The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Experimenting with cold bulk fermentation

turkey_creek's picture

Experimenting with cold bulk fermentation

Hi all,

I am new to this site and have enjoyed reading through so many of the posts on here. I'm experimenting with cold bulk fermentation in order to fit more baking into my schedule and spread it throughout the week. I recently made this honey spelt sourdough recipe and decided to bulk ferment it in the fridge "overnight" -- meaning I mixed it around 9:30 yesterday morning, put it in a plastic tub, covered, and then set it in the fridge around 10am. It rapidly increased in volume and is now (5am the next day) at about the 8-quart mark (I quadrupled the recipe!).I'm wondering if I can leave it in the fridge for a while longer, or if I should take it out now. And when I do take it out of the fridge, do I let it come to room temp before dividing and shaping?  I chose bulk fermenting in the fridge because it's made using sourdough/levain and I thought I'd see what a retarded cold ferment does to the flavor. I've made this recipe many times following the standard instructions, bulk fermenting at room temp for an hour or so, and so I'm familiar with how it tastes. In fact I have a "standard" recipe loaf on my counter right now, ready for the test taste comparison :)

I'm still rather new to this and while cold bulk fermenting seems like the holy grail to me in terms of getting more scheduling flexibility, I'm also a little fuzzy on just *how* flexible it is. This is particularly because I have Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day, in which many of the recipes can be bulk fermented in the fridge for up to 4 days(!!). Why is it ok to keep them in there that long? I have started making a spreadsheet to compare the above recipe to some of his in terms of percentages in order to get some perspective on this. Here is what I have calculated for the percentages for the honey spelt sourdough recipe I currently have exploding in the fridge:

ItemQty (grams)         % 
Spelt flour9919% 
SD Starter (1 Tbsp)   
Spelt flour29858% 
A/P flour12023% 
Salt, 1.25 tsp9.3752% 
Instant yeast, 0.5 tsp1.580.3% 
Total Flour:517grams100%
Total Water:340grams66%

Thank you in advance for any advice!

Dave Cee's picture
Dave Cee

I, too am interested in this technique of cold bulk fermentation for the same reasons you state and have dabbled a bit. Using a basic white bread flour recipe with 75% hydration and just under 20% pre-fermented flour I discovered that the yeast's activity started to taper off in strength at around the 40-hour mark. After 48 hours the dough was no longer "responsive". There was a definite improvement in flavor of the baked loaf but I am too inexperienced to evaluate this objectively.

What I discovered is that you can successfully put your loaf (dough) on hold in the refrigerator during bulk fermentation if you don't overdo it.

Looking forward to more discussion on this topic. Thanks for your post. Best wishes. Dave

barryvabeach's picture

I have played around with retarded BF and FP,  just to fit it into my work schedule, and it does allow for more flavor development.  I don't push it as much as you,  usually 8 to 12 hours will fit into my schedule  .  I think you will be looking more at volume increase versus time, so if you want longer times, you can decrease the amount of starter.   I don't see the need to go past a day or so, and so can't give you any advice on what that might bring in pros or cons.   My regular schedule is refresh starter in the am -  then put in a wine cooler,  mix dough at night, and into wine cooler, shape in the morning and put in fridge for FP, then bake at night when I come home.  Having a wine fridge lets me vary the temp ,  though usually I am setting it to 51 to 53 F.  

Archizoom's picture

I always BF my dough in a cold spot, in the winter it takes up to 10h to get a 50% volume increase (approx.) I kind of eyeball it. Then I just slide it out of the bowl which I've greased generously with olive oil, shape it, proof it for another hour and stick it in the fridge for up to 24h. This works for me.

The reason I do a cold-BF is because that way the dough is still a little bit firm when I go to shape it, and I also don't have to worry about over-proving it.

turkey_creek's picture

Hi again all,

Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions! I kept meaning to get back on here sooner but with the holidays it's been busy around here. To follow up on my original post, I removed the BF'd dough from the fridge at about 6:30AM the day of my post. The baked loaves turned out great! Here are a few pics -- in the oven, and on the cooling rack. I'm really excited about the possibilities of cold BF for "make-ahead" convenience and am looking forward to pushing the envelope more in the future!

after removing from overnight BF in fridge      baking loaves     cooling loaves      ready to eat!