Here's a quick question. What temperature do people keep their refrigerators for cold fermeting? I'm starting to wonder if mine is too cold.
Mine is set at 4-5 degrees C, which I think is quite normal for fridge temperature, and I can cold retard with no problem. I usually do S & F a few times over 2.5- 3.5 hr or so before I put the dough into fridge, so it's already in to early stage of fermentation by the time it goes into cold retard and slowing down the fermentation. If you find it difficult for the dough to rise (assuming your fridge temp is similar to this), you may be putting your dough into fridge too early?
I'm not against retarding in the refrigerator, it works. That said, I've evolved an approach to retarding doughs that, I feel, yields better consistency batch to batch.
Pre-chill ALL ingredients and your mixing bowl.
Adjust DDT to intended retarding temperature using ice water (ala Reinhart in BBA, Pain a l'Ancienne)
Retard dough from beginning to end: autolyse to preshaping; immediately return to chiller after each manipulation.
Pre-shape immediately after removing from chiller, smaller dough masses warm faster than one large mass.
Warm at room temperature, or warmer--I prefer 82°F--for 1 hour.
shape and proof in your usual manner for each dough type.
A further refinement: chill at temperatures greater than typical refrigerator temperatures: 38°F to 40°F; I use 54°F. Refrigerator temperatures are chosen for food storage safety. Unfortunately, at these temperature yeast essentially goes dormant, and fermantation slows to a crawl. One solution: buy a wine cooler; they're pricey new, but cheap second hand--I bought two of them for $100.00 each. There are other, cheaper solutions, discussed widely in other threads here in TFL. Use the search function.
If your only retarding choice is the refrigerator, wherein dough will continue to cool throughout the fermentation time, if your looking for consistency batch-to-batch keep everything the same: DDT, the retarding container (shape, and surface to volume ratio have a large impact on cooling rates), position in the refrigerator, etc.
My main fridge is about 37F (I like to beat use-by dates:-), and it doesn't work all that well for retarding. From my experience, if it were 45F it would work just fine for bread dough ...but the milk would spoil too fast for my likes. So I have a separate half-fridge for retarding. It's about 52F (a bit warmer than I'd prefer if I could control it better, but it works).
(If you're in the market for something similar, search "wine cooler" here to find some previous threads about this topic.)
Yet another option. I used a temperature controller and a second refrigerator for years to ferment lagers and cold-condition ales. They work great, but don't plan on using the refrigerator's freezer when you use one.
Here's a reliable online source (I buy regularly from Wiilliams Brewing)