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Precise Water Temperature for the Perfect Loaf

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2011

A full-flavored, properly risen loaf of bread depends on more than just the right mix of ingredients.

The temperature of the dough as it begins proofing, or rising, affects the rate of fermentation and, in turn, the flavor and texture of the finished product. The optimal temperature for most bread doughs is 75 degrees. To arrive at this temperature, you usually can’t manipulate variables such as the temperature of the room, flour, or starter (if using). Instead, professional bakers use a simple mathematical formula to calculate the temperature of the one variable they can control: the water. This formula also takes into account the amount of heat generated by the specific mixing method. Hand-kneaded doughs have a so-called friction factor of 5 degrees, while the friction factor of stand mixers is 20 degrees, and the very vigorous action of a food processor is 25 degrees.

To calculate the ideal water temperature, multiply the optimal dough temperature of 75 by 3 (multiply by 4 if the recipe includes a starter). Then subtract the temperatures of the room, flour, and starter (if applicable) and the friction factor from this figure.

For example, for dough kneaded in a stand mixer (friction factor of 20) when the room, flour, and starter temperatures are all 71 degrees, you would need a water temperature of 67 degrees: (75 x 4) - 71 - 71 - 71 - 20 = 67.

This trustworthy formula will help ensure the perfect loaf.