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Retarding shaped loaves - container and equipment concerns

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ssg's picture
ssg

Retarding shaped loaves - container and equipment concerns

Does anyone have any experience retarding shaped loaves in a temperature-controlled fridge? I have a theory that an second-hand fridge, maintained at 10-12C, will allow me to retard 36 loaves. I've been considering deep plastic pizza dough boxes to hold the brotforms, but I'm concerned that these may not allow sufficiently rapid cooling of the dough. Does anyone have any experience? Educated guesses? Better suggestions?

I'm moving up from a few years of regular home bread baking to very small production (to sell to friends, etc.). I've always preferred the taste and crumb of dough retarded during secondary fermentation (and the schedule control it allows). My best results have been acheived by using an old freezer, hooked up to an eBay temperature controller set to 10-12C for an overnight fermentation (directly after shaping), with the brotforms sealed in ziplocs to prevent excessive drying. My loaves are generally whole grain or 50:50 whole grain:white, scaled to 750g.

I'm considering buying 6 stackable deep pizza dough boxes, which should hold 6 brotforms each, more or less filling a standard fridge. I'm assuming the fridge will be better than the old freezer as there is much more airflow in a fridge. I'm concerned, however, that the dough boxes, which are designed to seal to one another, will insulate the dough too much and prevent sufficient cooling. Pizza dough boxes have the additional benefit for me that they can be used to transport shaped loaves, as I need to move dough to a rented oven until I can build my own WFO (this would be much more difficult if the brotforms were stacked on sheet pans or boards, which I have also considered).

Obviously, in the long term, some sort of retarder that can accept racks would be ideal, but I don't want to spend too much capital on that right now. If someone has a brilliant idea to build a retarder on the cheap in my basement, I'd love to hear about it.

 

tn gabe's picture
tn gabe

Ha! I'm in a similar situation. I even bought a two rack reatarder crazy cheap....and then realized it about 8' tall and won't even fit through my garage door.....

Have you experimented with doing the cold fermentation before shaping? You can obviously get a lot more dough in the trays this way, but a small fridge's cooling capacity gets maxed out with less than 6 trays full of dough. Even doing shaped loaves, 6 per tray, 750g per loaf, each tray has 4.5kg of dough so 6 trays is 26kg or almost 60 lbs. As someone who has routinely overloaded old refrigerators with dough, results can be mixed at best when trying to chill that much dough at once in a small home fridge. I'm not sure what your solution is, but I've got to figure out somewhere to put the retarder....

ssg's picture
ssg

I have tried fermenting in primary fermentation. I haven't had great success with it. If I shape the loaves while the dough is still cool, I find that they don't proof well, either in a warm proofer or at room temperature (the middle of the loaf ends up dense because it stays cool longer). If I warm up the dough first, I find the exterior is over-fermented and the interior underfermented. Also, warming up the bulk dough takes a long time. Retarding the shaped loaves seems to work better; I think the slightly longer proof for the interior of the loaf is actually a good thing, as the exterior gets a little more oven spring, so it tends to even out.

I'm aware that some do retard in primary though, but I've not seen this issue addressed anywhere (maybe I'm just doing it wrong).

I was concerned that a small fridge might not have the cooling capacity. Maybe a used display cooler or something else with a little more power would work better.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

I'm torn. On the one hand the problems you report are "obvious"; but on the other hand lots of folks retard their bulk-rise/first-rise/primary-fermentation/whatever-you-call-it all the time with no issues. Using a "thought experiment" to try to figure out what's going on, I've come up with the possibilities below. I'm curious, do you already do these things and still have trouble?

  • Immediately upon removing the big blob of dough from the refrigerator, pat it out fairly thin (an inch or two?) on your work surface so it can warm up all over without any problematic "center". Don't leave the dough in one big roundish blob  ...especially not if it's a largish (more than two loaves) batch.
  • Even though the dough is still cold, right away at least use your dough knife and scale or whatever to divide it up into loaf-sized pieces. Cutting it up will make even more surfaces for all the dough to get warm more quickly. Even though you may not be able to really shape it until it warms up a little more, you can at least get a "head start".
  • Stick to recipes with a reasonably small amount of yeast. Dough with an awful lot of yeast (2%?) can "take off" as soon as it gets warm, and so will rise markedly unevenly no matter what you do.
ssg's picture
ssg

I'm not at all suggesting that it isn't feasible to retard during primary fermentation, but it certainly isn't practical for my needs. If I shape the dough while cold (no problem as long as the hydration is high enough) and then proof at elevated temperature, I run into the problem outlined above. I certainly could retard in primary early enough and cold enough that I wouldn't have overfermented dough once I let it come back up to room temperature, but that wouldn't help me much as far as timing (time to let dough come back to room temperature is probably not a whole lot less than primary fermentation time at room temperature). I don't think I'd achieve the strong flavours I desire with that method either (I am working with sourdough).

I'm sure I could achieve reasonable results retarding fermentation both in primary and shaped loaves (I understand this is quite common in large production bakeries), but that's not something that would help me at this point. In any case, if my concern is cooling load, rather than space, then it doesn't really matter at which point I retard the dough, because the mass and temperature differences are the same.

