Proving Bread Overnight - Why And How?

A round loaf with a wheat stalk scoring pattern
What about proving bread overnight, Paul Hollywood style (or otherwise)? Why would you want to? And how best to do it? If you've been wondering about the secrets of an overnight prove, this article is for you. Here I discuss the benefits (and potential drawbacks) of overnight proving and give you the easiest method for overnight success.

Note that Paul Hollywood and I may slightly disagree over the details of how to use this technique but, don't worry, I'll explain our differences and you can do whatever works for you.

Why Prove Bread Overnight?

If the bish-bash-bosh approach to bread making is your thing, you might not want to wait until tomorrow for your loaf. Naan bread, fresh from the oven, anyone? With instant dried yeast you can easily make bread within a few hours. However, with a little forward planning, you could start to see the benefits of an overnight prove.

Most of the time required to make bread is not hands-on. You're going to spend the majority of the time waiting for your dough to rise and your loaves to prove. Think how good it would be to wake up in the morning and be able to bake your bread immediately. Hot rolls for breakfast? Focaccia ready by lunchtime? Freshly made pizza rolls to take on a picnic? Having that dough ready to bake, first thing in the morning, is a real boon.

The overnight prove also prevents you from having to stay up late, waiting for your bread to be ready. Making the decision to pop the dough in a cold place overnight and bake it in the morning could definitely be better for a person's routine.

Why Not?

'Overnight' could be a very long prove: many hours longer than your typical instant-yeast dough would require. One of the risks of overnight proving is that it could be too long: the dough could become over-proved and saggy, falling into a flat pool of disappointment when baked. There is a simple remedy for this, so read on.

On The Plus Side (Maybe)

A long prove is said to result in better tasting bread. Because the yeast has longer to work on the flour, the flavours become more complex and perhaps more sour. If you are a fan of sourdough bread, this could be a great way to develop a more flavoursome loaf. If you are not a fan of sourdough, though, an overnight prove could be a less attractive idea.

In my experience, instant yeast breads do not develop a particularly sour taste overnight, so don't be disheartened.

What Did Paul Hollywood Say?

Having a bit of a google, as you do, I saw that Paul Hollywood had recommended leaving dough overnight. He'd been asked how to fit bread-making into a busy schedule and suggested that dough could be refrigerated in order to pause the process if it was more convenient to bake on the following day.

His suggestion was to mix up the dough and refrigerate it for the first fermentation stage. The following day (or, I believe, two or three days later would be fine) you let the dough warm up to room temperature for shaping and proving before baking it.

This is fine. It definitely works. I've done it myself. I've even done an extreme version of this where I actually froze the dough for several weeks. By all means use this method. But my preferred method is slightly different...

What's My Preferred Method?

I don't chill my dough at the fermentation stage. I wait until it is fully fermented (it will have doubled in size) and shaped into its final form. This, truly, is the proving stage.

After a short rest at room temperature (30 minutes to an hour) the remainder of the proving happens overnight in the fridge or (in winter) the cold garage. This way, when you wake up in the morning needing to get your pizza rolls ready before you set out on a hike, or hoping to have loaves ready for lunchtime, you can put on the oven immediately and bake the bread straight from the fridge.

It's a matter of personal preference and you should (obviously) do whatever works best for you.

How To Prevent Over-Proving

Leaving your dough unattended for a long time has the potential to be disastrous. By the time you come back to your dough it could be all over the fridge or slumped into a soggy, over-proved mess.

How you mitigate that depends on the type of bread you are making.

Since baking with Bernard, I've learnt that sourdough takes its time and tends to be a slow process. Instead of completing the first rise within an hour, Bernard-bread takes all day. I can safely prove Bernard-bread in the fridge overnight with no ill-effects. Indeed, a cold 'retard' of the final proving stage seems to be a standard process in the sourdough community.

When baking with instant yeast (this Fermipan Red* will keep very well in its sealed packaging for months) the fermentation will happen much more rapidly and is more likely to go wrong when you are not looking. It's a good idea to reduce the amount of yeast you are using in your dough. That, and the cold, will slow the whole process right down, making it (almost) guaranteed not to be a messy disaster in the morning.
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Good news: I recently made pizza rolls using the overnight proving method. I made them with my usual recipe, using in the usual amount of instant yeast. I left the rolls proving in the (cold!) oven in the (chilly) kitchen overnight and baked them in the morning. They grew A Lot in the night but they did not collapse from over-proving and were very successful picnic food. So, there you go: if you've got a big enough tin/bowl/tray to ensure that your dough isn't going to escape and make a mess, the normal amount of yeast may be fine.

A Convenient Method

Overnight proving is my go-to method with Bernard. I mix up my dough in the morning, wait all day for it to double in size, shape it in the evening and pop it into the fridge before bed. The following day I heat up the oven, first thing, and bake the bread straight from the fridge.

The best reason for proving bread overnight if you're using instant yeast is for the simple convenience of having fresh bread first thing in the morning. I do this every time I'm making pizza rolls or dough balls for picnics when I want to be ready to leave for an adventure as soon as possible after breakfast.

Have You Tried This?

Have you tried proving bread overnight, Paul Hollywood style or otherwise? What's your experience? Please leave a comment below (it helps me more than you might think!) and, of course, feel free to ask questions: my mission is to help you make great bread.

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  1. I have recently been experimenting with an overnight first fermentation. This arose because of my random approach to bread making meaning our days were dominated by the need to be around to bake bread.

    I adapted the method I used when I baked No Knead bread. I use my normal recipe and knead the dough as per normal. The only slight difference is that I use less yeast. I then simply let the dough rise overnight and then shape and bake in the morning.

    This seems to work for me. For a time I only baked No Knead bred but I prefer the traditional loaf. The only downside of this method seems to be that the loaf sometimes comes out of the oven in slightly cucumber type shape.

    I would say that the taste is better than normal. The tendency towards an odd shape is to us not a problem.

    1. It's great that you've adapted a recipe and found a schedule that works. Hopefully your success will encourage others to have a go and not be afraid to adjust and change things to suit themselves. Thanks for sharing!


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