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Adapting Bread Recipes for a Slow or Cold Rise

Those of you who have read a few posts here may know that I am a huge fan of slow, cold-fermentation. The long, slow rise allows the flavor of the grain to fully develop without the yeast eating all the tasty sugars and enzymes. The ability to bake bread on your schedule, rather than the dough's, is also extremely useful.

Most recipes can be made using this method, just start with cold ingredients, keep the dough cold while rising (use your refrigerator) and.reduce the yeast a bit — quite a bit it turns out. Therein lies the rub, or the knead. How much do you reduce the yeast? What is 'a bit' anyway?

While wandering the tubes of the internet, a comment at The Fresh Loaf caught my eye. It contained, in theory, an actual formula for calculating the amount of yeast when adapting a recipe to slow fermentation. Since cold fermentation is, by definition, very slow, this seemed like a great starting place.

Curious about the accuracy of the math, I tried it on a handful of recipes that I am familiar with and it worked. This is kind of exciting because it means most bread recipes can be made tastier and more easily. Seems like a win-win to me.

The math of yeast

Using the simplified (straight dough) version of my Rosemary Fans as an example, let's see how this works. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of yeast and about 1 hour of bulk fermentation, which makes this pretty simple.

The new amount of yeast will be far less that a tablespoon, so convert that to teaspoons (3) and use that in the formula. My typical long, slow, cold rise time is 12 hours so that's what we'll use.

3 (tsp/yeast) X 1 (time)
-------------------------- = 3/12  = 1/4 tsp yeast
12 Hours (new time)

The first few times you do the math, it seems really off. First, multiplying teaspoons by hours is weird. The resulting amounts of yeast often seem far too small to actually work. I originally posted this on A Year in Bread and a number of readers reported success using this method with their favorite recipes. Really. Try it and see.

The one exception I have found to this adaptation is sweet breads. The sugar changes the way that the yeast acts and it makes for a less reliable adjustment. I have had success reducing the yeast in sweet doughs by about half, but it is not as resilient so watch it more carefully and try it on a small batch first.

As always, I am interested in your real-life experiences. If you adapt a recipe, please stop back and let me know how it worked.

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