The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

retarding bulk-fermentation, when stretch-and-fold?

nasv's picture

retarding bulk-fermentation, when stretch-and-fold?

Hi everyone... I recently picked up the Tartine Bread book, country artisan bread is my favorite and I'm working on working the process to my schedule.  Very simplified, with an active starter, this is how I breakdown the major steps in Chad Robertson's process:

  1. Create leaven from starter
  2. Mix dough and rest/autolyse, then add salt + some water
  3. Bulk fermentation (3-4 hours at warm ambient temperature); during bulk fermentation do stretch-and-fold about ever 30 minutes for the first 2-3 hours
  4. Divide, form into rounds, bench rest
  5. Form final loaf shapes, proofing/final-rise (3-4 hours)
  6. Bake, rest, eat

In trying to tailor this to my schedule, I understand that I can retard the final-rise in the fridge, then take it out of the fridge to warm up a little bit, and then into the oven for baking... but the book also suggests retarding during bulk fermentation.

I think in my ideal schedule, I'd like to mix the leaven on day-1 morning, and then begin bulk fermentation during the evening and let it go the night (to be followed with day-2 final-rise/proofing and baking).  I understand I can bulk-ferment with cooler water, or even stick the dough in the fridge to retard the process (what I'd likely do).  My question is where/when does the S&F fit into this?  Especially if I should do this every 30 minutes for a few hours... is the need minimized with the longer fermentation?  Do I need to do this just a few times before setting aside for colder longer fermentation?  S&F a few times, instead, before dividing into rounds and bench rest?





johnpaul's picture

Hello Nico,

I tried to respond to this yesterday, but I must have done something wrong, because my comment isn't showing.  I am no expert on these things - I am new to the forum, but have been experimenting with sourdough baking for about two years.  I often extend bulk fermentation by placing my doughs in the fridge, and I have done this in conjunction with S&F on multiple occassions.  Most often I have done three S&Fs at 30 minute increments before moving the dough to the fridge.  Just the other day, however, I experimented with placing the dough in the fridge at the start of bulk fermentation, then taking it out every hour to hour-an-a-half for S&F for three series.  This worked great. 

So, you could either start bulk fermentation at room temperature with S&F every thirty minutes for three S&F, then move to fridge, or put your dough right in the fridge and do S&Fs every hour or hour-and-a-half.  I suspect that which option works best will depend on the voracity of your natural yeasties and the temperature of your fridge.  I'd experiment and see which produces better results for you.


nasv's picture

Johnpaul, thanks very much - this is what I had suspected and what I plan to do.  I'll probably mix with colder water too so that the fermentation doesn't get underway too quickly.  My worry is that the bulk fermentation might go long, and when I want to proof, the natural yeasts will be out of energy to consume and the loaf will implode.  Hopefully with the smaller sweeter inoculation of leaven and the colder temperatures, I can give myself a 12-16 hour window before next steps.

I know that all of this will come down to experimentation, but I was curious about the divide, initial formation, bench rest.. I was thinking that I should do this straight after taking the dough from the fridge and simply letting the dough come to temperature and (hopefully) continue rising during the bench rest and then the final proofing (versus letting the dough come to temperature in the bulk fermentation before divide, form, rest).  Any thoughts?

I will continue learning to adjust by looking, feeling, smelling the dough, but any input is appreciated.  Thanks wonderful TFL community!


Davo's picture

I retard my formed loaves in banettons.

So, day 1 (using active starter fed a couple of times over 24 hours from the fridge - or more feeds over a longer period if it's been dormant more than a week): mix levain in the morning, ferment while I'm at work - I have lowered my starter proportion over time as I was finding it was fermenting a little more than ideal. I make a 4 loaf batch (each a bit over 900 g, and my levain has around 120 g starter into 540 g flour and around 370 g water (a bit variable depending on humidity, rye content etc).

That night, mix bread dough - I add the salt rather that later separately - I've done both and noticed no material difference. Rest for 20 mins. For my mix this is a further 1.4 kg of flour, and 1 kg of water, plus 42 g of salt. Say mix at 7 pm. Then a few french fold kneads at 10 min intervals (3-4 goes at this, 15-20 secs of kneading each time). So now it's about 7.40 pm.

Then about 2 hours of further bulk fermentation, with S&F every about 30 mins.

At around 9.30 or so, I will scale into loaf sizes and pre-shape.  At say 9.45 they are shaped, placed in floured banettons, and plastic bagged to prevent drying.

At the scaling stage the dough has risen a little but certainly not doubled, and while it's a little airy it's by no means "billowy". I find if it's gone that far, the retained warmth in pretty big loaves in bags allows it to continue fermenting a little too much and they can be "past it" by next evening. So when I cut the dough into loaves I'm looking for some small holes not great big ones...

I bake the next evening when home from work, depending on their progress in the frige, I might either bake right out of the fridge, or allow them anything up to two hours warming up at room temp (you have one our anyway while the oven and stone heat up. I bake two at a time (900 mm wide oven allows this).

