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Retarding dough during its bulk fermentation

beenjamming's picture

Retarding dough during its bulk fermentation

In every bread book I've read, it's always suggested to retard dough during while its proofing (with the exception of pain a l'ancienne). Is there any reason one shouldn't do this during bulk fermentation? I imagine the yeast population is a lot smaller at that point, so It may not have as drastic of consequences. Also, since the cold makes dough much more elastic, it may have a negative effect on doughs that need folding. Has anyone tried this? I think next weekend I might do a little experimenting with this. It's much easier for me to stash a tupperware bin in my fridge than a couche on a sheet pan in bag, which is what got me thinkin.  any thoughts?

mse1152's picture


I stuck an oiled bag of dough into the fridge a while ago, and the bread turned out fine.  Go see the blog entry here.  I think I let it go through most of the bulk fermentation on the counter first, with two or three folds before refrigerating.


KipperCat's picture

I've done it and liked the results. The only problem I've had is in planning how much time to allow for the dough to warm up and complete the fermentation. I suspect it's possible that with enough time (2 or 3 days), the dough might complete it's bulk fermentation entirely in the fridge. But I imagine the dough would need to be fully kneaded beforehand, as the cold would make it difficult to fold. I'd love to hear from more knowledgeable people on this.

Rosalie's picture

It appears that people are using the term "proofing" to refer to the final rise after shaping.  To me it's all proofing and it's all fermentation.

Somebody set me straight on what's what here.


rcornwall's picture

According to Peter Reinhart fermentaion is the first rising (or second, or third, depending...) and that the last rise after scaling/forming the dough is the proof. Not that it matters what its called I suppose as long as we get the desired results. But to answer the question of retardation. Dough is retarded to slow down the fermentaion process, so as to increase the length of the fermentation. The longer the fermentaion the better the flavor of the bread, generally speaking. I only retard my naturally levained sourdough as a rule but I will retard any other bread if my kitchen temp is unusually high. If my kitchen is to warm then my bread will rise faster than I want. The solution then is to retard. However, if I am making bread in the winter time, my bread will usually rise a bit slower and I may not have to retard even my sourdough. One thing to remeber, from my own painful experience, is that you need to roll your dough out flat like on a sheet pan for example. This is necessary so that the dough chills evenly and quickly, otherwise the inside of the dough will continue to ferment while the outside of the dough is not.  I hope this answers your question.


susanfnp's picture

I prefer to retard the shaped loaves because they can be baked right out of the fridge. It takes a little experimentation to figure out when to put the loaves in the fridge so that they fully proof but do not overproof, but then I can get up in the morning and have fresh bread for breakfast. If space in the fridge is a problem, how about individual bannetons instead of a couche?

But I think retarding in bulk is fine; as others have said, I'd not refrigerate until after the last fold.

Rosalie, it is all fermentation, but by convention the initial fermentation of the dough is usually referred to as "bulk fermentation" or "first fermentation" or simply "fermentation," while the fermentation of the shaped loaves is usually referred to as proofing.


leemid's picture

But first, does anyone else have trouble reading the word 'preferment'? I always pronounce it prefer-ment in my head instead of pre-ferment, so it always puts me in the wrong context...

I always chill my dough before scaling and shaping. If my head is on straight, I have had time to plan and have done several folds. If not, in the fridge it goes, over night. Next morning, usually Saturday, I finish out the process. Like today. Right now I have three batards rising in couches, the oven heating the stone, my mouth watering... And I never retard the final rise unless my whole schedule goes to pot.

That's my story,


beenjamming's picture

wow, thanks everyone for your responses. I think I am going to give it a shot next weekend. I'll make a pain au levain dough and try it both ways. I guess I'll see what, if any difference there is. Course I don't think I'm even consistent enough for it to really matter, or to get definitive results, but i'll go for it anyway.


susanfnp's picture

I have to admit, beenjamming, that I initially kind of dismissed the bulk retarding thing as not being something I would do, not because I necessarily though it was not feasible but because I didn't think I needed it. But you're really right about the fridge space, especially for loaves that can't go into individual proofing baskets. It is a good idea. I made this ciabatta using bulk retarding and it came out pretty well (and it was refrigerated right away, not after the folding was finished).

Have you tried it yet? I am interested to know if you did your side-by-side comparison, and if you noticed any differences in the final bread?


beenjamming's picture

Wow, that ciabatta looks great! I unfortunately haven't tried it because I've been busy (schools starting) and I've also started up a bread baking club this semester which is super exciting, but a bit time consuming. I am going to try this in the coming weeks, but I just picked up a bag of dark rye flour from upstate ny and have been baking from Leader's authentic german ryes chapter in Local Breads. Rye dough are certainly different and I'm enjoying the challenge.


wholegrainOH's picture

I almost alway retard sourdough these days, due to the influence of Peter Reinhart (I was one of his myriad of test bakers on the new book, for at least the first few months):  mix up the flours and form a dough without adding the starter, and mix up the starter with a small amount of flour separately.  Put both in refrigerator.  I've kept them separate for up to four days, then taken out of refrigerator, let come to room temperature (about two hours, in hot central Ohio in August), then mix, form loaves, allow to rise (another two hours or so in August), then bake.  I do bake mostly whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel mixtures--very seldom any white bread (although I did make the no-knead white today, which was terrific).

Laddavan's picture

Here in Thailand. I prefer to put the dough in the fridge over night, it works well. But lately it didn't creat much of bubbles like in summer time. So, after I leave the dough over night in the fridge then I still have to put the dough outside of the fridge about 3-5 hours, sometimes I can't wait then I put the dough in the warmer box.  also depend on your knee if you get it right, it'll work out perfectly. Just to support beenjamming article.

jeffbellamy's picture

Trying to work out a weekday baking schedule.

I want to get up in the morning and put together my dough for Basic Country Bread and then deal with it when I come home. I don't want to spend more than an our hour so mix ingredients, autolyse, add salt, retard and off to work.

When I come home from work I'll have time to warm dough, take whatever steps necessary and shape loaves. /then retard for the night.

Bake next morning while I'm mixing up new dough.

This way I can take fresh baked bread to work.