The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough does not ferment in fridge?

SJB87's picture

Dough does not ferment in fridge?

After a series of troubleshooting the sourdough's I've baked which comes out underproof and lacking any flavor (i.e., tastes "flat" and no flavor development), I realized that it maybe because the dough that I have placed in the fridge for retardation does not proof. I have a dough proofing box so I am able to keep my starter that I use and bulk fermentation at 78-81 degrees Fahrenheit (usually I BF for around 5-6 hours). However, once my dough goes into the fridge (which I proof for around 12-14 hours) I think development stops. My assumption is based on the following observation:

1) No increase in size during retardation.

2) Bread tastes flat and no hint of flavors or any sourness.

3) I get a lot of big holes and bread has good rise, but the crumb is thick and gummy which suggested underproofing.

4) The temperature of my fridge is around 45 degrees, so I didn't think that is too cold to stop developments.

5) I have experimented with leaving the dough in the fridge for up to 24 hours but it does not help.

Anyone have any thoughts or experience with this?



DanAyo's picture

If you have images of your bread and crumb, they would be a great help. If not, try to remember to take them next bake.

Please reply with the recipe. 

Since you say you have a lot of holes and a good rise, it seems your starter is doing well.

Thick and Gummy” - Are you using diastatic malt?

45F is extremely warm for a refrigerator. According to my understanding the danger for foods is between 40 - 140F. At that temp the dough should continue to rise some. If you want to test your frig temp, place a glass of water on the shelf that you retard the dough. Leave it for a few hours, then take the temp of the water. Let us know what you get.


SJB87's picture

Thanks for the reply, sorry for the temp mix up, the fridge temp is actually 38 degrees. 

Here are some pictures of crumb shot:


DanAyo's picture

In my experience 38F will cause your dough to rise very little or not at all, but at that temperature the acetic acids (also lactic and yeast) are multiplying. I believe the cold temps bring out the tang.

You do have some large holes, but also quite a bit of dense crumb, so we should consider the activity of your starter, the percentage of starter, and the proper bulk ferment.

From the looks of your crumb, it appears under proofed.

Please reply with the recipe/formula.

Tell us about your starter. How is it feed? How often? How much does it grow? And anything else you can tell us about it.

You mentioned, lacking sour flavor. I am a self proclaimed “sour freak”. I searched high and low, looking for a formula that would produce my type of sour. The intensity and also the flavor profile of “sour” sourdough varies greatly. Through much experimentation I have concluded that starter characteristics, grains, temperature and extended fermentation are instrumental to producing a custom sour flavor. It was’t until I stumbled onto Teresa Greenway’s method of sourdough, that I became satisfied with the flavor profile of my breads. She has an online course if you are interested. - disclaimer - She is a friend, but I have no affiliation with her.



SJB87's picture

I have a 100% rye liquid starter that I feed once a day until 2-3 days before I need to build my levain, of when I start feeding it every 12 hours.

My levain build is 100% liquid levain. On the bread above, I used 50g starter 50g WW and 50g water.  I let it ferment for 6 hours in 81 degrees before using it (it was pretty gassy and smells sweet/tangy). I have used 12 hour levain before and gotten the same result above.

My bread formula is 90% bread flour and 10% WW. So the loaf above had 450g BF / 50g WW at 70% hydration with 150g levain. Salt was at 7g.

Autolyse - 1 hour

Bulk Ferment - 6 hours

Pre-shape - 1 hour

Proof - 14 hours

Noted that 38 degree may not be the ideal environment. Maybe it is too cold and I have to find a better temperature for it. Thanks.




DanAyo's picture

First off, your salt looks a little low. Salt is generally 1.8 x 2% of the total flour. 10-11.5 grams of salt would be the norm. But the salt is not your problem.  7 grams of salt may cause the bread to lack some flavor, but low salt also allows more active fermentation. Active fermentation should work to open your crumb, and that hasn’t happened.

Your levain is 15% prefermented flour. That seems fine. I’m not positive what your problem is, but I am leaning strongly towards your starter and levain. Have you successfully baked bread with your starter? If so, do you have any crumb shots of that bread?

Tell me everything you can about your starter. You said you normally feed it once a day. And when building a levain the feeds are increased to every 12 hours. Is it always kept at room temp? Do you ever refrigerate your starter? Is it always fed 1 part starter + 1 part water + 1 part flour? When you feed (refresh) your starter, is the top domed or is it caved in? How much does it rise in 24 hours and also 12 hours. And at what temperature do you ferment your starter and levains? Lots of questions, but we need to understand the health of your starter.

Idea... You could supplement your next bread with a small amount if commercial yeast (along with your starter) to see if that will open your crumb. Even tnough the crumb shot above contains some large holes, the majority of that crumb is dense.

I’m going to ask a friend to take a look at this. I value his skills at troubleshooting issues like this one. I really want to see you succeed.



SJB87's picture

Thanks for your time and thought on this Dan. 

My salt is normally 10%, but I lowered it just in hopes of increasing fermentation activity.

I have successfully baked pan loaves before with this starter and have not with hearth loaves (consistently get the same problem above).

I fridge my starter in between use and take it out 3-4 days before I need to build my levain. I'd feed it once a day (always 1 part starter/water/flour) after it comes out from the fridge and twice a day two days leading into the levain build. The starter and levain both ferment between 78-81 degrees in a proofing box.

When I refresh starter, it is usually dome (for my 12 hour feed) and flat (for my 24 hour feed). The volume of the starter usually increased by 2 to 2.5x when I refresh.

I am leaning towards the fridge being too cold as a potential issue. Next time I will try to ferment at a warmer temp just to see what happens. Current idea is to fridge for an hour or so and ferment at room temp overnight (usually around 70 degrees) for 8 hours to see what happens.


Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

The dough looks very much under fermented. I'd say the issue is more in the bulk ferment. Getting that right and perhaps giving the dough some room temp time after shaping and before refrigerating should help.

First of all Dan is right. Salt is a bit too low. This could fix the flavour issue.

"My bread formula is 90% bread flour and 10% WW. So the loaf above had 450g BF / 50g WW at 70% hydration with 150g levain. Salt was at 7g".

So I'm getting total flour to be 575g. Normal range for salt is 1.8 - 2% of total flour. I'd put that at around 10.3g - 11.5g.

The starter is 30%. Let's do a similar levain build and see how long that takes to peak to give you an idea for the time of the bulk ferment. Of course you should always watch the dough and not the clock but to have an idea will help in case you're not sure what you're looking for. So try a build with the same ratio of starter to flour...

  • 24g starter (30%)
  • 52g water (65% with the final hydration being 70%)
  • 80g bread flour (100%)

156g starter (use 150g but after fermentation it does lose weight so should be exact). It's 70% hydration like the dough itself and 30% starter.

See how long this levain build takes to peak. It'll give us a good idea of timing. It's also a tad more pre-fermented flour.

Take it from there. If it all works well then total flour will be 588g. So your new salt range will be 10.5g - 11.7g

DanAyo's picture

If you decide to do Abe’s experiment with the levain build, put it in a containter that is see through. That way you can observe the bubble structure also.

I know you are focused on the cold retard, but I don’t think that is your problem. Many of us (me included) BF at room temp (or use a proofer) and then retard in frig @ 38F. Then remove from fridge, score, and bake cold with no further warm proof.

Note - it is also helpful to BF in a clear container for the same reason mentioned above with the levain.

Please send images for your test. We need all the information we can get.