The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How to Break Baking Sourdough Bread into Bite-sized Pieces

student proof's picture
student proof

How to Break Baking Sourdough Bread into Bite-sized Pieces

Hello Fresh Loafers! 

I come to you with a challenge, a puzzle. Thanks to your wonderful recipes and stunning collective expertise, I have come far as a bread maker. You've heard this story many times on The 'Loaf Before: budding baker evolves from playing with a bread machine to culturing two different kinds of sourdough starters in her fridge (whole wheat and rye). But now I need you help to solve my specific problem. 

Here are the clues: 

I am a graduate student in molecular biology (think long hours in lab and no stand-up paddle mixer).

I am an avid rock climber (think training after lab and climbing trips outdoors on the weekends.)

I am never home and awake for more than three hours straight. 

I was able to make a variety of breads with commercial yeast on this crazy schedule (think Peter Reinhart's Multigrain Extraordinaire).

I'm relatively new to sourdough baking but I love the taste (and the dorky scientist me loves to culture yeast) so I have much to learn and I want to make it work for me. 

I recently tried to make an "oat bran sourdough" recipe on this site but I could not get enough gluten development (only one S&F) before I had to stick the bread into the fridge (1:00am). 

I love the taste and texture of whole wheat, rye, spelt -- I want to bake 100% whole grain breads. 

Can anyone suggest sourdough recipes that are forgiving enough? And I need strategies: how to best break up the process into 2-3hr chunks?

Bringing a loaf of fresh-baked bread on a weekend trip into the mountains is one of the joys in my life. I challenge you to help me out if you can!  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

He got me to bake his bread.  Which I love to do when I can.  :)   He likes a flavourful heavy rye packed with seeds, nuts and energy grains that keeps well and doesn't crush.  1) get someone else to make your favorite bread

How about a bread machine with a timer or a timer outlet to plug into.  You can time the dough to be finished when you're around to take it out of the machine.  Adjust yeast to give longer soaking times.  2) play around with your bread machine again

I also have a built in timer in my home oven that can turn the oven on and off.  I don't use it enough, not too busy.  Some newer ovens will turn off with a probe, when the food reaches the desired temp.  Maybe that's the oven for you!   3) get an oven that fits your lifestyle  and a recipe you know backwards and forwards for all the variables in your specific kitchen situation.  4) Rig a digital web camera to your oven and rig your oven to turn on and off remotely.  Maybe there is finally an app for this nowadays.  

student proof's picture
student proof


I appreciate your advice... but I can't let somebody else make the bread for me! That will be giving up half the pleasure. Though it is appropriate you brought up baking for your son. I actually taught my mom how to bake bread using your "favorite rye" recipe and method. She loved it! Until I showed her how, she was convinced it was too hard and had the common fear of working with yeast -- though she is an accomplished cook and baker by all other counts. So thank you! 

Also, an oven with a timer would be great! I took advantage of my mom's fancy oven when I was home for the holidays. It was how I built my very delicious sourdough cultures -- by keeping them at 37 using the "proofing" feature of the oven. But having one of my own (with a timer!) will have to wait until I'm not a student.'s picture

Bioinformatics!  Put down the Pipetman and go 100% in silico. Then you can 'work' from the comfort of your kitchen table!

Ok, not that easy. But 2-3h chunks can work. Another, more useful word for you:  retard. You can mix and fold dough, then retard in fridge when the lab beckons.  Then warm up, shape and prove dough during next home visit. Retard again. Then bake the next time. Mini is dead on that you have to know your recipe first, to tell the dough's signs. 

dabrownman is the master of retardation here. Check his blog.  And txfarmer's 36h baguettes are a source of inspiration for Working (and climbing) Man's Bread schedules. 

Happy baking (and ligating). 


dabrownman's picture

about it Toady.  When it comes to retards, I'm the master - just ask my wife, daughter and apprentice :-) 

student proof's picture
student proof

in silico, huhSounds like you're trying to do to my bread what the world is trying to do to my PHD. 

But seriously, thanks for the tips -- I'll check those sources for retardation strategies. 
For my commercial yeast recipes, I had the retard routine down: make biga and soaker, retard during the day, mix together until gluten develops, retart overnight, shape and bake the next morning.

