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Cold-weather dough raising hack: Try a lizard mat

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Chilly weather?  Dough refusing to rise??

I feel your pain.

It feels absolutely insane to be kvetching about the cold here in Israel, but the fact is, it DOES get cold here.  Not as cold as some places, but because of that, many homes don’t have central heating and you have to rely on patchy warming from air conditioners and inefficient space heaters.  Besides which, houses are built out of concrete, which not only holds onto cold, but it also feels damp—often because it is.

So the cold can be very intense here.  And that can make bread very, very grumpy.

Over the last few weeks as things chilled, I’ve noticed that breads are not so happy rising with the frigid air, especially when things dip down below 20 (Celsius). 

After a few attempts to steam dough (setting it in a covered bowl set into another bowl or basin filled with hottish water), which led to a scare at one point when the water turned out to be too hot, I was ready to try something else.  Anything else.

And then I remembered: the lizard mat.

What the heck is a lizard mat???

If you’re more into kitchen stuff than messing around with animals, maybe you haven’t heard.

I, on the other hand, used to own lizards, long ago.  Reptiles, being cold-blooded, need to be externally warmed, with lights overhead, plug-in “rocks” they can clamber up on to sun themselves on… and heat mats, flat waterproof(ish) plastic that you put under stones or another base material to warm it up JUST enough that it’s going to cozy up a lizard without hurting him.

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They also need a nice steady supply of food – in my lizards’ case, live crickets.  But that’s another story.

I bought my lizard mat on Aliexpress back at Pesach time – I chose the 7W size for a little over $3 – because I wanted to start making yogurt.  It worked great for

that, although, to be honest, there’s so much delicious yogurt out there, so cheap, plus not every kind worked well as a culture, that I kind of gave up on the yogurt-making operation almost right away.

Some people recommend heating pads for yogurt making, and they might also work for dough rising – except for a few things.  First, heating pads are thick and softly-padded so you can cuddle up with them.  A lizard mat is not, it’s just a thin sheet of wipe-clean plastic, which strikes me as more utilitarian if you don’t want all kinds of fluffy soft things in your kitchen.  The lizard mat is also designed for use in animal enclosures, so it’s okay to get a little damp, and this seems better in the kitchen.  Finally, what if you need your heating pad? :-)

So aesthetically and overall, especially given the price, it just seems better to have a dedicated piece of equipment that functions beautifully in the bedroom (i.e., the heating pad) and a separate dedicated piece of equipment that functions beautifully in the kitchen (i.e., the lizard mat).

But, not having any lizards, and discouraged by failed yogurting, my mat has basically sat around gathering dust for the better part of the last year – until last week when I really needed my dough to rise in plenty of time for supper.

Enter the lizard mat.

It worked well then and I’ve used it three times since, including overnight for challah making.

Why the Lizard Mat is perfect for bread:

  • It’s just a little over human body temperature – an ideal temperature for dough
  • Won’t scorch the bottom of whatever your dough is in
  • Won’t rise too fast – I’m a huge fan of the long, slow rise and all the amazing flavours it helps develop
  • Simple to use – just plug it in and set your bowl right on top of it
  • Cheap – again, it cost $3 plus shipping
  • Helpful for any other kitchen applications where you need gentle heat (as in the aforementioned yogurt, and I’m sure a few other uses!)
  • Flat and open – can rise dough in a bowl or formed loaves

You could also try a seedling mat, which I used to own a few of in Toronto, but if I remember right, they do get a little bit warmer, so maybe borrow one to try it out first.  They’re also more robustly waterproof (for the obvious reason!), so they are slightly more expensive.

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Since this is an electrical device, I would be remiss if I finished this post without mentioning a few important safety tips.

Important Safety Tips!

  • Use heat mat only on a heatproof surface.  Specifically, NOT WOOD!
  • Monitor heat mat carefully
  • Though it is water-resistant to some extent, never IMMERSE a heat mat in water
  • Unplug before cleaning and keep the “heat block” (the black bit at the end where the cord goes in) as dry as possible
  • Keep away from cooking oil, spray cans, and other combustible materials.  You know, just in case.
  • Never use a heat mat that is damaged or that has a damaged cable

There.  Hopefully these tips will cover me from legal liability. 

If you’ve tried a lizard mat, or if you have another wintry-weather dough-rising hack, I’d love to hear about it in the Comments below. 

Note that all links in this post are affiliate links to help you find great kitchen products that work well.  If you click through, I get a very small kickback.  So click away, and thanks!

(Note:  when buying on Aliexpress or any international site, please check that the plug style – EU 220V or NA 110V – is the right kind for where you live!)

Happy rising!

Awesome lizard-on-mat illustration up top © CMadeo (WMF) via Wikimedia.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

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