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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.

Cold proofing is a powerful tool in your baker's toolkit. This process is also known as cold retard - because it slows down the fermentation in your sourdough, this longer fermentation time allows for improved development of both crumb and taste.

Cold fermenting sourdough lends that irresistible blistered crust that sourdough aficionados love - as the moisture from the outer layer is evaporated or absorbed into the banneton.

Two plastic wrapped bannetons in a fridge.
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How To Proof Sourdough In The Fridge

  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 proofing basket 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.

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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 and sourdough bakers sometimes refer to it as the second 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.

Why Proof Sourdough In The Fridge

In most of my sourdough recipes, I give the option to prove the loaf 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 sourdough in the fridge, I always choose the fridge!

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

Two loaves of sourdough in a banneton.

So why proof sourdough in the fridge?

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. Especially for new bakers.

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. I find my scoring lame also tends to stick to 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.

Completing the second rise 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 cold proofing sourdough 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 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, a few things can determine the appropriate length of time for you.

Your Schedule

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.

But preparing 2-3 loaves and keeping them in the fridge to bake over the next 3 days is an awesome way to maximize your efforts.

Your Tastes

If you prefer a more sour loaf, stretch that bulk ferment time on the counter to the limits before placing completing a short second rise in the fridge. If you prefer a more flavorful loaf, keep the bulk ferment short and store it in the fridge for longer.

Your Recipe

The answer to this question also lies in the make up of your recipe and baking habits. Recipes with a higher quantity of starter likely need less time in the cold retard, likewise, recipes with a long bulk ferment at room temperature.

Recipes with a lower quantity of starter and a short bulk proof can be proved at cold temperatures for longer.

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 more quickly, so be prepared to bake within 1-3 hours 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 37f). 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.

How long to take sourdough out of the fridge before baking?

You can bake the sourdough straight out of the fridge, and I generally do so. This keeps the dough more firm, easy to work with, and easier to score.

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.
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Monday 16th of October 2023

I have tried cold fermenting my sourdough bread, but the loaves appear smaller once baked. Technique: Immediately after I shape the dough I place the dough in their bannetons, cover them, and put them in the fridge (37F) for 24-48 hours. I remove them once the oven is at 490F (the dutch ovens( lids on) are preheated in the oven) and cook them for 15 minutes then remove the dutch oven lids, lower the temperature to 470F and cook for an additional 22 minutes. should I be trying a different cooking technique?


Monday 16th of October 2023

Hey Michael, it may depend on the recipe you're using and the percentage of starter. If you want to try proving the dough in the banneton for a couple or three hours after shaping and then refrigerating that might help you get a little more rise! You can also experiment with longer cold retard times, I push it and experiment a lot. If a recipe has a low starter percentage I may even leave it in there for 5 days LOL!


Tuesday 15th of August 2023

I find proofing in the fridge with a brioche dough works so much better than with the sourdough.


Friday 18th of August 2023

Interesting, I wonder if its because of the extra ingredients in brioche?


Saturday 12th of August 2023

Hi! I have moved into a new place and my sourdough isn’t rising in the oven like it used to at my old home. I still live in the same city, but the season is different. I’ve only been making sourdough for 6 months, so I’m still learning. It is now peak temperatures for the summer time where I live and instead of taking 3 days to make sourdough it only takes 1.5 days. I let my bread proof in the fridge overnight. Would potentially leaving it in the fridge longer help it rise better in the oven?


Friday 18th of August 2023

Hey Syd, sourdough is a learning curve isn't it! Once you think you got it figured something else changes! Ha! If your temperatures are really warm, absolutely keeping the dough colder would allow you to impart more flavor and gluten development.

Another small step you can take is to make your bread with cooler water instead of warm. The bulk ferment can last a bit longer that way as it comes to room temp.


Thursday 6th of July 2023

So I tried this method! New to the sourdough world, but for my 3rd attempt it has definitely turned out the best. The previous 2 were very dense. The only issue I found with this loaf, it did not get as brown on top and had 1(only 1) large whole(or bubble). Not sure why, but so so good. Do you think anytime frame in the refrigerator will yield the same results? 48 hours was sooo long. But definitely worth the wait!


Sunday 9th of July 2023

Annie, I'm curious what recipe you're using and how the bulk fermentation looks for you. I think, if your dough is really dense, it needs more time at room temperature in between the stretch and folds, or higher bulk fermentation temperatures. The fridge adds a little airiness to you're dough, but I find it develops more flavor than volume.


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


Wednesday 7th of June 2023

Sourdough is a total learning curve. You're going to fail along the way- most of the failures are edible, so its not so bad- but I can totally relate. As with anything, take your time, enjoy the process, and it will come <3

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