The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

when to retard dough--before or after shaping?

autopi's picture

when to retard dough--before or after shaping?

i have been baking loaves out of BBA for a couple months now with good to very good results. i have one question which i haven't been able to figure out, and would appreciate thoughts on. sometimes reinhart says to mix up the dough and then stick it in the fridge overnight, and then let it rise, shape, proof & bake the next day. for instance, i believe his poolish baguette formula is like this.

on the other hand, sometimes he says to mix up the dough, let it bulk ferment & shape it, then stick it in the fridge, baking it the following day. for instance, the pane siciliano is like this.

my question is: does it matter when in the process you retard the dough? i have followed his recipes fairly closely, but i'd prefer to put the dough in the fridge immediately after mixing. it takes up less space, and i've also found that when i let my shaped doughs sit for any length of time, they spread out and become pretty flat w/o too much oven spring. (most of the doughs i make are wettish.)

i assume there is some kind of difference to doing it one way or the other, since reinhart is specific about it. but i'm not sure what the difference is, or how much of a difference it makes. i tried searching the forums, my apologies if this has been discussed and i missed it.

if it makes any difference, i tend to make all my loaves with a 100% hydration sourdough starter + a little bit of commercial yeast (usu. 1/4 tsp or so).

rockfish42's picture

There's some rationale in Hammelman but I don't have my book at hand, I'll get back to you tomorrow if nobody else hops in. Off the top of my head I seem to remember straight yeast doughs and yeasted preferments being retarded in bulk and sourdough being retarded after shaping.

Renee72's picture

Hi autopi, I usually will refrigerate my doug after bulk fermentation.  I then shape it cold, and bake after it warms up for a few hours.  (I usually only use a sourdough starter.)  I find for me, the wetter dough is easier to shape when it's cold.


dghdctr's picture

There are some established practices where it comes to retarding bread dough, but you haven't run into anything here that can't be played with.  You can benefit quite a bit by reading Jeffrey Hamelman's commentary on baking principles in the first 60-odd pages of his excellent book, as well as the appendices that cover baker's percentage and sourdough manipulation toward the back.

I say that because it isn't clear to me whether you are experienced in dealing with issues like "percentage of prefermented flour," "enzyme activity," or the effects of differing hydration upon the tolerance of a dough to long fermentation.  Learning about these things is not as scary as it sounds.  They can be learned easily enough if you're willing to accept some variation in your bread quality as you practice and learn.

Just offhand, I'd say that a dough with a liquid pre-ferment is somewhat more stable and gives more predictable results when it is retarded in bulk than when you retard shaped raw loaves of the same dough.  The more rapid enzyme activity associated with a liquid preferment causes some breakdown of starches and gluten either way, but if you bake within just a couple of hours of shaping, this is less of a concern.

With a firm pre-ferment, the enzymes are less of an issue because they don't work at degradation so rapidly.  In this case, you could get fairly predictable results doing a bulk ferment or retarding the shaped raw loaves..

And I don't mean to imply that you can't see success in retarding loaves made with a liquid preferment.  People do see success with it.  But it's a bit more of a gamble, and I never go to Vegas.

BTW, I don't mean to open a can of worms here, but there is little objective evidence that retarding bread dough using either technique actually improves the flavor every time by comparison with a long-fermented (say, four- to five-hour) room-temperature bulk fermentation (or by comparison to a 2-hour bulk ferment of a dough with significant amount of pre-ferment).

The practice of retarding bulk dough or shaped loaves originated from a desire to gain control of the rate of fermentation and to better arrange the baking schedule to suit the needs of the baker.  Fermentation activity eventually comes close to cessation at very cold refrigerator temps, so the perceived benefit of additional hours of refrigeration past that point is questionable.

As an example -- I'm pretty sure that in two or three weeks I'll be employing both methods of retardation to make yeasted products for a bakery here in Cincinnati.  But whether I use one or the other in any instance will be decided by what I think is the most efficient method of getting bread into and out of the oven during the work day, within the labor budget that I have.  It also enables me to mix and shape dough at our leisure during banker's hours and use the cost-free time when I'm not there to ferment and take control of the proofing process.  Then I can bake first thing the next day, at around 5 or 6am instead of coming in to mix, ferment, shape and bake starting at midnight.

For most pros, retarding -- if used at all -- is all about the convenience it provides.  So it works well when mastered, and I'd use it without hesitation if it made my life easier.  But it isn't a magic bullet that guarantees good eating qualities in your bread.

--Dan DiMuzio