The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Retarding sourdough loaves overnight

rryan's picture

Retarding sourdough loaves overnight

I have recently started baking sourdough bread, and have thoroughly enjoyed the process.  Each loaf has been a "success", but each loaf has been very different from the others.  My wife and I have very different opinions about whether or not a loaf is a success.  For me, the crust should be a beautiful brown, and very crispy/chewy.  The crumb should be open, with some large, irregular holes.  My wife, on the other hand, prefers a bread with a golden colored, soft, delicate crust, and a finer crumb.

I have been able to achieve the bread I prefer by baking boules in a cast iron pot.  My wife's favorite loaves were achieved by baking batards on a pizza stone (although I was honestly trying to bake bread the way I really like it!).  I have posted about a couple of my previous loaves on TFL, and a number of you have responded with comments and suggestions about each loaf.  One suggestion that was made more than once was retarding the dough after shaping.  So this time, I decided to give retarding in the refrigerator a try.  Of course, I was hoping to end up with a loaf with crisp crust and a really open crumb.

I used Mike Avery's basic mild sourdough recipe again, only modifying it by adding a tablespoon of Bob's Red Mill vital gluten, as the organic AP flour I get from my local co-op is lower in protein than the KA flour I was previously using.  Lacking proper bannetons, I used a couple ceramic bowls from the china cabinet.  They measured 5 1/2 inches in diameter by 2 1/2 inches deep.  The dough had been kneaded a bit in my Kitchen Aid mixer, then stretched and folded three times at 45-minute intervals, and finally formed into round balls and placed in the ceramic bowls. The shaped dough was put into a cold refrigerator (actual temp unknown, but a lot of things freeze in the darned thing) overnight. Total retard time was about 12 hours.

On removal from the fridge, the loaves were nearly completely risen. They had risen enough that the portion above the bowl was at least as large as the portion in the bowl.  Rather than chance disaster by removing them from the bowls to bake, I opted to bake them as "pan" breads.  Fortunately, I had buttered the bowls, rather than lining them with floured cloth, so I was able to just pop them in the oven after a 2-hour warm-up period and scoring them.  I spritzed them with water and placed them in a 375 degree farenheit oven directly on a baking stone for about 45 minutes.  At that time, they were golden in color, but sounded hollow and had an internal temperature of 202 degrees. They were removed from the ceramic bowls and placed on cooling racks.

The results were somewhat surprising, although maybe they shouldn't hve been.  The upper sections (above the bowls) had crunchy, chewy crust.  The lower sections (baked in the bowls) had soft crusts.  The crumb was light and open, moist but not wet, and the flavor was less subtle than previous loaves, with a more pronounced sourdough flavor.

Overall, this baking was a "success" for both of us.  My wife had her soft crust, and I had my crisp and chewy crust.  The crumb didn't have big, irregular holes, but it was open and delicate.  Retarding the final dough paid off in flavor, but the baking method undoubtedly affected the crumb and crust. Overall, though, I'm certain that more bread will be baked this way in our house.

Feel free to weigh in with comments and suggestions.

dmsnyder's picture

You can't knock it!

Looks like a huge cupcake.


1. If you want a crunchier crust, bake at a higher temperature to brown the crust more.

2. Butter will soften the crust. The lower half was buttered; the upper wasn't. You could try buttering the right half only, as an experiment.

3. I would not regard the crumb in your photo "open," but, if you like it that way, who cares?

4. I generally bake lean breads to an internal temperature of 205F or higher. Did you feel the crumb was fully cooked? Not gummy?

Anyway, it's a handsome loaf.


rryan's picture

Thanks, sure does look like a huge cupcake!  To answer your questions:

  1. I baked the previous batards at 500 on a well-preheated stone, but they were still soft, and I know the temperature was accurate as I use an oven thermometer.  Another person on TFL suggested that I should try leaving the loaf in the oven a few minutes after turning the oven off to crisp the crust.  The giant cupcakes had crisp crust on top, but they also baked for 45 minutes, so I'm sure that helped.
  2. Buttering half the crust before baking would be a fun experiment.  My wife would know for sure that I was trying to meet her half way.
  3. Maybe "fluffy" is a better term than "open".  It is much lighter in texture than it appears in the picture.
  4. Yes, the crumb seems fully cooked. I know that it looks awfully moist in the photo, but it is not the least bit wet or gummy.  I will take it to at least 205F next time, though, and see the difference.

