Retarding is a technique that slows the fermentation process of your dough. 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 prove more slowly in the refrigerator overnight. Then when you are ready to bake them you can simply take them out and let them warm up while your oven preheats.
This is a key technique that I teach when teaching someone how to bake bread. 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.
The retarding of your loaves can be done during the initial rise of your dough, or during the final rise after the loaves have been shaped. I use it most during the final shaped rise for my sourdough loaves, but during the bulk rise for enriched doughs.
In addition to slowing down the dough fermentation, retarding your dough is also a great way to add an extra dimension of flavor to your breads.
How retarding bread works?
When you place your bread dough in the refrigerator, your loaves will expand much more slowly due to the cool temperatures. Even though the yeast will slow down in the cooler temperature, bacteria will produce more lactic and acetic acids, which give your breads more flavor. After around twelve to eighteen hours these bacteria will begin to break down the gluten network in the bread, which will affect the bread’s rise. I tend to stick with a twelve hour cold rise.
Tips for retarding dough:
I recommend to only let shaped loaves retard for 12-18 hours, but doughs that are being retarded on their first rise can go longer.
Dough that has been retarded usually has a darker crust that is filled with tiny bubbles (carbon dioxide escaping to the surface during baking.). If you are looking for a darker crust in your bread, retarding the dough will help.
Some doughs need to be retarded to bring out their full flavor, but any white flour dough made with commercial yeast or sourdough can be retarded to deepen the flavor profile, 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.