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Warming up shaped retarded loaves: standard timetables?

jstreed1476's picture

Warming up shaped retarded loaves: standard timetables?

After trying a few bakes of shaped, retarded loaves of Reinhart's French Bread from ABED, I've yet to find a way to ensure consistent results, and I think warm-up time is part of the problem.

My batches were for all practical purposes identical--total weight, flour type, mix/knead time and technique, etc.

I've started tracking desired dough temperature and have been very happy with my improved consistency with non-retarded loaves. However, I like to bake first thing in the morning sometimes--especially when I want to bring something fresh into the office to share. I thought shaped loaves retarded in the fridge would be great, but so far I'm only batting about .300.

The main problem is crumb (sorry, no pics, coworkers ate the loaf too fast), though the taste has been a bit less consistent than I'd like, too. Regarding the former, I realize variation in shaping may be to blame, but I've been very careful to shape with a target surface tension in mind.

So, I guess what I'm looking for is a way to predict (or tell) when a shaped loaf is ready for the oven. The finger-poke test doesn't seem so reliable when dealing with retarded dough. I have a feeling I'm baking it too soon, for what it's worth.

And as I type this, I realize I should just do an experiment where I make one big batch and take four loaves out of the fridge at, say, 15 minute intervals and then bake them all at the same time.

Any insights, friends? And is consistency not the greatest challenge in bread?

Yerffej's picture

The finger poke test is the answer but it needs to be a very experienced finger.  Note not only the rate of return when you push (not poke) on the dough, but the overall feel of the dough. 

Is it cold, dense, and stiff? Not ready. 

Is it cold, light and airy with no return after the push?  It is likely over proofed. 

Is the cold retardation appliance consistent?  It could be a refrigerator with wide fluctations in temperature.  I have one of those.  Or it could be a digitally controlled and fairly precise cooler...I do not have one of those.  The shaped risen loaf can go directly from the cooler to the oven IF it is properly proofed.   Or it can spend time on the table at room temperature finishing the proofing process.  Total proofing time can vary widely depending on the temperature of the cooler, the temperature and condition of the dough when it entered the cooler, ambient temperature and so on.

If you want to bake first thing in the morning then you may need to start the bread earlier on the previous day or possibly mix the dough with warm water to kick start the entire process.  You could also hold the shaped loaves at room temperature for a while prior to putting them in the cooler.  There are a great many variables that you can manipulate to make the process work on your timetable.  Make small changes and only one change at a time.  Do not, for example use warmer water and start earlier, do one or the other.

The most important thing is that you learn to tell when the loaf is properly proofed and this has a high degree of difficulty with loaves that have been cold retarded.  I have been baking cold retarded loaves for years and now and then,  I still stumble on getting it just right.


hanseata's picture

Therefore I usually rather do the bulk fermentation overnight in the fridge. To warm up takes usually 2 hours, but the time window is much larger. I ususally bake three or four batches of breads, one after the other, and remove them all at the same time from the refrigerator.

With already shaped doughs I, also, had more difficulties in judging the right time, except for Pane Siciliano or smaller breads like baguettes. Often I was too impatient, especially when it was a new kind of bread, and the warming up und rising somewhat more took much longer than the recipe stated. The result? An oven "explosion"....

But, on the whole, the finger poke test works very well for me.


dmsnyder's picture

The poke test and dough feel are your best guides, as has been said by others. But there are a few other variables to consider.

You might try retarding loaves that you have let partially proof. The second fermentation will continue for a while as the loaves cool down in the refrigerator. This may shorten your bench time before baking. In fact, you can push this to the point  you proof your loaves 3/4 of the way before retarding them.

How long the loaves need to warm up depends on the size of the loaf. Thin loaves (baguettes, small bâtards, small boules) my warm up in an hour. With larger loaves (1.5 lb bâtards or boules or larger) may take up to 4 hours, in my experience, before they are ready to bake.

Ambient temperature makes an enormous difference in fermentation, including proofing. If your kitchen is cool in the morning, proofing will take a lot longer. Many recipes that actually specify a recommended proofing temperature recommend something around 85 degrees F.

The bottom line is, as always, "Watch the dough, not the clock."

Hope this helps.


jstreed1476's picture

I watch for content from all three of you, so it was great to see your convergence on my question.

My takeaways:

  • Unbaked bread dough has amazing insulative properties. All those little air pockets!
  • If time permits, retarding during bulk fermentation is more reliable/predictable. I've done a version of this with a refrigerated preferment (pate fermente)--when it came out from the fridge, I just stuck a thermometer in it to monitor internal temp until it got into a zone that made the water for DDT in a more normal-ish range. Took longer than I thought it would.
  • If I'm retarding the shaped loaf, a longer bench rise before refrigeration is probably the way to go.

I routinely do this successfully with cinnamon rolls, but perhaps the enriched dough and the fact that they're eaten warm can somewhat hide flaws that are more readily exposed in lean dough breads.

RE: "Watch the dough, not the clock"--I once repeated a version of this to my 12 year old son, who grinned and asked if I was going to cross-stich that and put in on a pillow. Clever boy! But now I notice that he doesn't use the timer for most foods he makes, he just keeps checking it.