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Some yeast dough recipes call for storing the dough in a cold place overnight (and usually more rising steps); others ask for keeping it warm for a shorter period of time.

It is clear that the yeast is more active (does more fermentation per time) when warm. The optimum is around body temperature. If nothing else changed, short rising times at higher temperatures should be entirely equivalent to long rising times at cooler temperatures, but apparently there is a difference.

What is it? Does the fermentation process change (in addition to simply slowing down) when cool, by favoring different metabolism pathways? Does the dough change significantly while resting?

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Retarding fermentation allows, as you wrote, different and additional metabolic pathways to have a greater influence on the flavour. In addition, extended enzymatic activity of the flour has a greater influence on taste and texture. This all leads to a more complex and interesting taste profile.

You can read, e.g., J Kenji Lopez-Alt's description of his tests on cold fermenting pizza dough for up to ten days to get an idea of the changes engendered by the longer, cold fermentation; both good and bad.

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    Great article! And at the bottom is a link to an in-depth and informative Brioche dough discussion. Brioche actually inspired the question, so I'm doubly pleased. :-). Commented Jun 4, 2023 at 20:17
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Yes, there are certainly differences in what you get dependent on the speed at which you let your dough rise. I am talking about first rise here; the second rise is generally the same length for mid- and long-fermented breads, and people who proof quickly usually don't bother with a second rise.

Quick rise: 40-60 min, 25-35°C

You get a very vigorous yeast colony that rises quickly. It suffers from overcrowding and produces characteristically smelling compounds, including thiosulfates and some ammonia.

This quick process is mostly used by home bakers. Typical reasons to choose it are:

  • you're pressed for time,
  • you love a bread that smells "yeasty",
  • you're uncertain of your skills or your yeast quality and decide to use more yeast and/or higher temperature, to be sure your bread won't be a dud
  • you don't know that there are slower options, or that slower options produce different results, or you don't care enough about the taste difference to bother with

The time is normally sufficient to hydrate the dough well, but you don't get any noticeable autolyse. Any gluten development has to be achieved mechanically. For good results, you have to make sure that you don't over- or underknead. You may have trouble shaping this into products that require good gluten development, such as round pizza bases or braided breads.

Standard rise: 2-5 hours, 15-20°C

This creates the most neutrally-tasting bread. You get a steady, nice fermentation without noticeable byproducts, and interrupt the colony's development while still very young. It produces a good texture, and you have a bit more leeway with kneading.

Retarded fermentation: 1-3 nights, 4-8°C

This technique has been gaining popularity in the 21st century, and is frequently considered "artisanal" bread. The long fermentation lets you develop a bit of the taste that has been classically produced by using sourdough, mostly based on acetic and lactic acid. You don't get the full-blown sourdough taste, but it's reminiscent, and the aroma is more complex than either the standard or the quick rise.

You can either knead the dough, or go completely for autolyse. Also, the texture is quite different from the shorter rises. The dough itself is very well hydrated, but becomes to some degree plastic rather than elastic, and this is noticeable also in the baked bread.

Reasons to choose this technique are:

  • you want a sourdough-like taste without bothering to do the whole sourdough process
  • you enjoy the idea of making modern artisanal bread
  • you prefer the texture produced by this method
  • your logistics prevent you from doing everything on the same day
  • your logistics require you to minimize your hands-on time spent baking, so you want a no-knead (and possibly one-pan) recipe.

The above is a very rough guide. The ranges don't overlap on purpose, because I wanted to point out the most typical way of doing it; in reality, you have a continuum. If you proof your recipe such that it rises in 1.5 hours, you get dough/bread that's midway between the typical classic and quick rise.

The result descriptions aren't precise, they're rather broad guidelines. Especially the texture will depend a lot on the recipe ingredients and ratios, and your kneading technique.

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