The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Rules of thumb for retarding

venkitac's picture

Rules of thumb for retarding

Due to various schedules at work, it turns out that the best bet for me to bake bread during weekdays is to retard (preferably) the proofing. I've been trying to piece together from various books rules of thumb to convert yeasted bread recipes that are not retarded, to a retarded proof. So far, I've more questions than answers:)

- Most every book I've seen says that retarding bulk fermentation adds flavor, but do not say that about retarded proofing. I don't understand why this is - the organic acids should be produced just as well in a retarded proof, right? (Particularly in home environments where you bake 1-2 loaves. Maybe for bakeries there's added effects due to the mass effect,) Does someone know whether proofing overnight produces the same results as bulking overnight?

- The only rule of thumb regarding yeast changes that I could find was in Dan DiMuzio's book, where he says that you might want to cut yeast from 0.7% to 0.2-04% if you're retarding the proof. It wasn't clear to me whether that's the only adjustment needed in terms of time/temparature/yeast/hydration. That is, let's say a recipe says that "add 0.6% yeast, improved mix, bulk for 2 hours, proof for 2", would the change be "add 0.3% yeast, improved mix (with an added 1/2 folds because of the overnight proof), bulk for 2, retard for 12"? Or would I need to change more that one factor in time/temp/yeast/hydration at the same time?

- Any other general tips/rules of thumb for recipe conversion to a retarded proof?



mrfrost's picture
mrfrost "...Fitting bread to your schedule

The amount of yeast you use in your bread dough has a significant bearing on how quickly it'll rise, and thus on your own schedule. By reducing the yeast, you insure a long, slow rise rather than a series of quick rises and resultant falls. The more yeast in a recipe initially, the quicker it reproduces, and the more alcohol it produces (alcohol is a byproduct of yeast growth). The alcohol, being acidic, weakens the gluten in the dough, and eventually the dough "poops out" and won't rise, or won't rise very well. By starting with a smaller amount of yeast, you slow down the cycle of reproduction, thus lowering the amount of alcohol produced, thus insuring the gluten remains strong and the bread rises well.

You can reduce the yeast in most types of bread recipes (sweet breads being the exception) to produce a dough that will rise slowly over a long period of time, rather than one which rises for an hour in the bowl and half an hour in the pan before baking. This long rise is often much more convenient than the regular, short-rise method. (Isn't it easier to mix up a batch of slow-rise dough in the morning and let it rest most of the day, while you go about your business, rather than having to "baby-sit" a batch of short-rise dough for the 1 1/2 or 2 hours it usually takes to go from bowl to oven?) In recipes calling for a packet of yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons), we recommend cutting the amount back to 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of instant yeast, depending on how long you want to let the dough ferment before the final shape-rise-bake process; 1/2 teaspoon would give you lots of flexibility, such as letting the dough "rest" for 16 to 20 hours; 1 teaspoon would be a good amount for an all-day or overnight rise (10 hours or so, at cool room temperature). If you're using active dry yeast, which isn't as vigorous as instant yeast, we'd up the range to 3/4 to 1 1/2 teaspoons.

Whole-grain doughs are naturally slow rising, due to the bran in the grain, which interferes with gluten development. If you'd like to slow down a familiar whole-grain recipe, then do cut back on the yeast; but if you're making a particular whole-grain recipe for the first time, we recommend using the amount of yeast indicated, and seeing just how long it takes the dough to rise fully. Often it takes longer than the directions say, and there's probably no need to slow things down even more.

Basic flour-water-yeast-salt doughs (which may also contain a bit of oil and/or sugar), such as those for baguettes, focaccia and pizza, are the best candidates for an all-day countertop rise. Keep in mind, however, the vagaries of your own kitchen. If you bake bread all the time, your kitchen is full of wild yeast and any dough you make there will rise vigorously. If you seldom bake bread, or are just beginning, your kitchen will be quite "sterile;" your dough won't be aided by wild yeast, and will rise more slowly than it would in a more "active" kitchen. We've found that here in our King Arthur kitchen, where we bake bread every day, we can cut the yeast back to 1/16 teaspoon in a 3-cup-of-flour recipe and get a good overnight rise. In a kitchen where bread is seldom baked, we needed 1/2 teaspoon of yeast to get the same effect. Use your judgment in rating your own kitchen as to "yeast friendliness."

Keep in mind, also, that this slow rise usually extends to the shaped loaf, as well as dough in the bowl. Once you've shaped your loaf, covered it, and set it aside to rise again, it may take 2 hours or more, rather than the usual 1 to 1 1/2, to rise fully and be ready for the oven.

There is no hard and fast rule for the amount of yeast you should use in any particular recipe. It depends on how slow (or fast) you want the dough to rise; the composition of the dough itself (whole-grain, sweet/dairy, or "straight"); and your kitchen. Be flexible, and experiment; you'll soon discover the formula that'll work just right for you, producing a ready-to-shape dough when you're ready to shape it.


You have to exercise a little flexibility and knowledge of your recipe's ingredients when reducing, and you also need to think about the atmosphere of your home. First, the recipe itself: Is it a plain yeast-salt-flour-water recipe? Does it contain whole grains? Is it a sweeter-than-normal dough? A sandwich-type dough containing eggs and milk? The easiest, safest dough to subject to a long, slow rise is one containing only a small amount of sugar, if any, and no dairy products (eggs, milk, butter, etc.) Sweet doughs are notoriously slow risers, anyway; by cutting back on the yeast, you're just slowing them down even more. Sweet doughs are best slowed down by refrigeration, rather than reducing the amount of yeast. Also, doughs that contain dairy products (and shouldn't, for food safety reasons, be left at room temperature all day) should also be refrigerated if you want to slow them down...."

Leslie B's picture
Leslie B

Thanks Mr. Frost for that explanation.  I checked the link and the content is no longer available.  And my search didn't pull up anything.  Do you have an exact recipe(s) you wouldn't mind posting for those of us who are trying to figure this bread thing out?  I'm wondering how to get the process down for a regular work week, then also something where I can mix friday night and bake saturday night. 


grumpidoc's picture

I'm no expert, but for what it's worth - I use lots of retardation - sometimes by all day or all night rises at room temp with small amount yeast (say 1/4 tsp to 500g flour), or by refrigeration with more yeast (eg 1 tsp to 500g flour). Fridging works best for me because I can halt the dough at any stage then pick up again when I'm ready, so I often retard at both the bulk fermentation AND the proving stage. From mixing to baking is usually 36 hours for my lean breads and this develops the flavour wonderfully. From my experience so far it's the total time spent from mixing to baking, rather than where in the process this occurs, that develops the flavour. Because I usually bake in loaf tins I don't know if room temp/less yeast versus fridge/more yeast affects the final structure of the bread. Any of you more experienced bread bakers know?

clazar123's picture

I don't know of any tables to figure this out because there are so many variables-ingredients,temps,type of yeast,hydration,etc. I think you may need to take some recipes you like and try a few different things.

Because of unexpected circumstances for one of my weekend bakes, I ended up with a bread dough that was mixed and was thrown in a plastic container overnight and baked the next day. It was some of the best bread I made and I have since intentionally repeated that. That recipe was whole wheat,enriched with egg and oil,sourdough and some (prob 1/4 tsp) instant yeast. I adjust the amount of yeast with the idea in mind about how long the final rise in the pan will take. If I know I won't have much time the next day, I increase the instant yeast to as much as 1 tsp.When I do that, it rises fully to double overnight in the refrig.and the final proof is short. Otherwise with the 1/4 tsp, it may take a few hours the next day to finish up the initial rise and the final proof is a little slower.

Have fun.