Skip to Content

Proofing Sourdough In The Fridge

Proofing sourdough in the fridge is a little-known secret that can make your sourdough baking easier and more successful. Learn what proofing is, why you should proof in the fridge, and how long to proof sourdough in the fridge.

You’ve probably heard that proofing your sourdough in the fridge is one of the best ways to make a loaf with an incredible flavor and texture.

But what does that mean, exactly? And how do you go about doing it?

I'm here to answer all of those questions and some you didn't even know you had!

Let’s get started!

Two plastic wrapped bannetons in a fridge.
Jump to:

What Is Proofing?

In both regular (yeasted) bread making and sourdough baking, proofing refers to the rise after shaping. During yeasted baking it's often called the final rise.

During the proofing process, the shaped dough is allowed to rest and rise, usually until it doubles in size. This allows the yeast to do its job and create carbon dioxide gas, stretching the gluten in the dough, and trapping the gas in bubbles within the bread.

This step is critically important for all bread or leavened goods, to give them a light, airy texture, not to mention the flavor! Without proofing, our bread would be flat, dense, and taste bland.

Sourdough proofing in a banneton.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Why Proof Sourdough In The Fridge

In most of my sourdough recipes, I give the option to proof at room temperature for 1-3 hours or place in the fridge for a cold ferment. Whenever I have the option of choosing room temperature or proofing in the fridge, I always choose the fridge!

Proofing sourdough at cold temperatures is often called a cold retard, because it slows down the final rise process.

So why proof sourdough in the fridge?

Two loaves of sourdough in a banneton.

1. Better Flavor:

Dough that has been proofed in the fridge has a more complex, sourer flavor than room temperature proofed dough. When the bread is proofing at room temperature, the dough develops faster than the flavor, by slowing it down and proofing in the fridge, we are allowing the flavor to develop in time with the dough.

This is a direct result of the temperature slowing down the yeast's fermentation activity, but the bacteria in the starter are less dependent on the temperature and they are able to continue breaking down starches into lactic and acetic acids, giving us that sour tang we can't get enough of!

2. Easier To Handle:

Cold dough is much much easier to handle. It's easier to flip out of your banneton, it's easier to score, it's just easier to work with.

Warm dough tends to flatten once turned out of its banneton, giving you less time to flip it, score it, and transfer it to a dutch oven. The lame also tends to stick to the warm dough.

Cold dough is less urgent, it resists spreading for longer, it's by far easier to score, and because it's more sturdy, it's easier to get into your dutch oven!

Scoring sourdough.

3. Adds Flexibility:

Sourdough is a process, a process I've come to truly enjoy, but it still takes a while.

Allowing your sourdough to cold retard in the fridge puts you back in the driver's seat when it comes to baking sourdough.

Proofing in the fridge extends your proofing window from 1-3 hours to days!

You can bake that bread on your schedule, not the dough's!

4. Better Crust + Crumb:

This one might be splitting hairs a little bit, but a cold fermented dough usually has a superior crust and crumb to a sourdough proofed at room temperature.

Baking cold sourdough tends to give that delicious, blistered crust that's somehow crispy but also delicate at the same time. It's 12/10 perfect.

The crumb is better because it takes time for gluten development in the dough especially with recipes that don't incorporate kneading to speed it up. But this process is not temperature dependant.

Allowing the sourdough to proof in the fridge slows the yeast down, allowing gluten development to catch up to the gasses released making for better-leavened bread and crumb.

Sliced sourdough loaves.

How To Proof Sourdough In The Fridge

This is the easy part!

  1. Follow the recipe as written until you get to the final shaping stage.
  2. Shape the dough as desired, in a boule or batard. Place the shaped loaf into a banneton or banneton alternative.
  3. Cover the banneton with a plastic shower cap, or slide into a plastic bag.
  4. Place the covered banneton into the fridge for your desired length of time.
  5. When ready to bake, simply preheat oven and dutch oven. Once the oven is preheated, you can bake the sourdough straight from the fridge.
Wrapped banneton with sourdough in the fridge.

How Long To Proof Sourdough In The Fridge

While there is a wide range of times that your sourdough can be proofed in the fridge and there is no right or wrong answer, keep your cold retard time frame within reason.

While a short 2-hour cold ferment will do nothing for the flavor, it can help if you have to pick up the kids from school while you should be baking!

A super long 84-hour cold retard is probably too long and will result in over-proofed bread that lacks energy for decent oven spring.

I find the sweet spot for me and my starter is 24-48 hours.

This might take some trial and error to nail it down to your liking, but I'd start with 18-24 hours!

Blistered crust on sourdough loaf.

My Preferences For Proofing In The Fridge

For this post, I made 2 identical batches of sourdough using my small loaf sourdough recipe at the same time, everything was done exactly the same, except the proofing time.

My findings may surprise you, but my favourite fridge proofing time, for my starter, is 48 hours. The loaf with the large air pockets was proofed for 24 hours in the fridge and the loaf with the smaller pockets was proofed 48 hours - its crumb was a lot more open than the photos show, it was likely just cut in the worst spot!

In the photo below, the crumb is actually slightly underdeveloped in the loaf with the large air pockets. This was apparent in the texture as well. The longer fermented bread was lighter and airier, in addition to having a more pleasing mildly sour taste, while the 24-hour cold fermented loaf lacked depth and complexity in the flavor.

