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I bought a dehydrator about a year ago and the product manual says that a dehydrator is great for leavening bread. I have tried this a number of times with (seemingly) good results, but I am unsure if the dehydrator is having an adverse affect on the final product.

I have the 9 Tray Excalibur, and I usually place a bowl of warm water at the bottom, then place a large mixing bowl with a dish cloth over the top on the third tray (just above the bowl of water). I'll turn the dehydrator to 95°F (35°C), and let the dough rise according to the recipe.

When dehydrating fruit/vegetables or making trail mixes, etc., the dehydration time is usually measured in days rather than hours. From that perspective, I don't think that my breads should be significantly dehydrated during the rising process, but I don't know for sure.

Also, the Excalibur works by 'fanning' the moist air away from the trays inside. The fan is not forceful, and is not powerful enough to shift a damp dish towel, but it will easily lift a piece of paper towel or similar. As I typically use a damp towel to cover the bowl, I don't think air flow is an issue either.

Are my assumptions correct that this is a safe thing to do, or am I setting myself up for failure and dooming some would-be delicious breads?

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Which stage are you using it for? A warm environment is only recommended for the final stage, when you are proofing the completed breads. In the previous stages, you want a slow fermentation, to give taste time to develop. –  rumtscho Jan 3 '12 at 14:10
    
Can you be more specific about your concern? You say that a) you've tried a number of times with good results, and b) it seems to work. So, are you worried about food safety? Damaging the dehydrator? You'll surely know it if your dough starts to get dehydrated. –  Caleb Feb 11 '12 at 14:34

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Sounds like it's working for you. As long as the dough doesn't form a skin, inhibiting rising, then looks like it ain't drying out.

Very even heating too, I imagine; that's critical: with the hot and cold patches of some big ovens, uneven fermentation and rising could ruin a loaf especially the final proofing. Cracks in the sides of the crust can be blamed on this.

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It's common practice to raise yeasted bread in a warm, humid environment -- it's what yeast like best. Professional bakers will often use a proof box that lets them control the temperature and humidity. Home bakers will often use a just-warm oven or a microwave oven (both turned off!) with a container of warm water. Using your dehydrator this way is absolutely fine so long as you keep the temperature low enough to keep the yeast happy. 95°F should be fine.

It's true that a long, slow rise (produced by rising at lower temperature) can produce more/better flavor in your final loaf. On the other hand, the bread you make and eat today is much, much better than the bread that you forgot to start yesterday and can't eat today. Besides, slow rising is only one of many ways to add great flavor.

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The faster you do your first rise on bread, the less complex the flavors. Unless you're in a hurry, a slow, long overnight rise in the fridge will result in better flavors. The enzymes in the bread will have more time to do their magic and convert the starch to sugar.

If you need a quick second rise or you're working with a highly enriched dough and you don't want to wait for 'complex flavors', then consider your dehydrator as a good source for a quick rise.

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