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Traditional English Overnight Dough

The over night is one of the simplest breads to make and yet in my opinion one of the most rewarding from an eating experience and it was the way our breads would have been made through the late 1800's to the early 1900's, then as bakeries started to get larger they would have moved through to the sponge and dough method to produce larger volumes in a shorter production time.

The bread itself will be denser in texture and will have a thicker crust but the flavour will be intense and although it may be inclined to stale quicker the flavours will improve with keeping especially if toasted a week after production.

The recipe will be as for the Sponge you set for the sponge and dough method but if you choose to make a wholemeal version then you would need to reduce the yeast level by 50% as you will find you get a lot of activity from the natural yeasts present on the bran in the wholemeal flour.

Your choice of flour will be more important with this product than the sponge and dough method and the higher proteins are better suited, say a 12% rather than a 10% until you perfect the product.


% grms

wholemeal (grms)

White flour strong 100 500 500
Salt 2 10 10
Fresh yeast 0.5 2.5 1.25
Water 56 280 340

Finish dough temperature 21°C

Mix to a clear silky dough consistency, the dough will appear to be tight but it will slacken off through the fermentation process.

When the dough has been developed place it into a bowl at least twice the volume as the dough and cover with a plastic bag to keep all the moisture in. This moisture will be holding a lot of the flavours and converted sugars, so you need to retain it. Place it in the corner of the kitchen for at least 16 hours before looking at it. You will be tempted to prod and feel it but refrain, save it for later. Don't put on a radiator or over the cooker, it is in no hurry.

Although the recipe is set for a 16 hour fermentation this would be the minimum because the dough will be moving so slowly you will have a wider range on the tolerance and you will have at least a 4 hour window after this set time so experiment and experience the different flavours and textures that can be obtained with time.

When the bulk fermentation has taken place weigh off smaller dough pieces if you wish, or for one large loaf use all the dough and mould into your chosen shape(s) creating a tight uniformed shape without tearing the outer skin.

This type of bread lends it self to oven bottom breads better than a tin loaf but the choice is yours. If oven bottom then place onto a tray dusted liberally with wheat semolina or rice flour. This will not only add texture to the loaf but it will work as little ball bearings when you slide the loaf into the oven after the final proof.

When you are happy with your final mould place the dough onto the centre of the tray and cover once again with your plastic bag but now you need to form a dome above the dough to avoid the it sticking to the bag whilst proving. Once again this will create valuable moisture that you need to retain on the surface skin of the dough.

This will now need to stand in the corner of the kitchen for 1.5 to 2 hours depending on the ambient temperature of your kitchen. To test just lift the bag and push your finger gently into the side of the dough piece, it will form an indentation which should return slowly to its former shape. If it returns too fast the dough is under-proved and this will cause unpredictable oven spring. If it doesn't return, then the product is over-proved and this will create a pale crust, little oven spring, and will want to flow out when baked on the sole of the oven.


My advice is, place a thick baking tray one third up from the bottom and a small baking dish on the base of the oven when you first turn the oven on and set the temperature hot, say 220°C. This will make sure the trays are hot when you load the loaf into the chamber. (NB - Every oven will be different and you will know your oven, so adjust as you see fit!)

Before you need to set the loaf in the oven, turn the oven to maximum heat for an extra blast and get an egg cup full of water ready by the side of the oven..

This is the exciting bit that you have been building up to and everything must come together!

Take the plastic off your tray without it touching the damp surface of the dough. Give the top of the loaf a very light dusting of flour and then with a sharp knife slash the surface of the loaf a couple of times in a quick and deliberate action to form a clean cut that should start to open slightly if the dough is happy. This is not only for the appearance of the loaf but it will encourage the pent up activity to spring where you ask it to.

If you have a slip then place the dough onto the slip, if not open the oven door and quickly pick up the dough piece and place straight onto the hot tray one third up from the bottom. Then quickly throw the water onto the baking dish at the bottom of the oven. This will create an important burst of steam needed to gelatinise the surface starches you have preserved throughout the process. Close the door quickly and turn the heat down to 210°C.

The reason for setting onto a hot surface is to seal the base of the loaf first. The moisture created by the steam you have added to the chamber will not only create a better crust but will keep the surface supple for longer. As the base of the loaf is sealed on the hot surface, there is only one place for the spring to come out and that will be where you have asked it to with the slashing of the surface.

The loaf will be baked through in 30 mins, if you have a dough thermometer, probe the centre of the loaf, if it reaches 96°C the loaf will be fully baked, and further baking will be cosmetic and a matter of personal preference. It may help to open the door for a couple of minutes after the first 30 to draw off some of the excess steam and then close it while you fine tune your crust.