The 48-hour bread also had a better oven spring and bloomed more at the score, this is apparent in the overhead photos below.

Cross section of sourdough loaves to show crumb after proofing in fridge.


I don't have a banneton, can I still proof my sourdough in the fridge?

Heck yes! Sourdough is a super adaptable recipe, and I made it for over a year without a banneton. Here's a list of banneton alternatives.

Do I need to proof my sourdough in the fridge? Or can I do it at room temperature?

You're totally able to proof at room temperature, it just occurs quickly, between 1 and 3 hours, usually, so be prepared to bake shortly after the final shaping.

What is cold retard or cold ferment? Are they the same?

A cold retard is simply the act of proofing your sourdough bread at cold temperatures (around 34f). Because the low temperature slows the yeast activity in the dough, it is called retarding. Cold fermenting and cold retarding are two different names for the same process.

The slowed fermentation rate is why I recommend storing your sourdough starter in the fridge if you're an infrequent baker!

Should I cover my dough during a cold ferment?

Absolutely! Please cover your dough. Use a dedicated shower cap or even a recycled bread bag! The fridge can be a very drying place, due to the forced air inside to keep the temperature constant, this will dry out your bread and affect its oven spring and potentially ruin that irresistible crust!

When should I be putting my dough into the fridge for the cold retard?

As soon as you've finished shaping the dough and placing it into its banneton or rising bowl, cover it up, and chuck it in the fridge! The longer the dough is left at room temperature, the longer the yeast has to consume the flour and the more likely that the dough will over-proof.

So pop it into the fridge as soon as the final shape is done!

Will my sourdough double in size if it's cold fermented?

It will not!

But don't be fooled, that doesn't mean that it won't puff up during baking. The cold temperature of the fridge slows down the yeast so the bacteria in the bread have time to work and create sour flavors while the gluten develops. Your bread will still rise beautifully and have a great oven spring because the yeast hasn't consumed all the available food, they'll reactivate during the baking process.

Sourdough loaves on a wooden board.

What Are You Waiting For?!

If you haven't been proofing your sourdough in the fridge, I hope this has empowered you to try it!

And if you have, I'd love to hear your timing sweet spot in the comments below!

Pin This Guide To Proofing Sourdough In The Fridge!

Why you should proof sourdough in the fridge pinterest graphic.
Share Your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Monday 29th of May 2023

I'm a total newborn at baking sourdough bread. After reading all of you advice, suggestions and knowledge, I feel confident my 4 loaf will turn out pretty good. I live at high altitude and those recipes just failed (probably me). So I went for a regular recipe, which is cold proofing now, seems to have done much better. I'll be sure to share pics once I bake tomorrow. Again thank you for all your help. Always Baby Steps Sherry

Paul Maynard

Monday 15th of May 2023

Hi, I have been cold fermenting with my bannetons covered tightly with a plastic bag. When I pull them out just before baking in my outdoor wood fired oven, they are soaking wet and very sticky on the top. I have to flip them over on my peel to slide into the wood oven, and they stick to the peel and the only way I can get them off the peel mangles them and they flatten out and look like a flat blob that doesn't rise. I've tried semolina powder on my peel, taking the bag off 30 - 60 minutes before baking and leaving in the fridge to dry it off. My best (so far) solution is to toss more bread flour on the loaves until they are "drier" before flipping onto the peel (and still use a ton of semolina). But often they still stick to the peel. On the rare occaisons that I bake in my electric oven using dutch ovens, I can flip the "wet" loaves onto bakers parchment and then hand lower the parchment into the dutch ovens and everything works great. Thanks for any suggestions!


Thursday 25th of May 2023

What is the hydration level of your dough? That's the only thing I can think of that would make them sweaty?

B Lopez

Saturday 13th of May 2023

Sooooooo, from the fridge to the oven ? You don’t let it warm up ? I have been leaving it in the fridge , but have let it warm up then I bake .


Sunday 14th of May 2023

I bake straight out of the fridge all the time! You can certainly leave it on the counter for a couple of hours to warm up, but I have never found that necessary


Wednesday 29th of March 2023

My loaves are always smaller following cold retard for 24 hours, and they take longer to bake. Normally I bake at 490F for 15 minutes with the lid on my dutch oven and 19-22 minutes at 470F with the lid off for dough that proofs on the counter for 4-6 hours. Using a thermometer the the cold retard bread is never finished in this time frame, requiring 5-10 minutes longer with the lid off at 470F. thoughts


Tuesday 11th of April 2023

Interesting! My baking process is slightly different, and may benefit your cold retard process - I bake at 450f covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 5-10 depending on crust color. This might allow a bit longer for the chilled dough to expand and add oven spring!


Friday 6th of January 2023

So I just want to make sure I’m understanding this correctly, you don’t proof at room temperature at all? You proof all in the fridge after you do the stretch and folds?


Tuesday 17th of January 2023

Yes, that's exactly right! You can proof it at room temp then toss in the fridge or inverse it and toss it in the fridge then bring it to room temp before baking if you like? It takes a long time for the dough to fully chill and it continues to proof while warm in the fridge for a couple of hours I'm sure.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.