The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Overnight Proofing... tradition or is there a real benefit?

clevins's picture

Overnight Proofing... tradition or is there a real benefit?

So, I'm relatively new, esp to sourdough, but I'm wondering about the practice of overnight proofing. I see it all the time... "Do X, leave it to bulk ferment, then shape and proof overnight..." 

But... why overnight? I get that the dough continues to ferment, albeit at a slower temp. I get that there is, allegedly, a flavor difference.  But from some reading here, there's also other chemical reactions happening not all of which are positive, so you don't want to let it sit there for days (I'm specifically thinking of bread dough here, not pizza). 

I get that for a bakery it might work to their advantage to retard the second proofing and have that finish in the early AM but for regular home bakers is there a *significant* advantage to overnight in the fridge vs simply having a second, shaped proof at room temp? 

hanseata's picture

I started working with overnight bulk fermentation for my micro-bakery because it better fit my schedule.

But there are other benefits to longer fermentation: otherwise bland white breads develop more flavor, the taste of whole wheat breads mellows considerably, and flaxseeds can be digested (not only act as “pass-through” fibers).

But probably even more important: long fermentation reduces the phytic acid content of modern wheat and so improves it nutritional value and makes it better digestible.

gerhard's picture

are the most costly ingredients they have so they would be more likely to push the process to eliminate long fermentation. In the 60s and 70s it seems there was less concern about quality and more for efficiency to produce the product at a low cost. The rise of artisanal bakeries and their ability to sell their distinct bread rather than a commodity gave them a chance to sell at prices where the cost of time and retarder space could still be profitable.

clevins's picture

most of the over night time is closed time anyway and proofing space is proofing space. 

Anyway, my question is more about the benefits in a home environment. 


More specifically, I'm trying to get a feel for how much it affects the bread vs flour choice, commercial yeast vs sourdough, etc. 

gerhard's picture

all night they start at an ungodly hour. If you can make flour into to bread in three hours a 12 hour operation could produce 3 to 4 times the bread a operation can using long fermentation. Refrigerator/retarder space is even more costly to maintain than shelving in a back room.

The benefits of sourdough slow fermented bread is flavour and shelf life. Some claim health benefits including easier digestion, I don’t have trouble digesting commercial bread but the crust, crumb and flavour are all better in slow proved bread. Once you work with sourdough for awhile it is easy to build it into your schedule.

Colin2's picture

Any recipe with a refrigerated overnight proofing will work with a shorter room temperature proof.

Yes, there may be a flavor benefit from retarding for 8-12 hours.  No, you would not leave it "for days."  It may be harder to monitor in the fridge, especially if you're sleeping, and it is possible to overproof.  FWLIW, my suggestion would be to use a room temperature final proof until you get really comfortable with a recipe, and then try a longer retarded final proof and see what you think.

BXMurphy's picture

Hi, Clevins!

The *significant* advantage for me and many home bakers is getting sourdough to fit in a busy home schedule.

Take a look at the widely accepted beginners sourdough recipe. Widely accepted by members here. Its called 123 Sourdough No Knead - Do Nothing Bread.

Total proof time could be as much as 20 hours! 12 of those hours would be at room temperature. The next day, you'll need eight hours. Also at room temperature. With good planning, you could get it done in one day, I suppose.

Thats just sitting around, no biggie. But, what if home life happens? Or, what if you would just prefer some breathing space? The refrigerator comes to your rescue in this case. As a bonus, flavor blossoms.

The refrigerator is your significant other. Overnight is your significant other. Unless you are blessed with an abundance of spare time.


clevins's picture

Came out pretty good. Slightly bitter (might be older flour). This was a commercial yeast version of Grant Y's 100% spelt boule.

Yeast was 5g of SAF Red. Bulk fermentation was 3 hours in the oven with light on. Overnight proof in the fridge as about 15 hours. 

Crumb was a little dense and slightly less oven spring that I'd want. Some of that might be slight overproofing. Still tastes good. 

phaz's picture

There is a a difference in flavor - should try both and see what you prefer. The real benefit is gluten formation. The popular methods here and elsewhere doesn't manipulate the dough enough to get a good gluten network, but it does give it the time to do so. Overnight gives it the time, and the could keeps it from going over - which would be too much fermentation - which would be harming that gluten. 

I will add, the fridge is your friend. It can be a real help if say there's a sudden change in plans and you need more time before you can cook. Just one of many tools we use when we need to. Enjoy!