The Fresh Loaf

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Retarded fermentation

hansjoakim's picture

Retarded fermentation


I've got a question about retarded fermentation or cold fermentation. Are there any qualitative differences between retarding the bulk fermentation and the final fermentation (the final proofing bit before loaves go into the oven)?

A couple of the straight dough recipes in Hamelman's "Bread" suggests retarded bulk fermentation, and I have had excellent results when I've tried this method on his straight oatmeal bread. However, due to changing work schedules etc., it sometimes could be more convenient to prolong the final fermentation instead; for instance shaping loaves and refrigerating them in the evening, and then putting them straight into the oven in the morning. I've done this retarded step only with straight doughs so far: Are there any pitfalls to avoid when the dough contains a pre-ferment (biga, poolish, pate fermentee)?

I would be very interested in hearing about your experiences with retarding the fermentation process at different stages throughout the bread making process!

Also, I've wondered why Hamelman suggests retarded bulk fermentation only when it comes to straight doughs. Will retarding a pre-fermented dough make it too sour, you think?

Kuret's picture

I find that retarded bulk fermentation is more convinient due to the fact that you will never come back to a refrigerator filled with overproofed shaped loaves. Ive encountered this several times when retarding shaped loaves.

 One aestetical pro of refrigerator proofin however is the lovely blisters that you get when baking them, this especially applies to breads with mostly white flour. The refrigerator proof alowes more sugars and loose amino acids to be released in the dough giving a more pronounced malliard reaction and thus reddish crust, wich some people love some people dislike.

proth5's picture

Never, ever, would I presume to completely understand Mr. Hamelman's thinking.

That being said, I could imagine him saying something like:

"I don't recommend that this dough be put in the retarder for proofing (or bulk ferment), because I don't happen to think it improves the taste.  But, why don't you try it and see if it works for you?"

I could also imagine that he gave his recommendations based on his experience at the time the book was written and how he liked to manage his production schedules for the bread.  I have come to the conclusion that bread baking always involves compromise, and similar to any negotiation, one must chose what is the most valuable and hold that true, while making adjustments elsewhere.  I can imagine (and only imagine) that Mr. Hamelman wrote his formulas with this in mind.

On a personal level, I have retarded straight doughs, prefermented doughs, and levain doughs at both bulk ferment and proofing.  None was too sour, or unpleasant.  For me.  I tend not to like a very sour loaf. 

If I must retard, I prefer to do it at the bulk ferment stage, because the chaotic internal life of my refrigerator can sometimes mess with my final shaping - and I hate that. Also, if there is a phase that needs less control on the "right" moment for the next step - it is the bulk ferment.  Left too long and the final loaf might overproof.  Then it cannot be saved, whereas the over fermented bulk ferment can be folded and saved. 

You must make the correct compromises for your taste and production schedule.  The only way to know is to bake.

Hope that is helpful.

Happy baking!

hansjoakim's picture

thanks for your very helpful reply!

i think your assesment of mr. hamelman's mind makes perfect sense :)  it's quite amazing how adaptable and flexible doughs can be. i'll definitely experiment more with retarding, and especially at the bulk fermentation step (as you say, this is the least sensitive step to overproofing). thanks again :)

Janedo's picture

I too prefer the cold fermentation at the bulk stage. I cut the dough out the fridge (easier to handle when it's high hydration dough), then the preshaped dough can come to room temperature more quickly and it is still easier t handle than if it hadn't been cooled. And as said above you won't mess things up in the bulk stage, while risen, shaped loaves can be more precarious.

I don't really agree with Hamelman when he says that some of his breads don't benefit from a cold fermentation at the bulk stage. I actually found that rather surprising! But then, as Pat says, it's a question of taste and what he was doing at the time.

I always use a firm sourdough starter for breads that I know I'll be leaving all night in the fridge because I personally don't like the taste of a liquid starter left over night. Even though on this forum people say different, it gives a much sourer taste. Is it the French ingredients? Who knows, but I get better, complex taste with firm starter. If I do a straight sourdough, then I use a liquid because it develops nicely in the shorter time. But of course, that is just my taste! 


louiscohen's picture
  1. My guess is that Hamelman figures that either a preferment or retarded bulk fermentation brings enough time and hence flavor.  Doing both has a marginal benefit, not worth the time.  I do both; except for no-knead doughs (no preferment).  
  2. I just did my first cold proof overnight and found the dough way overproofed.  I am happy to be not alone in this, but if anyone knows how to avoid this, I'd love to know.