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I'm trying to rise bread overnight in the fridge and sometime it collapses.

What changes could I try in the recipe to try to stop this from happening? I think I need to retard the yeast action (I'm using fast-acting) but I'm not sure if I should add or remove salt, sugar, or use less yeast. Do I need to add another agent to control this process?

I want to make good loaves overnight and bake them in the morning. If I could I'd leave them in the oven overnight and use the built-in timer, but I suspect that's not going to work at all (aside from it definitely over-proving it'd be the same as putting it into a cold oven then switching it on).

Update: The Recipe...

650g strong white bread flour
10g salt
5g sugar
15g soft butter
7g sachet easy bake yeast
400ml warm water; 1 part boiling 2 parts cold

In summary, it calls for baking it at 230c (no mention of fan ovens), and claims that it's suitable for overnight rising. It's a single rise method.

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The problem is that you cannot ensure that your finally formed loaf will proof the right amount overnight. If your goal is a hot baked loaf in the morning, I suggest par-baking loaves, freezing them, and finish baking as desired. –  SAJ14SAJ Mar 5 '13 at 5:15
    
What recipe are you using? –  ElendilTheTall Mar 5 '13 at 10:11
    
what is the boiling water used for? Normally, the colder the water, the better your dough. Warm water leads to quicker rise, but boiling water will kill the yeast. –  rumtscho Mar 5 '13 at 15:18
    
The boiling water is mixed with the cold water to make warm water in a way that produces consistent results between bakes without the need to measure temperature. –  antonyh Mar 5 '13 at 16:43
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3 Answers 3

The fermentation of yeast raised dough is a complex interaction of:

  • Temperature - yeast are nearly dormant at 40 F, and die at about 120 F; in between, they get more active as the temperature rises
  • Initial amount of yeast - Yeast is alive, and will grow exponentially, if given the chance to. However, the initial quantity of yeast in the dough can be used to get this process started more quickly, or to delay the onset of very rapid activity
  • Sugar - The presence of small amounts (up to 10%) of readily available sugar in the dough, within limits, will encourage the yeast to grow more quickly--however, high concentrations of sugar actually inhibit yeast growth
  • Salt - Higher concentrations of salt also inhibit yeast growth

This paper from MIT discusses in detail several of these factors. The different types of yeasts do have different activity curves, with active dry producing the fast growth in CO2.

Your best bet to adjust the recipe if it is over-proofing is:

  • Lower the proofing temperature, if you can— check your refrigerator and make sure it is performing well. Get the dough to proofing temperature quickly. You may want to cut batch into two proofing containers in order for it too cool more quickly if you have a lot of dough.
  • Lower the initial quantity of yeast, cutting it by as much as 50% or 75%
  • Very slightly raise the salt level--above 2% salt levels inhibit yeast growth, but also affect the flavor of the bread
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Would pre-chilling the container have a good effect? How far should I go with this? I don't really want to increase salt. The general consensus seems to be less yeast. What might happen if I used cold water instead of warm? –  antonyh Mar 5 '13 at 16:52
    
I think the general consensus is correct--less yeast. Prechilling the container won't hurt, but it probably won't make that much difference. –  SAJ14SAJ Mar 5 '13 at 17:21
    
There's an article on the BakingMad Website that suggests less water cures collapsed loaves (for bread maker machines, I know it's not quite the same). Do you think less water might help? –  antonyh Mar 5 '13 at 17:29
    
How about not softening yeast first, rather, adding it into flour? Ought to slow things down –  Pat Sommer Mar 7 '13 at 6:04
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SAJ14SAJ's answer explains the theory very well, and can be used for the general case.

In your specific case, I strongly suspect that your problem is too much yeast. First, the time frame you mention should work well with a normal amount of yeast no matter how much sugar you have, even at warmer temperatures than in the fridge. Second, many recipes floating around specify terribly high amounts of yeast. This tends to have two reasons.

  • more yeast creates a quicker fermentation. While the results are not as tasty as from a slow one, home cooks prefer quick recipes for logistic reasons.
  • many cooks are not aware of the fact that there is an optimal amount of yeast, and tend to think that more is always better (mostly because they erroneously assume that this will give them a fluffier bread, but some older cooks are also not aware that today's yeast is consistently good quality. Because the yeast you could purchase some decades ago could have difficulty rising, they tended to use more yeast than necessary so that they would get some leavening even with a bad batch).

As a result, I have seen recipes which have as much as 10% fresh yeast, which actually produces inferior bread.

A classic percentage is 2% fresh yeast, with some enriched breads going up to 4%. Doughs above that range give you gradually worse taste and texture in exchange for shorter proofing times. As you are retarding overnight, this should be OK for you - try 2% for lean dough, 2.5% or 3% for enriched. If you are using dry yeast, convert by a factor of 1/3 (use 3 times less dry yeast).

Note: my post speaks in baker's percentages, where 3% means 3 g of yeast per 100 g flour.

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It doesn't seem like he is using too much yeast according to the recipe he posted. 7/650 = 1.07% –  Jay Mar 5 '13 at 14:09
    
Actually he isn't using fresh yeast so I guess his ratio is 3.21%. –  Jay Mar 5 '13 at 14:10
    
Interesting to consider it in these terms. It may well be that the recipe is safe rather than good; it's printed on the box for the yeast... –  antonyh Mar 5 '13 at 16:48
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My inclination would be to reduce the yeast (by at least half), eliminate the sugar and use cold water. If the dough is under proofed in the morning with these amendments, let it proof for an hour before putting it in the fridge at night. The recipe as it stands is designed for a fast rise loaf.

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