This works for me, anyway.

If it's a weekend day the day after making the loaves, and it will be reasonably cool in our laundry - say 10-13 celcius overnight - (it's at the end of the house and not heated) I can leave the loaves in there and bake straight up next morning after around 8 hours or so of cool-but-not-fridge-cold proofing. If I've fermented levain overnight and made loaves in the morning on a weekend day, the proof at say 20 celcius will be normally around 3-5 hours, but I go on dough condition not time.

Hope that helps.

Gunnersbury's picture

Davo, I have no comparable place in my home, but you gave me an idea: May not be original but here goes: What about one of those wine chiller refrigerators? Maybe I could pick up a used one. Should be nice and cool but not too cold.  Anyone else use one?

Chuck's picture

The right "wine cooler" can indeed be just the right thing for bread dough, and in fact quite a few are used for exactly that purpose. They seem to be the best option for retarding dough if the refrigerator in your house is (or might become:-) "too cold". Since these types of wine coolers have only become available quite recently, I don't know of any discussion of them in any book yet.

Unfortunately, wine coolers come in a bewildering variety (some of which are not suitable for bread dough), are generally sold with a very generous helping of smoke and mirrors, and at prices that vary all the way from cheap to ridiculous. Your shopping might be helped by my comments at  node/23730/cold-rise-poor-results#comment-171630 .

Gunnersbury's picture

Thanks, Chuck. Informative link. A picnic ice chest may be the way to go. As for the home refrigerator: I hope most of us have the temp set so it is in fact to cold for cool rise, otherwise there is danger of food spoilage in a very short time. I keep my refrigerator and freezer really cold to protect the food. 

Davo's picture

My fridge is plenty cold.

Depending on how you put shaped loaves in, though,they may retain heat for long enough for rising to continue. A 950 g loaf in a cane banetton inside a bag, placed in at 22 deg celcius, and just starting to get a little airy from gas in it is going to retain quite a few of those degrees - particularly in the centre, before it finally drops to the temp of the fridge. Imagine you had a big puffy bottle of wine at 22 celcius, half-wrapped in a cane shell and placed inside a bag - don't imagine that you would find it crisply cold and producing dew on the outside of a glass any time short of a least a couple of hours...

If you have thin baguettes on a thing cloth on a baking tray or similar - well they will cool down fast. But my experience is that large loaves certainly keep on rising even in a 4 deg C fridge.

davidg618's picture

...and prechill your flour to control your Desired Dough Temperature (DDT), ala Peter Reinhart. I especially like to retard baguette dough at 55°F for 15 to 20 hour. I use a wine cooler as a retarding box which can hold this temperature reasonably accurately. I put the pre-measured flour into the cooler 12 or more hours before I mix the dough, and I chill the water with ice cubes--a trick Reinhart discusses in A Bread Bakers Apprentice. I also mix my dough by hand in a prechilled Pyrex bowl when I'm planning on retarding a dough's fermentation. I normally use a stainless steel bowl, or the stand mixer's SS bowl to mix doughs I'm not going to retard, but metal conducts heat quickly and will warm dough quickly. Also, as most of you know, machine mixing warms dough through friction more so than hand mixing. I place the dough to the cooler for its autolyse rest, and immediately after each S&F. Doing all this--what some might call fussiness--the dough remains at, or very close to, the DDT throughout the fermentation process.

My time-line is:

Day 1

4 PM Mix dough to shaggy ball, immediately put in chiller. Autolyse 1 hour

5 PM In-bowl S&F, transfer to oiled dough-rising container. Return to chiller

6 PM, 7 PM, and 8 PM S&F on work table., Return to chiller after each

Day 2

7 AM Remove from chiller, immediately pre-shape baguettes, let warm at room temperature for 1 hour.

During the winter months, when the house is usually 68°F, I place them in a proofing box set at 76°F. During the summer months I don't bother; we keep the house's AC at 76°.

8 AM Final shape, proof, and bake.

I'm done, including cleanup, by 11 AM with warm, fresh baguettes for lunch.

David G

Davo's picture

I have kept loaves cooler during a hot day by putting them in a carboard box with a blanket over, and a couple of plastic bottles of frozen water... Pretty basic but hey if it works.

davidg618's picture

I've bought two wine coolers second hand through, a local online classified ad website. I'm sure such websites are common throughout the USA, and perhaps other countries as well.  Each holds about thirty bottles of wine, has removable shelves, and controls temperature in the 45°F to 65°F range. Recently, I built a wine celler (converted a closet) for long time storage, but still use one of the two coolers for its convenience in the dining room. The other cooler has become at differing times my lager beer fermenter (54°F), white wine fermenter (65°F, bread dough retarder (55°F) and I'm about to use it as a drying chamber for dry-cured sausages (60°F).  It's become a real work-horse. Both units which retailed for $400 to $500 new I purchased used for $100 each.

David G