In the grain: Rain and bread

Does rainy weather affect your baking?

Bread (photo credit: BOAZ LAVI)
(photo credit: BOAZ LAVI)
Does rainy weather affect your baking? As the first drops of winter rain beckon, it is interesting to explore whether the weather affects our baking and if so, how.
Three factors on a cold, rainy day affect our bread baking: the humidity level, the drop in temperature and the drop in barometric pressure.
After a particularly long spell of sweltering heat and humidity in Israel this summer, most of us probably do not relish the prospect of elevated humidity that accompanies rain. The good news is that it is the combination of heat and humidity that leaves us with our tongues hanging out. Although winter rain is accompanied by elevated levels of humidity, the lower temperatures reduce the impact this has on our functioning.
The truth is that, while it may often be oppressive for the baker, humidity is dough’s best friend. Nothing kills rising dough more than a blast of dry air, like that from an air conditioner. This is why most baking recipes tell you to cover your rising dough with a damp cloth or baste it in oil to prevent the outer skin from drying out. On a rainy day, when humidity levels reach close to 100% these steps are unnecessary as the humidity in the air will prevent the outer skin of the rising dough from becoming desiccated. A dry outer skin prevents the dough from rising optimally and will crack and leave unsightly fissures in the crust of your bread when it is baked.
Overcast skies and rain, especially during the winter season, are often accompanied by a drop in temperature. Lower room temperature and lower water temperature will adversely affect the rising time of your dough.
In winter, people are often mystified or mortified that their dough just sits there. Yeast, the “magic” ingredient that makes dough rise, is a living organism and just like us humans, it has a temperature range within which it feels comfortable and functions optimally. If the temperature falls below 20º centigrade, the yeast is slowly going to go to sleep, like a hibernating animal. To ensure that your dough rises well in colder temperatures, it is recommended to warm the water to lukewarm before kneading the dough, and after kneading to place the dough in a warm spot in the kitchen to rise.
One would think that a drop in barometric pressure, usually associated with rain, would have a substantial effect on the rising dough, but this is not the case. It is true that at low barometric pressures the air pressure on the dough is less and the dough rises more easily; however this is offset in cold, rainy weather by the associated drop in temperature, which slows the rising time. Low pressure also increases evaporation rates so that water is lost from the dough and the crust dries out quicker. This again is counterbalanced by a rise in humidity levels on a rainy day. The net result is that on a cold, rainy day, the drop in pressure does not really affect your dough.
What a drop in barometric pressure does do is affect the baker, especially the older bakers among us. With the approach of cold weather and rain, many bakers start to feel that “twitch” in their aging joints, making it more difficult to get going in the morning. Nothing remedies that better than exercise, and what better exercise can there be for the arms and hands than kneading dough! Many studies have been conducted on how rainy weather affects mood, often adversely. Nothing brightens the spirit more than the smell of freshly baked bread in the oven and it is a highly recommended cure for the rainy-day blues.
In short, keep your dough warm and wet, keep yourselves warm and dry and make rainy days baking days!
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Karnei Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and is the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health, nutrition and authentic Jewish bread.

Borscht bread
Instead of dunking white bread in beetroot soup on a winter’s day, try adding the beetroot to the bread itself. The pink/red color is novel and a great conversation piece.
Preparing the beetroot:
Peel and boil one medium-sized beetroot in a pot of water until soft.
Leave the beetroot and water to cool to lukewarm temperature. Save the beetroot water in the pot. In a food processor chop the beetroot finely (without the water).
Preparing the dough:
3 cups flour
¾ cup of lukewarm beetroot water (from the pot)
1 finely chopped beetroot
½ Tbsp. instant dried yeast
2 tsp. salt
¼ cup sesame seeds
Mix all the ingredients and knead for seven to 10 minutes. Depending on the size of the beetroot, you may need to adjust by adding extra flour if the dough is too sticky or extra beetroot water if the dough is too stiff.
Leave to rise covered with a damp cloth in a warm spot for an hour. Punch down and shape into an oval loaf. Place in a loaf pan and leave to rise for 90 minutes. Bake in a preheated oven at 180º for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.