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Almost Pop 'n' Serve Dough

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2011

Would freezing bread dough allow us to make bread in two steps?

For most of us, fresh-baked bread is a treat rather than an everyday event, since mixing the dough and allowing it to rise (or “proof”) typically takes at least four hours (around three hours for the first proof and one hour for the second). But what about freezing the dough ahead of time? We froze dough for a rustic white loaf at three separate junctures: immediately after mixing, after the first proof (just before the dough was divided and shaped into loaves), and after forming the loaves and proofing the final time. Several weeks later, we thawed the dough in the refrigerator overnight and then baked it.

TOO SOON

Freezing the dough just after mixing killed too many of the yeast cells before they had a chance to ferment—a process that creates more complex flavor compounds and releases the carbon dioxide that makes dough rise. In addition, freezing before proofing reduces gluten development, so the loaf doesn’t have enough structure to fully expand. The result: a small, squat loaf with bland flavor.

TOO LATE

Dough frozen late in the game—after the second rise—was overproofed: As the already fully risen dough slowly thawed, the random remaining viable yeast cells continued to produce gas in some parts of the dough but not in others, weakening its structure. The result: a misshapen loaf that collapsed during baking.

JUST RIGHT

Freezing the dough between the first and second proofs was the best strategy. The first proof ensured that enough yeast had fermented for the dough to develop complex flavors and some rise. The remaining viable yeast cells then finished the job as the dough thawed and proofed for the second time.

Done in 281 ms! 61.385 KiB - 7.5% = 56.776 KiB