I appreciate your input, and always enjoy reading your posts.



xaipete's picture

Bob, I really wonder about the accuracy of your oven temperature and/or thermometer. I put an oven stone on the 2nd to lowest rack and preheat for at least 45 minutes at 500. After I put the bread in I turn it down to 450. Sometimes I've forgotten to turn it down and gotten a really dark, almost burnt, crust. I, like David, also cook to 205 degrees.

I'm really puzzled by how light the crust on all your breads are. Maybe it's your flour.


rryan's picture

Thanks for your input, Pamela.  My oven temperatures have been checked with 3 separate thermometers, one digital and two analog types. I have always been a fanatic about oven temp. This particular loaf was baked at 375F after a 1 hour pre-heat and temperature check before placement of the bread in the oven. The baking temperature was in accordance with the recipe used.

You are probably right about the flour, though.  I used to bake with KA AP or Bread flour.  I have switched to an organic AP flour from Heartland Mill purchased through my co-op.  The flour is unbleached, unenriched, and has no malt flour in it.  I actually wanted the enriched version, which is a malted flour, but the co-op ordered the wrong one this time.  Without the malt, the crust would be more difficult to brown.  Maybe I should add a little diastatic malt the next time.  I often use my homemade diastatic malt powder in my whole wheat yeast breads. It provides a nice crust and adds a bit of sweetness without the use of  sweeteners in the bread.



pattycakes's picture

Hi David,

Re your suggestion to make sure and cook bread to 205 interior temp, I wonder if you or anyone else knows whether high altitude would change that number?

I have tried to attain it by cooking the heck out of the bread, but my bread never registers over 198 degrees. We are at 7000 ft. here, and water boils about that temp.

My husband, The PHYSICIST, says that the boiling point of water shouldn't affect the temp of the bread because most of the water is cooked out. I have been getting cooked bread most of the time, but it would be nice to know what's going on and have a reliable guide--besides thumping the bottom, which is not all that accurate. Another thought that I had was that my thermometer wasn't correctly calibrated, and in fact, we tried three different ones and got three different readings, none of which got over 200.





rryan's picture

Hello Patricia...

Mike Avery lives and bakes at high altitude, over 7000 feet, I believe.  He indicates in his basic sourdough recipe that he bakes it to an internal temperature of 190F.  Take a look at his website at


davidm's picture

Patricia, I have the same situation, being at almost 9000 feet here.

I have found it next to impossible to get my internal loaf temps above 200 and still have an edible loaf that is not black. With multigrain sourdoughs, (not rye) which is what I bake most often, I give a pretty bold bake and the internal temp is 198 - 200 after they are as dark as I can live with. I've tried varying the oven temp and position in the oven and a few other things, but to no avail.

The bread is just fine though, without signs of gumminess or other problems, so I've quit worrying about it. 

I think the water does exit the bread at a lower temp due to the reduced boiling point, at least that's my theory.

I even tried a few smaller, roll sized, breads some while back, and those came up to 205 OK, albeit darker than I liked for a roll, and the crumb eating quality was not improved at all. I couldn't tell the difference. The crust was too robust though, especially for a roll.

onward. :)

pattycakes's picture

This is really good information, David.

Davo's picture

Has the pysicist considered that a lower boiling point might mean a lower temperature at which the liquid water in the loaf would rather be steam?

pattycakes's picture

Thanks for your replies, Bob and Davo.

I went to the Sourdough Home site, which is a great resource for anyone trying to work with sourdough. And that's what I thought, Davo, that the liquid was turning to steam at a lower temp, but it's hard to argue with a physicist...(although sometimes I force myself).

ehanner's picture

I think I have seen Mike comment that his finished temp is lower than for us flatlanders. Actually he is now in Texas and busy as I haven't seen him here in a while. The science would use the water as a buffer for the rising temperature. I suspect the dough wouldn't get significantly above the boiling point for water unless or until the water was all boiled/steamed out. Then you would find a 500F cinder on the stone eventually. :>)