.

Anonymous said...

I would try turning your oven on at the lowest possible temperature setting. I have a gas oven and that's worked for me so far this winter. Good luck!

Alicia said...

Try warming up a cast iron dutch oven le crueset or a knockoff and putting the dough in it and then a beach towel wrapped around the pot to rise. It holds in the temp and humidity and basically does a great job of allowing bread to rise really well and fast. It will take more then 2 hours for this to cool back down.

Anonymous said...

We put ours on top of our espresso coffee machine where the cups would sit to warm!

Jolene said...

Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day. Buy the book. Borrow the book. Find the recipe online. Really. The bread is yummy and the dough spends most of it's time in the refrigerator.

Anonymous said...

I put it in the oven and turn on the oven light, not the oven itself. The light bulb puts out enough heat in the enclosed space and is fine left on overnight or for hours at a time. I measured the temperature in there and it gets to 80-100F depending on the house temperature.