Making your own dough is a great way to guarantee healthy bread-based goodies and have total control over the ingredients that go into your food. Once you get the hang of it and begin to make dough frequently enough, I am sure you will ponder the question that many bakers have asked at one time or another: does dough go bad? In short, the answer is yes, absolutely. Given enough time, your dough will go bad.
That said, you might be surprised at how long it can actually last in the fridge or freezer.
Here’s what you need to know.
Does dough go bad?
Like anything that uses fresh ingredients, bread dough will eventually go bad, although it can last for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. However, an enriched dough that contains eggs and milk will not last as long, especially if it’s left at room temperature.
If I am being honest, I have forgotten dough more times than I would like to admit in the fridge, yet I rarely throw it out. I will almost always salvage something out of it.
When bread dough is left in the fridge for a long period of time, the yeast begins to lose its leavening effect and will stop rising the dough. The best thing to do with dough that has been sitting in the fridge is to make pizza, naan bread, or another type of flatbread. Making something flat that doesn’t need much rise to it means your dough won’t go to waste.
Any standard dough made with flour, water, and yeast is very long-lasting and you shouldn’t have any issue with leaving it in the fridge for extended periods of time. There is nothing in the dough that will make it go off fast. Letting it ferment for longer actually improves the quality and taste of the dough, to a certain extent at least.
Keep in mind that some recipes actually require the dough to be made in advance and left in the fridge for days. The pizza recipe I use ferments the dough in the fridge and can be kept in there for up to 5 days. The longer it ferments, the tastier the pizza is!
Sourdough starter also needs to ferment for a week and can be kept for a lifetime in the fridge if you keep feeding it properly. So, dough can actually last a lot longer if cared for properly.
Having said that, dough can still go bad if you completely forget about its existence and come back to it a few months later. Even if you have forgotten your dough for a week, check if it’s still good to use and that it hasn’t been contaminated.
Dough that has been frozen can stay in the freezer for up to 3 months. Watch for freezer burn though as this can really alter the taste of your dough.
How To Tell if Bread Dough Has Gone Bad
Alright, so you know how long dough can last, but how do you actually know when it’s past its best? Here are 4 methods how to tell if bread dough has gone bad.
The most obvious way to tell if your dough has gone bad is by its smell. If it smells rancid then that can mean that it is off. There is a trick to knowing if your dough smells bad because it is off or it smells bad because it is fermenting. When you are fermenting dough or making a sourdough starter, it will start to have a sour smell. Some people compare the smell to alcohol or beer. This is perfectly normal and means that your dough is healthy and the yeast is working its magic.
If the dough smells more like off cheese or like something is rotting, then it has gone bad and you should throw it away.
If you are making a dough that contains eggs and milk, the smell will be more potent than a standard dough. You will know straight away if it has gone off as it will smell like off milk. These types of dough don’t last as long in the fridge and definitely not as long at room temperature.
Another way to tell if your dough has gone bad is by looking at it. If you see any mold on the surface, then that means it is contaminated and you should not eat it.
It doesn’t matter how much of the dough is covered in mold, if there is ANY mold then it’s a no-go.
Mold can grow very quickly on bread dough, especially if it is left at room temperature. If you live in a hotter climate, then you will have to be more careful about leaving your dough out.
Change in Texture
Another sign to look out for is a change in the texture of the dough. If it is wetter than usual or feels slimy, then that could be a sign that it has gone bad.
If you notice any spots on the surface of the dough which are dry and cracked, that is also another indication that it has gone bad.
If you are unsure whether your dough has gone off or not, there is a simple way to test it. Take a small piece of the dough and bake it in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius. If the dough rises and smells normal, then it is safe to eat.
If the dough doesn’t rise or smells bad, then you should discard it.
Even if your dough passes the smell and taste test, I still recommend discarding it as there is no way to know for sure that it hasn’t been contaminated. Better safe than sorry!
Change in Color
The dough’s color can also be a tell-tale sign that it has gone bad. A healthy dough will have a white or beige color. If the dough starts to go grey or begins to form grey spots then it has gone off.
If you see that the color has just started to change, don’t attempt to use the dough. The grey spots are a sign that mold is already growing on the dough and you don’t want to risk eating it.
As I mentioned before, an enriched dough that contains eggs and milk will not last as long, especially if it is left at room temperature. The dough will start to change color and become more yellow the longer it is left out.
If you are not going to use the enriched dough within a day or two, then I wouldn’t make it at all. Make the enriched dough the same day you are planning on baking it.
If you have put your dough in the freezer, freezer burn is another common reason why your dough will have gone off.
Freezer burn is when the food has been in the freezer for too long and the ice crystals have started to form. This will make your dough hard and dry. You might be able to see white spots on the surface of the dough where the ice crystals have formed.
If you think that your dough might have freezer burn, then you can try to save it by adding some water to it. This will rehydrate the dough and make it easier to work with. However, I wouldn’t recommend trying to bake with freezer-burned dough as it won’t taste very good. If you don’t want the dough to go to waste though, you can always try to make something with it.
Freezer burn doesn’t mean that the dough has gone off, but it is a sign that the dough has been in the freezer for too long and might alter the taste.
How To Store Dough in the Fridge
Once you have made your dough and let it rise once, put the dough in an airtight container. Pick a container that is at least twice the size of the dough ball. This will give the dough enough room to rise again. If the dough recipe doesn’t ask for it to rise twice, just put the dough straight into the fridge and it will slowly ferment and rise.
I tend to put my pizza dough in the fridge overnight after I have let it rise at room temperature for 5 hours. For this, I like to use a rounded container so I can tip out the dough onto a floured surface and shape it into a pizza easily.
As I mentioned previously, dough can last up to 2 weeks in the fridge, but I recommend using it as quickly as possible and no more than 5 days old.
How To Store Dough in the Freezer
If you make dough but are not planning on using it any time soon you can store it in the freezer.
Just like storing it in the fridge, make sure that the dough is tightly wrapped in an air-tight container. When storing in the freezer, I like to wrap the dough in a layer of cling wrap and then put it in a freezer bag. This will help to prevent the dough from absorbing any other flavors or smells.
The dough can last up to three months in the freeze, but I would recommend using it sooner than that as the quality might start to go down over time.
When it’s time to use it, let the dough thaw on your counter for the day or overnight in the fridge.
Once thawed, place it in a bowl and let it rise. I like to pre-heat my oven for this. The oven will create the perfect warm environment for the dough to rise.
How To Store Dough at Room Temperature
I wouldn’t recommend storing dough at room temperature for an extensive period. If the dough is left out for long, the yeast will continue to expand the dough causing it to overproof. Over proofing dough will cause it to collapse in the oven and it will lose all its structure.
If you are not planning on making the dough and baking it on the same day, put the dough in the fridge as this will slow down the fermentation process.
So, yes dough can go bad but it’s very easy to prevent this from happening. Just be vigilant with your smell and sight tests and if there are any signs of spoilage, get rid of the dough. You can also extend the shelf-life of your dough by storing it in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.
Now that you know how to store your dough and how to tell if it has gone bad, you can get baking! Just remember, the fresher the dough, the better the end result will be. So try and use the dough within a week of making it.