When to refrigerate your loaf and why ?

lenohbabe's picture

As a reasonably new sourdough bread baker, with millions more to learn and understand,  I have learned the attributes and advantages of using the fridge to retard, and develop taste in your dough. 

My question today is, in  some recipes they  call for your shaped loaf to sit out at room temperature for 1 hour, 1.5   or 2, hours before  final proof in the fridge overnight.   I realize its to get the final  rise in the loaf going but why are different recipes different times before refrigerating  ? .....................and whats the reason ?..........why not just bung it in the fridge straight away,  the same  way we do with our refreshed starter.

  Is there a table of timescales for different   room/fridge temperatures that could help ? 

If for example I didn't leave my shaped loaf at room temperature for 1 - 2 hours and just put it straight into the fridge would it change anything about the loaf other than the time its ready to bake  

please be patient.

regards  and thanks Linda 


441 users have voted.


rmorillo's picture
rmorillo 2012 February 23

 hi Linda, just to give you some sopport here, I have the very same question. I would like to see a chart of the relationship between temperatures and times for the final proofing of the shaped loaves on the fridge or at least a guideline of some kind.


Hello, can anyone out there help us?

Regards from Venezuela,







farinam's picture
farinam 2012 February 23

Hello Linda and Rafael,

There is an old saying on the golf course - it's not how, it's how many.  A grubber shot that ricochets off a tree into the hole beats a nicely hit shot that needs a couple of putts to finish it off.  A similar sort of saying could easily apply to sourdough bread making.  It's not the journey but the getting there.

The time-lines that are published are not cast in brass.  They are a reflection of what the author does/did to get to his destination.

On the question of bench time before retardation, it is worth keeping in mind the fact that the slowing of activity of the yeasts and bacteria is not instantaneous when the dough goes into the fridge - it takes time for the coolth to penetrate.  So, if you give too much bench time before retarding, there is a risk that you could overprove unless you shorten the retard time to suit.

This is only a feeling, but a normal household fridge at 4C probably increases the reaction time by a factor of between three and four.  That is why overnight in the fridge can often be used for proving a loaf that would normally take 3 or 4 hours.

By all means use the published time-lines as a guide but also be prepared to change them to suit your schedule and above all listen to what the dough is telling you.  Your time-line is what is required to get a well developed dough and a proved loaf - whether that is by a lofted shot onto the green or by a grubber through the trees doesn't really matter.

Retardation can be used merely to adjust the timing of your baking to fit your schedule.  It can also change the flavour profile of the finished loaf by changing the relative activities of yeasts and bacteria.  Which of these is the most important is a matter of personal preference.

Hope this has helped and good luck with your projects.


rmorillo's picture
rmorillo 2012 February 24

 Farinam thanks for your helpful reply.

I am goin to abuse your kindness by asking you something else:


Is there a difference on the results (the getting there as you've well said) depending on when you do the retardation?


I have read and used the Reinhart method of doing the retard on the primary bulk fermentation, bringing to room temp, shaping and proofing at room temperature before baking but have read about bakeries that use the reverse process, doing the retard during secondary fermentation after the loaves are shaped and going from the fridge to the oven after short time to come to room temp. This method uses a lot more fridge space (my wife complains that I take over all availble space, a problem when you are preparing to entertain company and need fridge space).-


So what gives?


Thanks for you help and your kindness,







lenohbabe's picture
lenohbabe 2012 February 25

  If I understand your explanation correctly the truth is  its  really all about local conditions/environment to be able to play the game correctly........sorry bake bread correctly.   And if you don't  really understand how the dough should look and feel at a given time then  you're not going to get that hole it one..........sorry that  perfect loaf.  

I am beginning to think that all my dough is under fermented and my  loaves are under proved. Is that possible ?  Do you only get the big holes with perfect  fermenting and proving ?

I was beginning to think I was getting the sourdough science thing......................just how wrong can a person be

I have always been retarding after shaping so I think I am going to try retarding in the bulk fermenting stage Could you suggest a recipe I might try .  Thanks and regards

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 February 25

Hello lenohbabe,

People made perfectly good bread for thousands of years before they even had any idea what caused it.  Pretty much a look and feel thing.

