Put simply, retarding dough is the process of slowing down the final rising in the bread-making process. This is easily done by proofing bread overnight in the refrigerator since the cold slows down the rise. It has its benefits, including adding flavor and allowing you to bake the bread at a later time.
Retarding and Proofing
Leavened bread (breads that rise using yeast or sourdough starter) are typically allowed to proof, or rise, twice. The dough is often shaped into loaves, rolls, or other shapes before the second proof, and then it is baked.
Retarding is done during the second proof or rise. It is often done overnight when the dough is placed in the refrigerator, slowing the rise so it can be freshly baked in the morning, dividing up the labor and allowing you to have fresh bread at a chosen time. It is also done to increase the flavor of the bread and to give the crust a darker color when baked.
How to Retard Bread Dough
You will most likely want to retard bread dough during the second rise or proof. If instructions are given for proofing bread overnight in your recipe, then follow them as written. Otherwise, here's how to retard bread dough:
- Proceed with the recipe as written, including shaping the dough, until you get to the second rise or proofing stage.
- Cover the bread dough with a clean towel and place it in the refrigerator. Some bakers like to wrap the dough in a towel and place this in a bowl or on a cookie sheet. Others simply lay a towel over the pan, which is perfect for loaf bread.
- Before baking your refrigerated bread, allow it to warm to room temperature. Removing it from the fridge and letting it sit on the counter while waiting for your oven to preheat is often enough time.
Tips for Proofing Bread Overnight
- In general, many breads can be retarded for 12 to 18 hours without adverse effects, though this will depend on the recipe.
- Many recipes will tell you to retard the dough overnight though that time is subjective based on when you prepared the dough on the first day. Overnight typically means about 12 hours.
- Some doughs can be proofed in the refrigerator for longer—up to a few days—but many recipes will lose some of their rise if they are left too long.
- Many whole grain and rye breads will not retard well because they are more sensitive to the acids produced and have weaker gluten.
You can also retard the first rising and shape the loaves at another time. This is good to know if your baking session is unexpectedly interrupted or you have to break your baking up into smaller pieces of time. Simply place the bowl with your covered dough in the refrigerator until you can return to it. Allow it to warm up and finish rising (if it hasn't already) before punching or folding it.
Why It's Important
Retarding has two primary benefits: the flexibility to bake later and extra flavor. Each of these can play important roles in your bread baking experience.
The ability to delay the actual baking time can be very convenient. The full process of making bread can eat away at your day: you have to mix the dough, wait for the first rise (or bulk fermentation), shape the dough, wait for it to rise again, then bake it. A single loaf can take up to 6 hours, and this time commitment prevents many people from making their own homemade bread.
If you can break the steps down into two or three days, the task seems more manageable. Some bread recipes can even be retarded for a few days, which means you can prepare it on the weekend and have fresh-baked bread mid-week.
The flavor of many breads improves if you slow down the fermentation, and some styles of bread actually require it. Yeast wants to act fast and can cause bread dough to rise within an hour if left in warm temperatures. This is great if you want a quick bread, but you will often get a deeper flavor if you slow the yeast down.
Impact of Salt
You will notice that salt is included in almost every bread recipe. It is a key ingredient for many reasons, one of which is that it acts as a natural retarder. Salt controls the fermentation time because it attracts moisture released by the yeast through osmosis. This, in turn, causes the yeast to slow down.
It is very important that you measure salt according to the recipe. Professional bakers prefer to keep salt in the 1.8 to 2 percent range when developing recipes. Too much salt will reduce the volume of your bread, sometimes significantly. Too little salt will result in quicker proofing, which can affect the bread's flavor.