The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Retarding dough - in bulk or after shaping?

occidental's picture

Retarding dough - in bulk or after shaping?

I've been home sick this week which leaves me plenty of time to wonder about things.  I have had sucess with long ferments but had never compared overnight ferment in bulk vs overnight ferment after shaping.  I decided to try an experiment so I created a formula for a sourdough and made two loaves, one with each approach.  The results are in but to tell you the truth, with the approach to fermentation being the only variable I could not taste a discernable difference in the loaves.  Both have a similar crust and crumb, however I got better oven spring out of the one overnight fermented in bulk.  That was about the only difference.  I'd like to try this experiment again, hey I get to eat the results after all.  From what I learned so far with flavors being equal I'd prefer to overnight ferment in bulk to avoid the occasional stuck loaf.


Why I am really posting though is to pose this question to the group.  Which approach to retarding do you prefer, and why?  Have you done any comparisons and noticed a difference in flavor from loaves from the same formula?

Can't resist posting without a few pics from the results of my experiments:

RebelWithoutASauce's picture

I prefer to ferment before shaping. Here are my reasons.


1. This gives time for gluten to develop so I do not have to knead as much to shape a nice loaf.

2. This takes up way less room.

3. The bulk ferment is mostly to develop flavor, while the final proof is mostly to develop volume. Bacteria are more active that yeast in the cold so more bacterial action occurs during a refrigerator trip (bacteria=flavor).


I have not done a side-by-side analysis. This is mostly because I do not have the room in my refrigerator (which I share with two roommates) to store proofed loaves. A lump of dough I just leave in one of those cheap enameled camping pots that I have oiled.


That is a great looking crumb you have there!


logdrum's picture

my goal is to have consistant results regardless of the method. That being said, I find the loaves turn out better if they're allowed to retard after shaping. I haven't  discerned any appreciable difference in flavor-all other factors being equal.




bakinbuff's picture

I have been doing the overnight ferment in bulk before shaping up until yesterday, when I thought I'd try another way.  I've noticed that my loaves don't seem to get a very satisfying oven spring, despite a very healthy and active starter, so I got to wondering whether my problem might be over-proofing.  I am no expert by far, and this was just a guess, but my usual schedule for daily sourdough went like this:  Early evening take starter out of fridge, put amount needed in a glass bowl with some fresh flour and water, mix up and leave (covered) to bubble up for an hour or two.  Just before bed, mix up all ingredients of dough and leave in same oiled glass bowl (covered with plastic wrap) on counter overnight.  In the morning, the dough would be almost at the top of the bowl.  At this point I would shape and leave in a bowl (boule shaped loaf) until risen enough to turn the oven on for baking.  What I found was that the last rise took from 8am til 11am or so, but once the loaf was in the oven, it had some spring but certainly not as much as I would like.  So yesterday, I tried something different.


I took my starter out of the fridge at around 2pm, left it on the counter until the lid had popped off and it had risen to the top of the container (about an hour or so).  Then I mixed up the dough, kneaded it for around 10minutes (by hand), let it rest, and gave it another knead.  I then let it rise from 4pm until 10pm in a warm place (next to the radiator with my winter coat snuggled over it!).  At this point, it had nearly tripled in size.  I then shaped my loaf after a few stretch and folds to get a nice tight surface, then popped the loaf on a piece of parchment, covered with greased plastic wrap, and stuck it in the fridge until the morning.  I took the loaf out at 7am and turned the oven on at 9am.  The loaf turned out with an excellent oven spring, lovely bubbled crunchy crust, and gloriously soft and chewy crumb.  The best loaf I have made yet, and the first one not to spread out instead of rise up (owing to stretching and folding which I was unaware of until this week!).  Also, it had a fantastic delicately sour flavour.  Myself and my three sons devoured it with our soup at lunchtime, so unfortunately can't post a pic of the crumb!  I will be doing my daily sourdough loaf this way from now on as I've found it works well for me.