Long term, I'd love to build a system using a small air conditioner or small vents (nighttime air temperatures are below 12C here most the year anyways), but for the moment, I'm just trying to figure out a small, cheap solution.

gerhard's picture
gerhard

I retard the formed loaves and it seems to be the best solution,  sometimes if they are only going to have 6 to 8 hours in the fridge  I leave them at room temperature for 1/2 an hour before they go in the fridge.

Gerhard

gary.turner's picture
gary.turner

According to  the "experts" the major degree of flavor enhancement occurs during the primary, or bulk, ferment. Once the bulk ferment and shaping is done, there is a mucher lesser flavor to be gained in a retarded secondary ferment. A slow bulk ferment gives you just about all the flavor there is to give.

My own approach is to mix and knead the dough to the desired strength, then move to a proofing bucket, and immediately to the fridge at 40℉/4℃ for an overnight stay. Upon removal, punch down and allow to rise to double.  Then punch down, preshape, rest, shape, and proof.

cheers,

gary

ssg's picture
ssg

Do you have any particular experts in mind? I'd be interested to know. It certainly doesn't accord with my experience.

gary.turner's picture
gary.turner

In The Bread baker's Apprentice and Bread, respectively, both authors discuss the development of flavor in their descriptions of the bread making process. Both state that the major flavor development occurs during the primary, bulk rise. Reinhart specifically states that a retarded proof improves flavor, but not as much as a retarded primary. Since you presumably do not retard your primary ferment, I'd say you're right that your retarded final proof is the major contributor.

From my reading, and from my limited experience with retarding the proof stage, you should get an improved flavor by retarding the bulk rise instead. Retarding the primary allows the enzymes to do their magic before the yeast overwhelms the process. It is also my take that the retarded bulk ferment increases the acidity and thereby improving shelf life. The longer primary ferment also improves dough strength while the acidity improves extensibility, which makes for easier shaping and improved loaf volume.

And, the number one reason to retard the primary rather than the final proof? One big ball of dough doesn't take nearly as much precious space in the fridge as made up loaves.

cheers,

gary

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

The dough is made with near-ice water and immediately put into the refrigerator for retarding.

The result is a sweet, nutty-flavoured bread, evidence I think of the extended period of time given to amylase activity, which breaks down startch into sugar.

There's no added sugar in that bread, but it tastes as sweet as some enriched breads. 

jackieosjunebug's picture
jackieosjunebug

This bread is an extraordinary example of what cold fermented, lean dough can manifest, taste wise. It is very satisfying.

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Bulk fermentation needs to be firmly established in the dough prior to plunging it into cold retard...., 

Wild-Yeast

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Unless you're making Pain à l'Ancienne, or pizza dough, or x or y or z.

I agree that it's true for most breads, but there are some exceptions.

judsonsmith's picture
judsonsmith

Hi ssg, 

I've never built my own retarder but your idea sounds good to me.  I wonder how feasible rigging up some sort of humidfier in the old frig would be; but your pizza bin and zip lock idea sounds like a good option to keep the loaves covered (maybe in place of the zip locks you could wrap the whole bin in a trash bag?). I wouldn't worry too much about the bins not allowing your loaves to cool fast enough; with some trial and error you can adjust some factors like your overnight proof time or dough temp, etc. to get your loaves where you want them in the morning. Our production schedule at work requires us to proof our loaves for 16 hours overnight so we have our retarder set a bit colder than yours but different scenarios dictate different methods. I think retarding shaped is a better, safer way to schedule bread production than retarding in bulk. I agree that most of the flavor is developed during bulk fermentation (Raymond Calvel expressed this sentiment) but there is still some flavor gained from a long proof and besides, the flavor developed during a reasonable, ambient temp bulk (I'm sure people have all kinds of opinions on this but I think 2 to 3 hours is plenty) fermentation is perfectly fine. Retarding in bulk can work well but, as you said, waiting for the bread to proof can take forever.

Good luck to you with your retarder project!

ssg's picture
ssg

I've considered the humidfier idea, but I don't really think it would help any. The pizza dough boxes pretty much seal when they stack together (they are designed to prevent drying out of dough balls), so I don't think I'll need any extra humidity (time will tell on this though). The ziplocs are just what I use right now in smaller spaces.

My copy of Gout du Pain is in the mail at the moment, so I'll be interested to see what Calvel has to say about flavour development. FWIW, I do my primary fermentation around 18C (4-5 hours) with ~40% starter, so I don't think I'm missing out on too much flavour there. Still, I notice a significant difference in flavour between loaves retarded overnight and loaves proofed warm.

Anyways, thanks for your input.

Dan Richer's picture
Dan Richer

Try cross-stacking the trays in the refrigerator for the first 30 minutes.  That will allow the dough balls to cool sufficiently, then uncross them to avoid excessive drying.  Doughmate based here in NJ makes the best tray on the market.  They have an artisan tray that fits the average home refrigerator.  

The 4-5 hours of bulk fermentation is more than enough, especially with an overnight proof.  Make sure to autolyse as well. 

I use a long bulk fermentation at home when producing one or two loaves.  But there are more factors at play when you are trying to produce more loaves.

Best of luck with ramping up your bread production!