The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Overproofed in the Fridge??? Nah!!!

BakersRoom's picture

Overproofed in the Fridge??? Nah!!!

Hello Everyone!

Lately, I've been noticing that those new to working with the fridge have been misunderstanding what happens in there, and how quickly.  

A lot of people will say something like, "I was supposed to leave it in the fridge for 8 hours, but I left it in there for 11, and I think its overproofed".  

Alternately, I hear people say "I mixed my dough, then put it in the fridge to proof for 8 hours, then shaped it..."

So I want to tell you guys, based not on articles I read, but many loaves of experience, that the fridge does not provide an environment of continuous, linear fermentation.  

The bread pictured was fermented at room temp (78 degrees) for 2.5 hours, then preshaped, rested 1/2 hour (3 hours fermentation time at room temp), then put into the fridge for what I thought would be 15 hours, but ended up being 27 hours.  


As you can see, the crumb still has the artisinal irregularity I was going for, however, it has softened up a bit, and is more regular that the crumb from my profile pic, for example.  It has a nice ear, and a good color.  The taste is a bit more mild than a bread baked at 15 hours, but its still top notch.  

So realize that what happens when you put a bread in the fridge thats raging with fermentation.  It continues raging until it gets cold.  Then, the yeast barely act.  I imagine this is about 2.5 hours for high hydration breads, and 3.5 hours for low hydration.  So ferment your bread as if you were going to proof it at room temp for those times, but put it in the fridge instead, and you'll have a loaf readdy to bake anywhere within a 12-30 hour window roughly.  The loaf is easier to handle, and tastier.  Its a very easy trick to save time, and get better bread.  But it is NOT a way to slowly ferment your bread.  It stops fermentation.  

I hope this helps those who want to go down the very happy road of refrigerator use.  


Benito's picture

Great information as always, thanks from us new to sourdough bread.

BreadLee's picture

Fantastic post! Thank you for the explanation.  

DanAyo's picture

NOTE - the above illustration was monitoring shaped dough in a retarder set to 52F. If the temp of the retarder was lowered to 38F (typical refrigerator temp), dough would have reached 52F sooner, I estimate 5 hr instead of 6 1/2.

The Roadside Pie King's picture
The Roadside Pi...

Good morning, Dan.

 In the commercial, arena consistent replaceable results are very important. Pizza dough is traditionally divided and balled right out of the mixer just before full strength. At this point a technique called cross stacking is employed.  The dough balls are placed in their proofing trays and moved to the cooler. The trays are cross stacked in the cooler, so all the dough balls cool at the same rate. Then after a few hours the trays are fitted together one on top of the other. There is a lot of thought and science going on in your best pizza operations! 

mutantspace's picture

The length of time it takes to cool is always going to vary depending on fridge model, temperature and size of dough. For instance I use a commercial fridge set at 3C with a differential of 2 degrees which means it varies between 3-5 degrees (fridges click off once they hit set temperature and click back on once they hit differential) knowing this i know I need to preshape 30min, shape and rest for 45min before putting it into fridge. It cools down fast (cause it’s a good fridge) and I put straight into oven next day (20 hours later). Bulk retard is slightly different because there’s more mass to chill. I have noticed in experiments that when shaping and proofing retarded bulk dough there’s a 30 minute difference for every 5C the dough comes to when resting ie:

4kg dough at 11C = 4 hours (rest preshape shape and rest)

4kg dough at 16C = 3 1/2 hours

(if I made a single 1kg bread at room temperature (21C approx) it’s about 2 hours

 Of course they’re my times for my bread - it’s the refrigeration  that’s key and I’ve been learning a lot about how they work (especially temperature parameters, mass  and energy 

WatertownNewbie's picture

The time that anything takes to cool is exponential.  (For those interested in forensics or who watch crime shows on television, this is how the length of time a person has been dead can be estimated.)  The shape of the curve is roughly what is shown in the graph posted by Dan.  The lesson (as illustrated in the original post) is that after a certain point the dough will roughly reach the temperature of its environment (i.e., the refrigerator), and at that point the yeast will be almost dormant.

not.a.crumb.left's picture

and mutant space...It really depends so much on the model of fridge and also dough temp and mass of dough..

I always consider the time in the fridge that the dough will take to cool down and reach the target temp of whatever the fridge is and then stops rising.

So, a word of caution if your fridge is a weak one with a temp around 6C or 7C and a family fridge that is opened whilst retarding and other circumstances you CAN overproof in fridge. It has happened to me...

I know more about temps  now and  I have a wine cooler dedicated to dough retarding that I can set temps to above 4C or not and can get great results setting the retarding temps to 5c or more...but it then all depends also on the other parameters on how long bulk went and how long room proof before into the fridge etc. etc.  Kat

jcope's picture

In a 37f fridge, if you only ferment in the fridge, 100% fermentation is reached around 150 hours.  That assumes you only use starter and no commercial yeast, no added sugars from milk, honey, white sugar, etc.  fermentation in the fridge continues at an extremely slow rate.

I have verified it.  If you first ferment at 78f for 2.5 hours, you can leave it the fridge for another 75 hours, or slightly more before it’s exhausted.

in my experience, the dough can appear a bit dead when you give it long cold ferments, and water can pool on top and around the edges from evaporation and condensation.  But it’s fine and would only benefit from an occasional stretch and fold.

The Roadside Pie King's picture
The Roadside Pi...

Your fermentation time results are interesting. However, purely anecdotal due to variables in culture strength. I am 99% sure about this next bit, could you please verify so we are all on the same page. Adding sugars to the dough in any form would serve to extend the time to full fermentation? Very interesting topic indeed!

jcope's picture

Not completely anecdotal, but I wouldn’t insist your results will match mine.  You can verify it by trying it yourself.  My disclaimer is that my predictions are likely only good for doughs made with flour, water and salt, with or without oil.  Culture strength matters I’m sure, but I would guess that well-maintained flour and water starters are generally all about equally potent.  Mine doesn’t vary much.

The original inspiration for my methods came from here:

if all you do is eyeball the graph, you can see fermentation rates at refrigerator temps versus warm temperatures are minuscule.  It’s clear that it must take an extremely long time to exhaust a dough kept cold.  

I researched more online, read the original study, and got the actual numbers from the plot.  You can fit a curve to those numbers, which will give a good mathematical approximation for a reasonable range of temperatures.  I did this, and then did some tests and found the formula actually does a great job.  I made a series of observations of my starter exhaustion time at 65f and used that as a baseline from which I use the math to derive exhaustion time at other temperatures.  Your starter may be more or less active.

bwraith is another member who took the scientific approach several levels beyond mine.  I was able to get from his formulas an adjustment to the fermentation rates for inoculation percentage.  

At this point I just keep my dough at ~55f, which allows me to shape and proof 24 hours after I mixed it up.

The Roadside Pie King's picture
The Roadside Pi...

Look what I found! Enjoy! How do your numbers compare?

BakersRoom's picture

Are you doing 100% fermentation at 55 in 24 hours? Or is part of the bulk at room temp?

Is there any effect to fermenting at low temps, other than it makes it fit into your schedule better?

DanAyo's picture

It is my understanding that lower temps greatly slows the production of CO2, but at the same time (and over long periods of time) increases the production of acetic acids which flavors the dough.

My experiences with retardation bears this out.