Can I Refrigerate Bread Dough After the First Rise & Bake it Later?

Learning to bake bread at home is a fun and rewarding hobby. But it’s a time-consuming process, and raw bread dough can be quite delicate. Eventually, you’ll likely find yourself in a situation where your dough has risen, and you don’t have time to finish your bake. So you may wonder:

Can I refrigerate bread dough after the first rise and bake it later?

The short answer is yes. You can refrigerate bread dough after the first rise. Refrigerating bread dough can even improve the taste in some circumstances. Just make sure you keep the dough in a sealed container or a bowl with plastic wrap over the top.

That said, it’s not always that simple. You’ll need to consider an array of factors to make sure you still get a good bake.

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What Happens When You Refrigerate Bread Dough

Once your dough begins to proof, it will continue to rise until you bake it. However, yeast is at its most active by far when it is warm. That means when your dough is in the refrigerator, the rate at which it expands will slow dramatically.  

That doesn’t mean you’re stopping the rise altogether. The dough will indeed continue to expand throughout the time that it’s in the refrigerator. However, you essentially pump the breaks on the proofing process by properly refrigerating your dough.  

One thing you’ll have to watch out for is your bread dough cracking or drying out while it’s in the refrigerator. Be sure to properly prep the dough for refrigeration, and seal it in an airtight container. For more on the best way to refrigerate bread dough, read on.

Best Way to Refrigerate Bread Dough

While there is no single approach that will sure-fire guarantee your refrigerated dough won’t overprove, there are certain steps you can take to increase your chances of a good bake. Let’s go through them one by one:

  • Refrigerate your dough as soon as possible. Refrigeration can quickly slow the proving process, but it becomes exponentially more difficult the longer the yeast stays warm. The moment you realize you’re not going to be able to bake your dough when you expected, get it in the refrigerator as quickly as you can.
  • Lightly coat the container with oil. When you’re ready to bake, the last thing you want is to have your dough stick to the container. That can result in stretching and tearing, which will damage your dough and could dramatically affect your bake. Thankfully this is easy to avoid. Coat your container with oil or another non-stick substance.
  • Make sure your container is airtight. If air is getting through to your dough while it’s in the refrigerator, it will dry out, and the edges will crack. You want to avoid this. We recommend either putting the dough into an airtight ziplock bag, or putting plastic wrap over a bowl. Either way, be sure to double-check that the container is completely sealed before setting it in the fridge.
  • Allow your dough to warm back up to room temperature before baking. Yes, you can refrigerate your dough, but you shouldn’t bake it cold. Once you’re ready to bake, leave the dough out until it approaches room temperature before you put it in the oven.

There is no perfect way to refrigerate the dough after the first rise that will guarantee success. But if you get it in the fridge as quickly as possible, oil your container, and make sure it’s airtight, you will more than likely still get a great bake.

How Long Can I Refrigerate Bread Dough After the First Rise?

Technically there is no limit to how long you can refrigerate your dough. However, you’ll have to keep in mind that refrigeration doesn’t stop the dough from rising;it merely slows it. It will continue to slowly prove for the duration of the time it is in the refrigerator.

Therefore, we recommend that you refrigerate your bread dough for a maximum of three days, and preferably not more than two. Within two days, your bread should still be in a mostly similar state when you first put it in the refrigerator. If you wait much longer, though, you’ll be at an increasingly greater risk of over-proofing.

Can I Refrigerate Bread Dough After the Second Rise?

As we’ve mentioned, refrigerating your dough after the first rise should be completely fine. However, we strongly recommend against refrigerating your dough after a second rise. While it won’t be inedible, it is likely to result in a significantly inferior bake.

If you’re only prepared to bake half your dough and want to bake the rest tomorrow, remove half and immediately return the remainder to the fridge. And as always, ensure the container is tightly sealed.  

What Are the Pros and Cons of Refrigerating Bread Dough?

Refrigerating your bread dough hasbenefits. Some bakers swear by it, as it can result in improved taste and texture. And, of course, refrigeration can save dough from over-proving.

However, failing to bake your dough immediately after the first rise certainly poses some risk. Not only could it overproof, but it can dry out, get stuck to the container, and become damaged.  

Check out this video below to find out if freezing dough is worth it.

The Final Word

If you’re looking to guarantee a good bake, your best bet is to get your dough in the oven immediately after it rises. However, life often has other plans, and if you bake long enough, you will invariably run into a situation where your dough has proofed, but you can’t bake it right away.

Putting your dough in the fridge after it rises can be risky, but it doesn’t have to affect your bake if you take proper steps. Get it in the refrigerator as quickly as possible, in an airtight, lightly oiled container. That should prevent cracking and sticking.  

Refrigeration does not halt the proving process, but it does slow it dramatically. So long as you get your dough into the oven within 48 to 72 hours, you should still end up with some delicious homemade bread.

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