An open crumb (aka big holes) is generally favoured with higher hydration.  The Pane Francesa recipe that SourDom gives (180g 100% starter, 320g water and 500g flour - 100g wholemeal,400g bread) is a good basic recipe at about 70% hydration.  That is what I work to for all of my day to day  plain bread baking and I have experimented with going up as high as 80% hydration with a higher proportion of wholemeal.

I also think that stretch and fold gives a more open crumb than vigourous kneading for dough development but once again that is somewhat subjective.

Another thing is that the dough has to be developed to the 'window' stage to maximise the chances of forming good stable large bubbles.

As I said in my other answer, I have done reatrding during bulk ferment or during proving and couldn't say that I positively recognised a difference.

Keep on bakin'


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 February 24

Hi Rafael,

I have done bread both ways and as near as I can tell the results are equivalent.  However the separation in time makes quantitative comparison difficult.

The only way to prove it would be to make two loaves in parallel from the same dough but subject to the different treatments.  Then you could do a side-by-side comparison.  But that would tie the fridge up for even longer.

As a rough guess, from what I know of the biology, I would suggest that the retardation after shaping would possibly have a chance of producing a slightly more sour note.  This is purely speculation on the basis that the acid producing bacteria tend to work on the waste products of the yeasts plus the fact that retardation slows yeast activity more than it does the bacterial activity.

So, early retardation means less yeast waste product at the start of proving and less time for the bacteria to work on what is produced during proving.  In contrast, RT bulk ferment produces more waste products at the start of proving and the bacteria have plenty to work on while under retardation.

I think my logic is OK but it is highly possible that some micro-biologist out there can shoot me down in flames.

Another option for you is to get yourself a beer fridge that you can also use for retardation.

Good luck with your projects.


Gene 2012 February 25

I started to do cold bulk fermentation due to limited fridge space. But then through reading about bread making, I learned that one of the reasons that cold bulk fermentation is sometimes recommended is to improve flavour. Now, improved flavour is mostly done by bacterial fermentation from Lactobacilli, a few types of which thrive under cold temperature. Those bacteria require sugar to do their work, sugar that is not being used as fast by the yeast whose activity is curtailed by the cold. From that, I extrapolate that when cold fermentation is done after shaping, there is less sugar available for the lactobacilli to do their work of flavouring the bread. Here's a good article on the subject.

lenohbabe's picture
lenohbabe 2012 February 27

 Farinam and Gene thank you for imparting your vast knowledge, its so very much appreciated.

Dough fermenting at room temperature at the moment, it’s with a higher hydration. To be retarded after shaping.

Will try the same tomorrow and cold ferment.  I am kind of flying by the seat of my pants there as dont really have a recipe for that  so just going to reverse everything....................could this actually be called a science experiment.......... from a girl who left school at 16................many many years ago.







rmorillo's picture
rmorillo 2012 February 27

 Thanks to all for you comments and opinions.


You have been very helpful.


Thanks to Linda for bringing up the subject. Good luck with your baking,




Merrid 2012 February 28

There are quite a few factors to determine flavour profile/size of bubbles/oven spring/time to prove etc. Temperature (both ambient and dough) of course, but also humidity, types of flour used, activity and local flora of the original starter, method of gluten development, proofing method, characteristics of your oven, and probably other local conditions I'm not aware of. Any chart of temperature versus time is going to be rough and not necessarily all that accurate for your needs.

The best way is, as farinam says, to find a good basic recipe and keep making it until it turns out how you want - and then the seasons will change and you'll probably have to relearn it anyway. I notice a fair amount of variation as the temperature and humidity changes; after a while you get the feel of it (literally, in some ways).


Just stick with it - take notes if you're that way inclined; you'll probably learn faster - and once you've got a fair idea of how to make it in your local conditions, you're set, and can start experimenting with other recipes.

lenohbabe's picture
lenohbabe 2012 March 1

Yes Merrid just so many factors to consider, I think the most important one is patience of which I have none.

I just want to make all the wonderful breads I see pictures of and also want to get the "perfect loaf.   I have made a few beauties. Some with the perfect crisp, dark crust, others with a softer crust and crumb and others with great oven spring and taste.  All very passable. But that perfect loaf  has eluded me.

My safe recipe is Norwich sourdough from Susan at wildyeast.com, it works  out well every time.  I normally mix the flours up just for a change.

