This is a key technique that I try to teach my bread baking students. Refrigerating your dough at some point during the first or final rise can make bread baking more of an everyday thing, versus just making bread on weekends or special occasions. Retarding your loaves in the refrigerator is also a great way to add an extra dimension of flavor to your breads.
The retarding of your loaves can be done during the initial rise or during the final rise after the loaves have been shaped. Retarding is a technique that slows the fermentation process. This allows you the flexibility to bake your loaves at a later time. If, for instance if you want freshly baked bread in the morning you can schedule your bread baking around that by letting your shaped loaves proof more slowly in the refrigerator overnight. Then you can take them out and let them warm up while your oven preheats. I have seen recipes that say you can retard your loaves for 8 hours and others that give you 4 days.
The second reason for wanting to retard your loaves is to develop a deeper flavour profile in your breads. In the refrigerator your loaves will expand much more slowly due to the cool temperatures. Even though the yeast slow down in the cooler temperature, bacteria produce more lactic and acetic acids, which give your breads more flavor. After around twelve to eighteen hours these bacteria will begin to breakdown the gluten network in the bread, which will affect the bread’s rise. I recommend to only let shaped loaves retard for 12-18 hours, but doughs that are being retarded on their first rise can go a couple of days. Dough that has been retarded usually has a darker crust that is filled with tiny bubbles (carbon dioxide escaping to the surface during baking.) Some bread needs to be retarded to bring out its full flavor, but any white flour dough made with commercial yeast or sourdough can retarded to deepen the taste, or allow you the convenience to bake at another time. Some whole-grain and rye breads do not take well to the retarding process because they have a weaker gluten structure and are more sensitive to the acid production.