The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Difference between retarding during bulk fermantation vs during final proofing (after shaping)?

lk757's picture

Difference between retarding during bulk fermantation vs during final proofing (after shaping)?

Hopefullly, this is not too "dumb" of question :)    But I would like to know what is difference in retarding during bulk fermantation (before shaping) vs during proofing period (after shaping).    Is it equivalent at all?   If not how it affects the final product.    I see most of the recipes call for retarding during the final proofing stage (after shaping) but sometimes I see people retard the dough in the end of bulk fermantation and shape next day after taken out of the fridge.

And one more related question:   How important is warming up the dough for 2-3 hours after retardation before baking.  Is it critical?  Would would happen if I try to bake only 30-60 min after take out of the fridge?

Thanks in advance for all explanations  - just trying to learn the basics with the help of all good folks here :)



Doc.Dough's picture

Just remember that when you retard, you are changing the growth rates of both the yeast and the bacteria, and since they have different growth rate vs temperature profiles you get more of some things and less of others.  You also get slower growth of both at lower temperatures. So retardation influences both the biology and the timing of your dough.  Use it as a tool to get what you want. And don't be a slave to somebody else's notion of process.

As for baking direct from the cooler or waiting for the dough to warm up - bake when the dough is ready.  It may be cold, cool, or warm.  The handling properties will vary (generally making it harder to handle warm dough) so if you have the time to wait for the dough to proof fully in the retarder, just do it.  Too long a retardation will alter the dough chemistry ( I believe because of the increased acidity) but it also affects flavor. So go where you want, constrained by where you can go and how much time you have to get there.


breaducation's picture

This is actually a pretty interesting question that I haven't seen discussed too much. I also get the impression that bulk fermentation is fairly under-used but it can be a very valuable way to fit bread baking into a busy schedule. Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages. Let's take a look:

I love retarding a dough shaped because of a few things. One is timing. You can take the dough directly from the fridge and bake it immediately. This is amazing if you need to bake a loaf early in the morning. I have worked at several bakeries where we did this and it makes the baker's life much easier. No more need to work all night to make great bread. With a bulk retarded dough you must consider that there will be a good 3-4 hours left in the process the next day.

Baking directly from the fridge also results in a larger loaf volume because a cold stiff dough can hold more gas than a warm loose one. A cold stiff dough is also significantly easier to score. You can get very very nice scores on cold doughs because the score comes out much cleaner and smoother.

If you are going for the blistered crust look then shaped retarding is definitely the way to go. You will not get much blistering when you bulk retard.

All that said, bulk retarding has many advantages as well. For one thing you don't have to worry as much about having the right proofing going into the fridge. You can fix it later if you need to by giving the dough more bench time the next day. I've found shaped retarded doughs do not react as well to adjusting the proofing the next day.

Bulk retarding works very very well for skinny, low-mass  loaves like baguettes. If you retard a baguette shaped then the crust gets a little too thick and chewy. Also, retarding shaped baguettes takes up a lot of room in your fridge, while a single container of dough can be worked in quite well. Here's some bulk retarded baguettes I did at one of the bakeries I worked at:



I also feel like bulk retarding allows for a longer retard as well.  You could push the retard for a few days and be fine as long as your fridge is cold enough. I don't think the results would be quite as good if you retarded shaped for that long.

I think flavor comes down to how long you let the bulk retarded dough be at room temp before hitting the fridge. If you have a fairly active dough going into the fridge there won't be much difference in flavor between the two retarding methods. If you bulk retard shortly after mixing I think you get a more mild, less sour flavor than you do with shaped retarding. You will get a more sour bread with either method compared to a straight dough however.

Hope this helps!

lk757's picture

Thank you so much for this such detailed and clear explanation.   That is exactly the information I was hoping to get when I posted the question.  I feel much empowered in my bread baking endeavor now! :)

And by the way, these baguettes look (and I am sure taste) spectacular.

I am especially glad you brought up the scoring subject as I have been frustrated with my scoring results (especially on high hydration  dough) and have been seriously tempted to try to score the shaped dough shortly after taken out of the fridge as the cold dough is firmer at that point (not to mentioned that it would also help with transfering and inverting it to my cast iron dutch oven for baking).   But I was afraid that it will be cheating and could affect the final flavor and texture.   But based on your explanation and experience I will certainly give it a try now.   Would you still recommend at least some minimum warm-up period (30min?) after taken out of the fridge before baking?

Thanks again, this is invaluable.


hanseata's picture

Breaducation's information is quite interesting, but there is one consideration: with a non-commercial home oven you might have a problem, if you put a really cold loaf into it.

The inside of your loaf (especially if it's a larger one) might not get hot fast enough, before the crust sets, and the result will be a hard and thick crust, and probably unruly explosions instead of nice looking scores.

By the way, I bulk retard most of my doughs, and that works very well for my schedule. Most of the work is done the day before, I usually divide the dough and refrigerate it in individual containers.



lk757's picture

Thank you.  This is a good advice to keep in mind - I did not think of this.  I will keep it in mind and allow for some warm-up time right out of the fridge.

So if you bulk retard, how much time do you give it between taking dough out of the fridge and shaping and then how much time for final proofing (in other words, does bulk retardation changes the proofing approach)?


breaducation's picture


I have actually never had this be an issue, even in the home oven and I bake at home quite fequently. I used to be concered about this but I just never found it to be a problem. The loaf always bakes properly and with great results. I do make sure my oven starts at a high temperature though, around 500 degrees. I don't think letting the dough warm up for half an hour would hurt things much though.


Grenage's picture

I bulk retard if I don't have the time to form the bread (it's 1am), but I normally retard after shaping.  While I had initial concerns with the dough's centre taking that much longer to reach temperature, I've had to problems.  I guess that when a 2-3C loaf hits a thick, preheated stone at 230C, the stone wins pretty quickly.