I'm finding the sourdough takes longer to develope gluten and to rise, so I'm trying to figure out how to fit it's specific needs into my day.  

Doc.Dough's picture

You have few variables to deal with, but lots of alternatives. Your starter build can be done overnight to your schedule if you get to know what your refresh time and temperature options are as a function of scale up and hydration level. You can do a S&F every 15 min if the dough is warm so with 30 min to mix, your 3 hrs will convert to 10 S&F which may or may not be enough. I don't find that a cold bulk ferment works well, but you might try to do a couple of S&F cycles then cold ferment and do a few more on the other end.  Then shape and partial proof and retard - the exact timing will be up to you to figure out how long you can leave it at room temp to accomodate the cold proof time that you will subject it to.  You can bake straight from the refrigerator.  A lot depends on what your refrigerator temperature is, and how quickly the dough cools down.  But with a little attention to those details you can find a schedule that will produce good bread.

student proof's picture
student proof

Thanks for your reply, Doc.Dough. Yes, I appreciate the variety of options before me. A lot of experimenting to do! I'm looking for exact schemes/methods to try -- somewhere to start, from where I can improve. Based on what you said, I tried the warm S&F for the last bread I baked. I threw some hot water in my oven and did a S&F every 30 min. My house is cold (62F) so this would not have worked at RT. But this small tweak helped a lot.  

Here is what I did to try David's (dmsnyderWalnut Raisin Sourdough Bread

Day 1 morning: made Levain, converting his recipe to my 100% hydration rye starter (I'm not going to lie -- I love baker's math!). 

Day 1 evening: mix all ingredients except salt, walnuts and raisins... autolyse overnight in fridge. I'm still not sure if this is a good place to stop. The dough is terrible to work with the next morning. It takes a lot of mixing to get it homogeneous and to work the salt into the cold mess. But I warmed the dough in the oven and did about 4 S&F every 30 min. Retarded dough in fridge overnight. Slept.

Day 2 morning: Woke up at 6 am, preshaped boules,  put dough into the oven with the light on, went back to sleep. Woke up again at 7am, did the final shaping, transferred dough to bowls in cooler, threw a cup of hot water into cooler. Final rise was 1.5 hours. Baked as instructed on tile with steam. I think it turned out well -- but did not rise as much as I would have liked. I completely failed at scoring, though. It was my first time trying free-shaped loaves and scoring (I usually make sandwich loaves.) The shaping went well thanks to all the videos, cartoons, and pictures on this site!  I can put up pictures later... 


hungryscholar's picture

As it happens, I was just flipping through the KAF Baker's Companion looking for something else and stumbled on their section on fitting bread to your schedule, with reducing the amount of leaven being the main suggestion, with retarding being the other. But I think at 62 F you ought to have quite a bit of time to play with. I just baked a loaf with 40% stiff leaven and it was 10 hours from taking the leaven out of the fridge, mix, and start of bake. I kept the dough at around 86 F using the oven light. I think I could have baked at about 5 hours, but I was going for a stronger sour. So at 62 F, I think it could have gone much longer, maybe twice as long. bwraith posted a spreadsheet on here somewhere that would likely be right in your wheelhouse if you like running numbers.

If I was going to be out all day I think I'd make the dough in the morning and leave it to proof and try some S&Fs when I got home to see what shape the dough was in.  As far as the fridge goes I think folks tend to retard either shaped loaves or dough that has undergone a good portion of the bulk fermentation. Seems to be some disagreement about how long to let dough warm before baking/shaping again.


FlourChild's picture

I learned from looking at Ken Forkish's Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast how to engineer a sourdough to fit a working schedule.  Basically, all the main steps seem to happen about 12 hrs apart, so you are doing things morning and night, outside of the working day.  

Evening:  Mix levain, allow to ferment 12-16 hours.  His levains are fed enough for a 24-hr feeding cycle, but used after about 12 hours (i.e., it is not a fully ripe levain, but rather a half-ripe one).  If you are using a lot of seeds/grain kernels/dried fruit/whole grains, it may work best to start soaking them and/or to begin a long autolyse now.

