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How long can sourdough be retarded?

ws.hicks's picture

How long can sourdough be retarded?


I need advice on how long a SD can be retarded? My issue is, I have mixed up the dough and retarded it to be baked today, but it seems it’ll have to wait three more days before I can bake it; would it over ferment by then? I know some recipe retard their dough about this long or even longer, but they are planned, so I’m not sure what would happen to mine.


Here is the recipe I used:

- White flour 270g (60ish gram of bread flour the rest is AP)

- Whole wheat starter 60g (100% hydration)

- Water 195g

- Salt 9g

- Oil 12g

In terms of baker percentage:

White flour 90% (80:20ish AP:BF)

Whole wheat 10%

Hydration 75%

Inoculation 20%

Oil 4%

Salt 3%

Tangzhong 5% taken from AP and 25% of the water

Ambient temp around 29c +/-


My process was

  • mixing everything except oil and let rest for one hour for a sort-of autolyse
  • mix in oil, rest another 30 min 
  • then stretch and fold every 30 miniutes for 6 rounds
  • bulk at room temp for 1.5 hour; by eyeballing it appears to grow about 30-50%
  • Pre-shape into a boule; I over tighten the surface and it tear. Rest in cover bowl 15 min. At this point, dough is quite sticky dusting is absorbed within a short while I have to wet the scraper instead. It seems to hold shape at first but spread out after sometime.
  • Shape into batard. Try to use a whole lot more dusting but everything is a mess at this point; the result was probably no different from unshape dough. It was quite sticky and probably could not hold shape anymore that I started suspect if it had already over fermented.
  • Plop into oiled tin then plastic bag and retard in the fridge anyway.
  • Its been retarded for about 24 hour now; and have to go on for another 60 hours or so. Looking through the droplets on the bag, it seems to have puffed up quite a bit


What do you guys think will happen to my dough?

Tom M's picture
Tom M

Hi WS,

3% salt seems unusually high and I’d think that the bread would taste very salty.  Have you used it at that level before? With 75% hydration, this baker’s percentage equates to a solution percentage that should mostly inhibit lactic acid bacterial growth.  My guess is that this would help the dough not over-ferment, but it sure seems to be pushing the limits either way.



ws.hicks's picture

Thanks for you reply, Tom.

Well, kind of yes, but it wasn’t sourdough. This is actually my second time baking with sourdough starter. I actually didn’t intend to use 3% salt but it was my carelessness weighing salt directly into the water mixture and once an extra gram plopped in, there’s nothing more I can do. The recipe was adapted from my commercial yeast recipe which used 2-2.5% salt rounding up anyway so I didn’t think it would matter that much; never occurred to me it would inhibit lacto fermentation though it sounded very reasonable once you mentioned it. This might also explain why my first loaf tasted more or less the same as my commercial yeast one.

Your thread seemed very interting by the way; I’ll definitely read it, thank you!

Tom M's picture
Tom M

Because of the high salt, I’d treat it as a preferment and knead in another 60-150g flour and the corresponding water.  It’s not ideal since you’ve already gotten this far, but otherwise I consider bread at 3% salt to be bordering on inedible.  Please let us know how your experiment turns out!

ws.hicks's picture

In hind sight, you were right, adding more flour was an option but I couldn't think of it at the time. The result was updated below, but on the taste department, it was salty, yes, but I didn't really notice it at first probably because I was accustomed to it as I have been using more and more salt lately until I cut back to 2% in my most recent loaf that I noticed how my first few loaf used to taste like and how 3% made the taste a little skewed; but using it for savory sandwich was still okay. The bread turned out to be sour though. Not sure how that would mean but I thought you might be interested to know that. The total retarding time was probably around 36+ hours.

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Salt notwithstanding, I think the temperature of your fridge is the key factor. How cold is it?

ws.hicks's picture

I’ve never temped it properly but I think it should hover around some degree c over zero? Things turned into ice every once in a while if I left them undisturbed for a few days.

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Just how many degrees over 0 is important. I think it's usually said that over 4°C fermentation still continues slowly, but below 4°C it's effectively stopped.

ws.hicks's picture

Will try to check it. Thank you very much.

Benito's picture

Tom and Ilya both have pertinent points.  You really need to check the temperature of your fridge on the shelf that the dough will rest.  Place a glass of water on the shelf in that location and check its temperature several hours later.  If less than 4*C then you're probably OK and there won't be much in the way of fermentation going on, however, what LAB are there will still be producing some acid without much replication.  So if you leave the dough too long it may become quite acidic and start to have gluten breakdown.  

I'd try to bake it sooner than later, I do know of at least one baker who has left their dough in a very cold < 4*C fridge for 48 hours and it baked up fine.  Let us know what ends up happening.


foodforthought's picture

I almost always retard for at least 24 hours. I find the dough easier to work with after chilling. I also mostly build 3 loaf batches, so I often have dough in the refrigerator for 3 days and sometimes up to 5. After 5 days, dough starts going slack and watery, though I have coaxed an ok loaf from 6 day old dough. Not recommended. Per Benny, you need to confirm your refrigerator environment temperature.


Good luck,


headupinclouds's picture

I have been reading Adam Leonti's Flour Lab, and he mentions his whole wheat yeasted ciabata recipe came about unintentionally, when the 2016 NYC Snowpocalypse kept him from attending to the dough in his walk in fridge for 1 week. When he finally made it back, it was so sticky he was unable to shape it, but he cut it up and baked it anyway and it turned into a very light ciabatta.  This is obviously quite different than a sourdough + bread flour formula, but the message may still apply.

There is an interesting 18 vs 40 hour cold proof comparison (sourdough + bread flour) I came across previously which is a good read:


ws.hicks's picture

Sorry for the silence. It's been a busy week for me. But thank you everyone for your advise. I learned a lot from you guys.

So first, in the end I managed to squeeze baking time into my schedule the next morning and, although a little longer than intended, the dough wasn't retarded for as awfully long as I was worried it had to be and turned out to be an interesting learning for me. I'll get back to the detail result below, also with a number of additional questions.

Before that, let me get back to Ilya and Benny question. It seems my fridge temperature is around 2C so theoretically speaking it should be able to slow down fermentation considerably but I am glad I have baked it that morning because the dough turned out quite sourer than I am accustomed to already at that stage.

Back to the result, first, pictures:

Top View

Looks great? But...

Side View

I suppose this weird shape is the result of my sloppy shaping skill?

Crumb shot:

Crumb Shot

Then, in the mean time, I managed to find some window to mix another loaf. This time with new pack of unbleached bread flour, not a mix of remainder bleached BF+AP as before, and also my first experiment with rye. It was interesting to compare the flavor and taste of both loaf and see the different rate of fermentation when rye was in the mix. I mean, everyone always say it will be faster, but seeing and tasting it first hand is another thing altogether; especially seeing how explosive my starter have become with rye in the mix. Still, it seemed I really have to improve my shaping skill. Here's the pic of the new loaf (the tearing bottom was from it sticking to the iron skillet I baked it in):