The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Very long fermentation times... ?

Boleigh's picture

Very long fermentation times... ?

Hey Everyone. 

I have been making sourdough for a couple of years now - pretty much every day (there are six of us and we eat a lot!). So I think that I can speak with a bit of experience about the whole process. 

Recently, as a result of something I read (and I'm sorry, but for the life of me can't find it again) I have been trying very long fermentation times - with much of the time in the fridge. I think you clever people call this 'retarding' the dough? I'm not sure. 

So, I keep my starter at room temp and feed her everyday. I make a basic 123 recipe dough and stick it in the fridge. I 'turn' the dough every now and again - which is really a stretch and fold I suppose. On the second or third day in the evening, I take the dough from the fridge, turn into a Dutch oven and let it rise in the oven overnight - set the timer for six the next morning and presto...

My family can't get enough! Every loaf is pretty much gone after breakfast. The rise is very good - the structure excellent - very slightly rubbery like most sourdough but ok. The taste is not too sour, but complex and lovely. 

The article I read talked about health benefits of very long fermentations - I think they were talking more than a few days. So I wondered if anyone else had any experience? How long can you retard dough for - what happens after a week? I would try, but I can't keep up with demand!

Thank you. 


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

A long fermentation is 8 to 24+ hrs in my book.  Whatever you're doing it sounds like a long fermentation and it sounds like it works for you, perfectly in fact.  "Rubbery" is an interesting adjective.  

Welcome to TFL!

Boleigh's picture

Well, I suppose 'rubbery' is a bit of an extreme word for the actual texture! I'll try to get a shot before it gets eaten this morning! Thank you. 

wassisname's picture

OK, I'm intrigued, and may have to give this a shot. I certainly admire your patience!  When you say you turn the dough "every now and again" is that like once a day... or twice a day?  And what sort of flour do you use? 


Boleigh's picture

Hi Marcus, I 'turn' at least twice a day - in the morning and in the evening, but sometimes more than that - maybe up to four times a day. But I try to be quite gentle - if that makes any sense? I'm using Shipton Mill strong organic white - which I buy in bulk. I have been mixing this with about 15% of their light rye flour - but have run out of rye, so have started with their strong organic wholemeal at about 20%. My fridge is pretty cold - I haven't measured it but I would say 2/3 degrees. I have two mixes in the fridge at any point, and may need to step it up to three. I have also played with using a biga which I let ferment at room temp before mixing the dough and putting it in the fridge. 

So, starter kept at room temp and refreshed daily.

Mix dough and keep refrigerated for up to two days - so 48 hrs (I'm going to try three)

bulk fermentation overnight (six to seven hours) at room temperature. 

My theory is that (and I'm no expert on the microbiology) if the bateria are slowly doing their thing at cooler temperatures, then I'd give them longer. I'd be really interested to know how you get on!


wassisname's picture

Thank you for the details.  Gentle handling makes perfect sense with so much time for the gluten to develop on its own.  This is now on my list of methods to tinker with.

Boleigh's picture

ericreed's picture

I don't know what the upper limit of time is, but eventually the acid build up and enzyme activity would bread down the gluten and it would no longer rise properly or taste very nice. (That may be the health benefit you mentioned? There was a somewhat recent study looking at a sourdough culture treatment of flour for people with celiac that's gotten a lot of press and misreporting around it. But that didn't show general health benefits, more that you can make essentially gluten-free flour using a sourdough culture and fungal protease. They did it in 36 hours I believe, but I imagine they were using a lot more culture to flour than you would if making a bread.)

I have doubts whether there is any significant health benefit to be gained from a longer fermentation than you are already doing.

Boleigh's picture

Eric, thank you for the reply. I can see that there is a limit to the fermentation, I just wondered if anyone else had explored using very long cold fermentations. TBH I'm not really bothered about health benefits - if my family are healthy and eating it that's good enough for me!


PetraR's picture

Oh you are like me, we are a family of 6 so I keep my Starter * Gordon * on my Kitchen table and he is fed every day in a ration of 1:1:1:)

I do bake every day.

I do bake a * Propper * Sourdough loaf and a Basic White which I enhance with Sourdough.

For the Sourdough I mix the Ingredients by hand , than I cover, let rest for 50 Minutes and than I turn and fold every 30 Minutes for 3 hours, that is 6 times.

First rise is not longer than 4-6 hours and than in the proofing basket * Banneton * another 2.5 - 3 hours.

I preheat my Dutch Oven and then put the bread in.


The White bread only needs mixing, 1 hour first rise, than 45 minutes proofing in the Banneton.

I made a SanFrancisco style Sourdough Bread a couple of month ago, it took 3 Days with the retarding in the fridge.

None of us was a big fan of it, way to Sour for our taste.