Morning:  Mix main dough first thing, perform stretch and folds while getting ready for the day.  It will take a small percentage of pre-fermented flour (often less than 10%) and a cool temp (60-65F seems to work for me) to slow the fermentation enough to last until after work.  I wouldn't use the fridge, but I would use cool water and find a cool spot in the house.  If you know you won't get through all the stretch and folds, consider kneading for a bit to make up for one or two of them.  

Evening:  Divide and Shape.  If any stretch and folds were not completed before you left in the am, do them before shaping with a short rest in between.  Shape the dough when first arriving home from work, allow it to proof for 1.5-2 hours while getting dinner, then bake.  Or pop it in the fridge right after shaping to proof there until the next morning.  Bake from the fridge, no warm-up of the proofed loaf is necessary.

I would use one recipe and work it through a number of times until you have a good feel for how the dough should look/feel/etc at each stage in the process.  Timing will all change as temps warm or cool, so learn to make adjustments accordingly.

Good luck!'s picture

What you describe, FC, is exactly the schedule I adopted after baking from Forkish's book for a few weeks.  Spot on, even to the detail of reducing prefermented flour to <10%.  I'm currently at 8% and probably headed south another click because I want a process that works at the only two temperatures I can control throughout the year:  Refrigerator (4˚C/40˚F) and our house's normal indoor summer temperature of  25˚C /78˚F.  I can hold doughs at that temp in winter with my DIY proofer box (like many posted here).  So far, I've been tweaking it only for his 30% WW, 78% hydration formula.  Where preferment% and other variables will go as I wander off that formula -- time will tell.

A highly recommened workflow for those us who have yet to retire.  Although not a bad one for still-busy retirees, or workers with busy weekends.  Planting and pruning season is upon us!

Happy baking!


FlourChild's picture

How interesting that we both arrrived at the same sort of method!  I had to reduce the % of pre-fermented levain flour because in nearly every formula I baked from that book, my starter seemed to be more active than his.  This may have been due to temperature, he is not specific enough about "room temp" for me, just saying that it's 68-70 in the day and cooler overnight.  I had a hard time replicating his temps/schedules and results, even though my house is quite cool at night and my levains were dramatically smaller.

Funny enough, I use the 12-hr timetable on weekends, when I want to be out and about with my family.  But I love that he taught me how to fit a formula to a work schedule.  

student proof's picture
student proof

Thanks FlourChild! This is the exactly what I was hoping to hear! I like the idea of doing the bulk ferment at room temperature (62-65 here in northern CA) -- I was always too scared of over-proofing to leave it alone and outside the fridge. Now maybe I'll venture into those uncharted waters... 

Can you share an exact recipe with me that I can start experimenting with? I think I need a few more details filled in to figure out what to do. I'm expecially interested in the exact feeding cycle you use. 


FlourChild's picture

 I was always too scared of over-proofing to leave it alone and outside the fridge

The way to make this work is to reduce the levain- often less than 10% of the total flour in the recipe is pre-fermented in the levain.

 I'm expecially interested in the exact feeding cycle you use

This is something of a moving target, seems I can never leave well enough alone.  That said, right now I am feeding my culture 20g seed, 22g KAF AP, and 14g water at cool room temp.  This works out to a seed to flour ratio of 1:1.1 and 65% hydration.  Your temps are a bit cooler, I recommend starting with 20g seed, 20g flour and 13g water and see how it goes, it should peak and perhaps have the dome flatten a tiny bit in about 12 hrs time.  

I will try to pull together a blog post about fitting sourdough to a work schedule, but I won't be able to work on it for a few weeks.  In the meantime, I can suggest a few parameters that work for me.  With the above starter, I would feed it in the morning and use it to mix the main dough in the evening, perhaps even taking it a bit early, that is earlier than you would normally feed it (so if you would normally feed it at 10pm, use it a little early, like 8pm).  No worries, though if you need to use it a bit earlier or later than that, it is just a suggestion of timing.

For the main dough, I would start with 8% perfemented flour, 20% whole grain flour, 2% salt and 75% hydration.  So for a loaf with 400g of flour, that would mean the following:

-In the morning, build a bigger levain by feeding 40g seed, 40g flour and 26g water.

