How To Keep Dough From Drying Out While Rising: Avoid A Dry Crust

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Rising your dough without the top drying out is an important step in the dough process. This hard crust will stop the dough from rising fully and will add some weird textures to your dough.

To keep dough drying out, keep it covered with one of these:

And also follow these tips:

  • Avoid drafts and dry environments
  • Lightly oil the surface of the dough

As you can see, there are a lot of ways you can stop your dough from drying out. I usually use a kitchen towel that I’ve dampened if I am rising for a few hours. If I am going longer such as when I put it in the fridge, then I use an airtight container.

See some of the more creative ways in this article – you don’t have to go through lots of plastic wrap!

How Air Dries Out Dough

Essentially what happens is when air comes in contact with the dough, it dries the surface out and this becomes a crust.

How long this takes to happen depends on how humid the surrounding air is. In a drafty or dry environment, this could be as little as 20 minutes.

That’s why the first thing to avoid is drafts. This seems to dry dough out much faster because it moves moisture away quicker. So find a corner of your kitchen that is protected and away from windows and doors which can bring in air.

For rises of a few hours, a damp kitchen towel works great because it shelters from the drafts. The moisture on the towel ensures the dough has a humid environment, which is the ideal condition the yeast can ferment in.

It’s important it is slightly wet otherwise the dry air could dry the dough.

Keeping The Dough Airtight

For longer rises (longer than a few hours), the goal is to become airtight to avoid any excess contact with air.

So airtight containers can be the easiest – a large tub with a lid is a good investment. You can also easily see when the dough doubles or triples in size when rising because it moves up the tub.

Some other creative examples are the shower cap. This stretches over the bowl or proofing basket with the elasticated edge, and ensures it is completely airtight.

Much easier than plastic wrap and you don’t have to throw it away every time.

I also use a cake carrier which is a tray with a round plastic lid that you can open and close to keep cakes fresh. It works great as a proofing container if I am just making one loaf or several pizza dough balls.

My Go-To Choice

My usual choice when I am rising for a few hours is to drape a clean tea towel over a bowl and sprinkle some water on top.

I like this method because it’s so quick and I’ve always got a towel to hand in the kitchen. It also doesn’t use any plastic wrap, which is better for the environment in a world avoiding single-use plastics.

When I am rising for longer times, I use an airtight container with a lid. You can walk off and forget about the dough knowing that it is protected from the air for as long as you want.

Best Choice For Longer Bulk Rises

You need to be careful using a tea towel when rising for longer times. This could be a problem for many people.

The problem is that the towel dries out, and now the dough is faced with dry air through the towel. This isn’t a problem for short times, but over extended periods this can cause the surface to dry.

It’s better to use a tub with a lid or some plastic wrap here. I have a cylindrical tub that I place my dough into when I am rising lots of dough.

Best Choice For Proofing Before Baking

Proofing is the last rise before baking. Here the bread is shaped so we need to be able to keep it protected in its shape and also keep it airtight.

I usually use a banneton to proof my bread, so this has to fit somewhere.

One idea I use is a cake container with a lid (see on Amazon). This is designed to keep cakes fresh but works great with a banneton inside it. I can fit this in the fridge on the shelf.

This doesn’t work if you have multiple breads waiting to be baked. So you can also buy cheap shower caps to cover dough, and then reuse them next time.

To Oil Or Not To Oil

You can add a protective coat of oil to your dough by adding a few drops in the bowl and turning the dough ball around until sealed. This stops contact between the dough and the air and does a good job of preventing a hard crust.

Keep in mind that adding oil to the dough will affect the bread slightly. Without oil, the bread gets a bit more crisp because it dries out more in the oven. The oil creates a slightly softer and chewier bread.

The extreme example of this is brioche, which is enriched and very soft. With the oil on the outside of the dough, this should only affect the crust. But if it gets inside the dough then the crumb is altered too.

Dough with oil and without is neither better nor worse, just different.

Sourdough purists tend to not add oil to their dough at all. Instead, keeping it to just flour, water, yeast, and salt. When you make pizza, you can brush or spray the dough balls with a little oil to keep them fresh.

Keep Dough From Drying Out In Fridge

When I put my dough in the fridge to delay the rise, it’s usually because it’s going in overnight. This extended period is at risk of drying out. Especially because the fridge is cold and the air can be dry.

I’ve found that a kitchen towel isn’t enough in here, so I usually use a tub with a lid for the bulk rising phase.

When I shape it into loaves I will use a cake container, plastic bag, or use a shower cap over the top, depending on what bread shape I am making. The important thing is to just keep the cover from touching the dough and ensure it’s airtight.

Conclusion

Having your dough dry out need not be a problem because there are so many solutions available to you. Probably just ensuring you cover the dough with a damp towel is a simple first step to avoiding it.

It’s worth getting some extra kitchen equipment if you are making bread regularly. Proper dough tubs are good for the bulk fermentation phase, and a cake container or shower cap are good investments for the proofing phase when the bread is shaped.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Crust Kingdom. As a self-taught cook, he has been perfecting making pizzas at home for over a decade. Now he runs this site to help millions of people make pizza every year. About Tom Hambly.

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