Baking bread at home certainly comes with challenges (or as my enigmatic college calculus professor used to tell me, opportunities for continuous growth). Baking bread at home with a consistent outcome has even more. But there’s a crucial facet of baking that can help us bakers increase consistency that isn’t always immediately apparent: the importance of dough temperature in baking.

Because temperature is one of the main contributors to vigorous fermentation, it’s key that we maintain a sufficiently high, and stable, dough temperature through the entire baking process. Of course, this does become more difficult when ambient temperatures begin to drop (hey, winter!)—and sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happening.

Often we blame the lack of vigor on our sourdough starter: it just wasn’t as lively as usual we say, or maybe we forgot to feed it last night, we confess. While sticking to a solid starter maintenance routine is important, sometimes temperature (too low or too high) is at fault and all we need to do is make sure it’s warm (or cold) enough for heightened activity. For my starter and I, this is usually between 75°F (24°C) and 80°F (26°C)—read on for how I maintain these temperatures in the winter.

This post focuses on the tips, tricks, and tools I employ throughout the year to ensure my starter and dough are at my desired temperature for a formula. While there’s a lot of scientific information motivating the things I do, this post is intended to be more of a hands-on guide rather than a technical treatise on fermentation rates, strain types, etc. All of the information below is focused on trying to increase consistency in our bakes at home.

Let’s take a detailed look at each part of the dough-temperature equation below: monitoring, calculating, and maintaining. First let’s look at monitoring, because, well, without the ability to monitor it’s hard to do any calculations or maintenance.



Monitoring Dough Temperature

Some bakers will say you don’t need a thermometer and you don't need to monitor dough temperature—this is true! People have been baking bread way before the thermometer was even invented. However, I find investing in a few simple tools, with corresponding processes, help me take away the guesswork and make steps towards increased consistency. 

Over time as your baking intuition builds, reliance on these tools does subside but to this day I always take a minute (if that) to measure the dough temperature right at the onset of bulk fermentation. Why? It provides me with an intuitive sense for how bulk will progress. Is my dough temperature a few degrees lower than I expected after mixing? Did I miss my desired dough temperature (DDT) target? If so, I’ll plan to either warm up my dough a little at the beginning of bulk (more on this below) or I’ll plan for bulk fermentation to likely go a little longer than planned. Conversely, if I overshot my DDT bulk will likely take less time and I better keep an eye on it near the end, cutting it short if necessary.

I keep my dough covered at all times to help it maintain consistent temperature.

Monitoring dough temperature is a simple affair: stick your thermometer into the center of the dough mass and record the temperature. If you feel like your dough temperature might swing drastically during bulk, take its temperature every time you do a stretch and fold—this is a great time to check-in with the dough and assess dough development and progress.

While it’s incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to assign hard numbers for how long bulk fermentation should last for a particular dough, the following table is an example how bulk duration could be impacted by a range of final dough temperatures. Note that the following is for illustrative purposes only, my attempt to give a snapshot of how things could change with varying temperatures. The table assumes all other factors are equal bake-to-bake (which is hard to ensure!)


Final Dough Temperature (FDT)                     Typical Bulk Fermentation Duration

75°F (24°C)                                                         4.25 – 4.5 hours

78°F (25°C)                                                         4 hours

80°F (26°C)                                                         3.25 – 3.5 hours



Maintaining Dough Temperature

Now that we’re able to monitor our dough temperature and hit that all-important DDT each time (right?!), how do we ensure our dough maintains sufficient temperature through bulk? This can be a challenge in the home kitchen with varying room temperatures.

Cozy Bread Proofer

I recommend using a dough proofer to keep my dough warm through bulk like our Cozy Bread Warming Mat . The proofer is powered and can run 24/7, it holds sourdough starter (and a levain before a bake) at a comfortable 76-78°F (24-25°C) for optimal activity. With this proofer you will notice a significant increase in the consistency of your bakes, again, because the temperature is so important.

The proofer can also be used to hold kombucha in-the-making and even when you make homemade yogurt. It's so versatile; anything you need to keep at a certain temperature, it has you covered. If you're worried about it taking up too much space in your kitchen, don't. Its flat rectangle design stores nicely — an ingenious design.

There’s enough surface area on the proofer base to fit a starter (and even another levain), but it’s also able to simultaneously fit a proofing bowl with 2kg of dough. This means you can have multiple bakes going at the same time that are nice and warm.

The proofer is very simple to use. Input the desired temperature via up/down buttons until the desired temperature is displayed. The entire bottom of the unit is a gentle heating element designed to run continuously and automatically maintain its temperature using the provided temperature probe. I recommend either insert the probe directly into the dough or onto the edge of the dough bowl.

My Proofer Settings for Starter and Levain

When my starter is in the proofer I keep the unit set to 76°F – 78°F (24°C – 25°C) on the display. I have noticed the temperature inside my starter jar will sometimes register a few degrees warmer (perhaps due to extra insulation from the jar), but that’s my desired range for starter maintenance anyways.

Because the proofer has a temperature controller it automatically adjusts the temperature using the temperature probe. The temperature settings provide us the ability to speed up and slow down fermentation (within reason). Sometimes I’ll use the controls to speed up when my starter (or levain) is ready for a feeding by increasing the temperature a few degrees. This is incredibly handy. 

My Proofer Settings for Bulk Fermentation

When I have dough in bulk fermentation inside the proofer, I set it to the formula's DDT exactly. As I said before, this typically is between 75°F (24°C) and 80°F (26°C). I also like to keep an eye on my dough during bulk by periodically manually measuring the internal temperature, just to make sure it’s still on target. I’ll do these measurements at each set of stretch and folds, a good time to check in with the dough and assess progress.


I’ve talked in the past about how we, as bakers, need to be acutely aware of our environment and treat temperature as importantly as our ingredients flour, water, and salt. It’s that critical: temperature is a driving force behind fermentation. Yeast and bacteria each thrive at varying temperatures across the spectrum, but when temperatures cool unexpectedly we need to either be ready to adjust our dough's timetable or adjust the ambient temperature. With the ability to automatically control our dough temperature we can set the stage for predictable and consistent bakes.

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