-In the evening, autolyse 288g unbleached AP flour, 80g of whole grain flour (rye, spelt, red or white wheat), and 274g of cool room temp water.  Can be 5-60 minutes, whatever works with your schedule.

-Weigh 52g of levain onto the autolysed dough (set the remainder aside to perpetuate your culture), then pull the sides up and fold around the levain to encase it.  Sprinkle on 1.5 tsp of salt and mix until everything is incorporated.  I don't bother kneading, but you can if you won't be awake long enough to fit in all the stretch and folds.

Do three sets of stretch and folds, stretching the dough in 6-8 places each time and resting at least 20 minutes in between each set.  Allow to ferment until morning.

In the morning, check the volume- 1.5x will give you a very mild acidity, 2x will give you moderate acidity, and triple will likely give you a more pronouced, yet still likeable, acidity.  Depending on how much your dough has risen and what your goal (flavor) is, make a note to increase or decrease the amount of pre-fermented flour for the next bake.

Shape the bread and either proof 1.5-2 hours at room temp or 9-12 hours in the fridge, depending on your schedule. Bake with steam in a preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes, 450-475F.  No need to warm up your dough if it has been in the fridge.  Make any notes needed about proof time for next time.  

Good luck!

dabrownman's picture

I don't worry about time, or running out of it anymore.  If it looks like I will run out of time I put what ever it is in the fridge and forget about it.  Dough, Labs and yeast are too stupid to know any better.  If I have a levain built to full strength but can't use it right away - just refrigerate it up to 48 hours no problem and no worries.  Want to bulk ferment on the counter or final proof after shaping but have to leave town for a couple of days -  just refrigerate it and forget it.   Retarding is the great equalizer for human schedules that don't match .

Happy Baking the cold way - plus your bread will taste better too - no small consolation.

davidg618's picture

As usual while I was writing my reply, most of what I had to say is already said, but I'll post it anyway. Reading the details in your replies to others I think you are on the right track. Here's my two-cents any way. It's probably a bit long. I've been accused of telling folks how a clock works, when all they asked was, "What time is it?"

Happy Baking and best wishes for your dissertation.

David G

I’ve been thinking of comparing my free time vs. engaged time when I’ m making bread for a long while. I think doing it now, finally, is germane to your question. I have worked out a three day schedule for making sourdough loaves. The following engaged time estimates come from my home-baking pace, and quantities, but I think they may be typical of other home-bakers as well

 First 24 hour period

1. Mise en place: 5 mins. (flour, filtered water, sourdough seed)

2. Measure seed, measure flour, measure water into common bowl: 5 mins.

3. Stir thoroughly, cover and set aside: 5 mins.

4. Clean tools: I min. Leave flour, filtered water container, and tools in place.

Total time 16 mins. (or less)

Repeat steps 2 (flour and water only) through 4 twice more at eight hour intervals

Total time: 11 mins. each time

Mise en place (for dough making: ingredients and tools) 5 mins:

Weigh dough flours, salt, etc: 1minute per ingredient.

Note: These last two steps can be done anytime during the remainder of time during the first 24 hours: Free time 23 hr-22 mins.

Second 24 hour period

1. Mise en place: (Collect dough ingredients and tools in convenient work space, if necessary): 5 mins.

2. Weigh levain, 2: mins.

3. Combine ingredients per formula, mix dough sufficient for autolyse rest: 20 mins.

Notes: Prescribed autolyse rest time is usually the formula author’s estimate of the minimum time needed to fully hydrate the dough’s flours. There is no reason it can’t be made reasonably longer for the baker’s convenience. For most doughs reasonable can be hours.

            Alternative: The flours and water can be combined and hydrating during the last minutes (or hours) of the levain ripening.  Subseqently, the levain and hydrated dough (and salt, if held back during autolyse) are combined.

4. Knead dough, or First S&F, or not if one uses a no-knead approach: 5 to 20 mins.

5,6,7… (as needed) Dough manipulation, e.g., S&F: 5 mins.  each manipulation

Total engaged time: < 3 hours. Free time > 21 hours

Notes: As with autolyse the rest time between dough manipulations can be reasonably expanded to serve the baker’s schedule.