I have realized that my lack of experience in how the bulk ferment and proving should look and feel is where i fall down.  I am close but just not close enough and the temperature in my kitchen is 20 to 22 degrees  or less.  So i am realizing that I need more time to get that perfect dough.  The Norwich sourdough retards in the fridge after shaping and I have found that the best for getting the "right proving".

Although !!   I did do a loaf recently where I retarded at the bulk ferment stage and it worked out really well considering I had no recipe and I made  up the process  as I went along

The joys of sourdough bread every loaf is a new experience.



dave 2012 March 12

Sourdough is an ancient art, they didn't have fridges. I avoid retrigeration, whether dough or starter, it just adds complication.


If it's a scheduling problem, post your schedule.

lenohbabe's picture
lenohbabe 2012 March 13

Hey Dave,

I would love to know your schedule ? surely not using my fridge for starter storage would mean instant death !

I realize that if I feed the starter, sat at room temp, every day it would stay alive, but what a waste of floor that would be.  I try to bake at least once or twice a week and the starter goes in and out the fridge to accommodate my baking days.  Sometimes because of other commitments my dough might get bunged in the fridge to halt the process till I am available again.  I will confess to not getting consistent results because of this.


Dave please share your tricks and tips, I notice you are a professional baker so I am assuming your starter and dough are most likely turning over everyday.

If someone could write a simple sourdough "science bit" instruction book they would make a fortune.

regards from Scotland to all in Melbourne..................I have family there

lenohbabe's picture
lenohbabe 2012 March 14

Hi Dave,

Hope this find you well today in glorious Melbourne.

Hours for baking are  really anytime i have  a few hours free,  Friday nights and weekends are good mostly .  Or some days 8pm till midnight and next day 8am till noon. 

Can you explain this please ?  I have bread sitting on a final prove at the moment, Yesterday at 10am  i made the dough, autolyse, mixed 5 mins in mixer with dough hook, did 2 x S & F 50 mins apart and then bunged the dough into the fridge at 12noon.

I took it out this morning, it had doubled in size, after an hour at room temp knocked it back, did one more S & F,  left  another 50 mins then shaped.  They have been proving at room temp now for 3 hours.  Strange thing is if I poke my finger NOW  in the two outside loaves (3 batards on a linen couche) the finger hole springs back the  almost fully proved test,  if i poke my finger in the middle loaf the dough wont depress and my finger sticks to the dough.   Its almost like the two outside loaves are nearly ready and the middle one is no where near ready............yet it was all the same dough to begin with...................once again the the sourdough "don't get too confident" rule plays its hand again.

 regards Linda

gongoozler 2012 March 14

 I bake about once a week.

I use a home-made proving cabinet to keep temperatures constant (we don’t have an airing cupboard).I don’t share the modern enthusiasm for a very open crumb with huge holes and I don’t like working with a very slack dough so I use a fairly low hydration and knead by hand.My schedule is very simple: 10.00 pm Make up a preferment: 60g starter, 100g beer, 120g flour. Leave, covered with a shower cap, overnight at 25°C. 10.00 am next day: add 135g water, 1 teaspoon salt, 300g flour, mix well and knead for 10 minutes. Leave in a covered bowl in fridge for 24 hours. 10.00 am next day: turn out, flatten gently and shape into a ball. Drop into a floured banneton, cover with a moist cloth and leave to prove for 5 hours at 27°C 03.00 pm: turn out, slash and bake I bake using a pre-heated La Cloche. I’ve tried many different oven temperatures and timings but I’m currently getting good results with: 270°C for 10 minutes with lid on then 20 minutes at 230° with the lid off. I have a small fridge which I am able to use exclusively for bread and booze. I haven’t measured the temperature but I suspect it doesn’t get as cold a s a full-sized fridge. After making the preferment I feed the remaining starter and keep it refrigerated  ready for next week’s bake (by which time it is just starting to produce hooch. 
yarlingtoncensis 2012 April 26

On the subject of dough in fridge can someone tell me........................

2pm Wed     mix dough, cover

3pm              fold in bowl, cover

4pm              fold in bowl, cover

5pm              shape and place in proving basket, cover

7.30pm         place in fridge

8am Thurs   out of fridge to warm up

9am              cook

9.40am         FLYING CRUST!

What went wrong? Trying to avoid the 4am start, bread needs to be ready by 10am



Somerset UK 

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