For the first time since I began baking rye breads eight or nine years ago, I recently — like yesterday — learned of bakers whose rye bread recipes call for retardation — Andrew Whitley (Bread Matters) and Charel Scheele (Old World Breads). That surprised me, because no traditional recipe I’ve ever come across — and I’ve seen upwards of 200 — calls for refrigerating the dough, especially in high-percentage ryes.
Scheele’s breads are yeast-based and typically run about 50% rye, providing enough gluten in the dough to preserve his breads’ structure. To my way of thinking, those two factors can justify, or at least make credible, retarding the dough prior to proofing.
Whitley, on the other hand, puzzles me. Presumably, he learned the practice while he was working as a baker in Soviet Russia, which really astounded me, since I hold Russian and Baltic ryes in the highest esteem and can’t imagine that mechanical refrigeration (winter is another story) was particularly common when breads like Borodinsky, Lyubitelsky, Orlovsky, Minskiy and so on, evolved. As I said, no recipe I’ve seen, including those published by GOST, the Russian bureau of standards, and in Lev Auermann’s classic, Tekhnologiya Khlebopecheniya (Bread Baking Technology), calls for refrigerating rye doughs.
The only advantage I can see is in scheduling; otherwise, all refrigeratiion does, in my view, is (a) prolong the opportunity for the enzymes and microorganisms present in the dough to degrade it; and/or (b) increase the microorganism die-off, thereby weakening their activity during proofing and baking, since their activity slows at standard fridge temperatures (37F/3C), but die-off continues. At wine-cooler temperature of 49F/9.5C, which at least one baker on The Fresh Loaf (www.thefreshloaf.com) who bases his breads on Whitley claims to use, yeast activity is at about 12% of its maximum rate and lactobacillius activity is about 17% — significant numbers over prolonged periods, given the inherent instability of rye’s complex carbohydrate gel structure and almost certain to damage the dough, visibly or not.
I’m not saying retardation can’t produce passable results; just that rye’s chemistry doesn’t hold the potential for the same kinds of benefits, either structurally or flavor-wise, that come from retarding gluten-based wheat or mixed wheat-rye breads.