            If one chills and retards dough, chilling can begin with using ice water to hydrate the flour (pre chilling the flour is also an option), and return the dough to the chiller or refrigerator between manipulations. The point is, beginning with mixing the flour and water bulk fermentation is happening, adding levain and salt, chilling or not, each modifies the fermentation rates. The baker’s major scheduling control during mixing is controlling the amount of levain. During rest and passive fermentation periods, dough temperature is his/her main control. 3 to 4 hours bulk fermentation is typical for room temperature bulk fermentation, 12 to 24 hours is typical for chilled retarded bulk fermentations. In either case this is entirely free time for the baker.

Final hours:

Dividing ,warming (if chill retarded), Shaping, proofing, transferring, baking and cooling.

Probably the most highly variable block of time (dependent on number of loaves, loaves’ weight, warming temperature, proofing temperature, and  baking temperature, baking time)

Typical blocks of time performing all steps contiguously are 4 to 8 hours (2 to 4 loaves, 1bake cycle)

However, this approach naturally includes a block of time free for typically 2 hours and as much as 4 hours: proofing time. More time can be freed retarding final proofing time: Search TFL for the techniques and pros and cons of retarded proofing.

I’ll give a couple personal examples:

Baguette with poolish:

7 AM-Prepare poolish: 15 mins. Rest 8 hours:

3 PM-Mix flour, ice water, and yeast to shaggy ball stage; sprinkle salt on dough: 15 mins: Rest, chilled 1 hour, covered, in mixer bowl.

4:15 PM-Machine knead 5 mins: (2 mins. speed 1, 3 mins. speed 2); transfer to bulk ferment container: 10 mins. Rest: 1 hour, chilled

5:20 PM-First S&F: 5 mins. Rest I hour, chilled

6:25 PM to 8:35 PM-perform two or three more S&F (Usually only 2)

8: 35 PM to 7:00 AM-Bulk ferment, chilled (bulk ferment total 15 hours)

7: 00 AM-Divide, Pre-shape three loaves, 20 mins. Rest 1 hour @ 82°F in proofing box ( Prior to proofing-box, in microwave with door ajar—keeps light on for heat, or in cold oven with bowl of hot water.)

7: 45 AM Mise en place: 10 mins. (Couche floured)

8: AM-shape 3 baguettes: 10 mins: Proof @ room temperature (baguettes (27” long) won’t fit in proofing box. ~90 mins. Pre-heat oven and stone, Clean up

9:30 AM-transfer, slash, load and bake. ~30 mins, Clean-up.

~1O: OO-AM Cool, Finish Clean-up

A simple sourdough bake is similar.

3:00 PM-Build 1, sourdough levain: 16 mins

11:00 PM-Build 2: 11 mins.

7:00 AM-Build 3: 11 mins.

3:00 PM to 7:00 AM-essentially the same as baguettes.

7:00 AM-Pre-shape 2 or 3 loaves, Warm in proofing-box 1 hr.

7:45-Mis en place; Flour small couche on ½ sheet pan, or bannetons, or pans etc.: 10 mins.

8:15 AM: Shape 2 or three loaves: 10 mins. Proof in proofing-box @ 82°F ~2 hrs. 15 mins. to 2 hrs. 30 mins.

~10: 45 AM-transfer, slash and bake: ~40 mins

~11:30 AM Cool

I didn’t bother to do the addition, but It’s apparent there is a lot more hours free for the baker’s other commitments than attending the pre-ferments, and dough. To maximize it, or get the desired “free blocks of time” just needs using a few tricks. It’s simple with lean doughs (flour, water, salt, and leavening agent). The more complicated the formula, e.g. soakers, the more you have to think outside the box, but there’s still flexability. Rye breads will likely be the biggest challenge(short proofs).

These examples probably don’t fit your scheduling problems. I’m retired, I’ve worked out these schedules because I’ve learned the benefits (flavor and structure) retarded dough gains, and I prefer a full nights sleep and afternoons free to nap.

However, I think I’ve made the case that controlling time is best done by controlling temperatures. Baking is just like being in the military: lot’s of “Hurry-up and Wait”.