On Retarding Rye Doughs

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.


15 Comments

  • Michiel

    January 9, 2016

    Interesting blog. I’m going to try some of Scheele’s recipes soon. However he also has some natural leaven rye breads; pumpernickel. Btw Scheele seems to differ in more ways; salt percentage, short kneading time, etc. This will change the proces in the dough also. Hope to learn more about your experience with recipe’s of Charel Scheele.

    Reply
  • Karin Anderson

    January 9, 2016

    Retarding doughs came into my mind as a possibility to schedule my baking so that it didn’t entirely interfere with my family life (since I bake from my home kitchen). At that time, I asked Peter Reinhart whether this would be an option. He didn’t quite know whether sourdoughs wouldn’t become too acidic, but I tried it, anyway.
    The breads I bake for sale are made with mixed leavens, and I reduce the amount of instant yeast in the recipes considerably. This works very well for me, I can do most of the preparation the day before.
    Even with 100% rye Vollkornbrot there is no negative effect on either taste (acidity) nor performance/structure of the bread, as long as the yeast is reduced to a minimum.
    Modern inventions, like refrigeration/bulk retardation, have their benefits, and I think it is practical to use them as long as the results are as good (or, with lighter doughs, even better!) than traditional preparation methods.

    Reply
    • Stanley Ginsberg

      January 10, 2016

      Everything you say is clearly valid — I would especially point out that you compensate for the additional fermentation time by reducing the amount of yeast, which would slow the digestion of free sugars in the dough and produce a well-structured crumb after a long retardation. At the end of the day, it’s baking, and whatever works is okay with me. Another thing I find noteworthy is that you and others talk about retardation as having no or negligible negative effects — again, we’re talking about high-percentage ryes — but nowhere in any of the discussions has anyone mentioned positive effects. So other than for scheduling purposes, I don’t see any great advantage to retardation: in my view, it only prolongs an already long process and adds an unnecessary step, with no real benefits.

      Reply
      • Karin Anderson

        January 15, 2016

        Haha, Stanley – it’s getting up at 2 am versus 6 am for a home baker whose customers, lucky for her, want the goods at noon time.
        No, you are right, for high percent rye breads, like Vollkornbrot, it’s just a matter of more convenient scheduling – the taste doesn’t improve.

        Reply
      • Bob Keller

        December 2, 2018

        Scheduling of course, but also ease of slashing and handling with firmer cold dough. I bake cold out of the fridge these days.

        Reply
  • Henrik

    April 16, 2016

    Like Karin, I’ve found that retarding rye breads is a useful option that can improve flavour, especially acidity, which I prefer when making a Finnish rye for instance. I’ll often retard the bulk fermentation with dough having from 60% to 100% rye. This works well. Retarding shaped loaves, however, seems generally to be detrimental, with two exceptions: Danish rugbrød and Swedish rye with molasses. These use 100% rye and are much better after retarding.

    Reply
  • Phil

    March 28, 2017

    Stanley, the Danish ryes in Tartine III call for a cold overnight final rise. I haven’t tried it both ways, but if you’re in contact with them it would be interesting to hear why they do it. I just made Hamelman’s 5 grain rye sourdough, one retarded 30 hours and the other not. It has only 25% rye, all prefermented. I recognized no discernible difference in taste or texture.

    Reply
    • Stanley Ginsberg

      March 30, 2017

      I don’t recommend retarding high-percentage rye breads because the amylase enzymes present in the dough can degrade the structure of the finished loaf. Low-percentage loaves, say, 40% or less, can handle a retardation because they get their structure from the gluten in the wheat flour and are not dependent on the rye starches for structure.

      Reply
      • Tanya Briggs

        November 10, 2018

        I’ve had problems with retarding the proof with 40-50% rye doughs. Sometimes it works…sometimes it doesn’t work well and the loaf just collapses…or won’t hold shape when turned out of a basket. I got tired of throwing bricks away…so I stopped overnight proofing a higher percentage rye. I don’t see much of a problem with say 4 hours or less and this helps when called away while waiting for dough to rise. I have 1 old farm recipe from 1940’s however…that is a cool rise loaf about 37% rye…that does well with 8 hrs…and if I need 12 hrs I decrease the yeast (which is a large amount being an old recipe). But anything more in percentage I have had trouble with inconsistently enough that I got tired of the waste and opted for a more reliable method.

        Reply
        • Stanley Ginsberg

          November 13, 2018

          I’m not a fan of retarding rye doughs. The enzyme activity slows at lower temperatures, but doesn’t stop converting starches into sugars. Problem is, it’s the starches that give rye breads their structure, so you run the risk — as you’ve clearly discovered — of over-fermentation and its inevitably result of rye bricks.

          Reply
  • Dennis McCanna

    September 11, 2020

    I make a hybrid Danish Limpa Rye (my creation) and the Orange-Raisin (O/R) rye out of Stanley’s book. If I may comment on the comments there are 3 possible processes involving the use of refrigeration and they are to often all lumped together under the title of retardation. No person was specific in their method. For those of you who have had success I would love to know your process. Actually if you failed also.

    1. There is retarding in bulk at 45-48F
    2. Slow final Proof or rise in finished loaves @ 50F
    3. Retarded proofing of finished loaves @ 38-40F

    All of the above require a different method and yeast/sourdough amount.

    I use the #2 method in all my rustic bread baking and have ATTEMPTED numerous times with my >50% ryes. I mix, shape, set in a proof basket @ an average 55F (works best for me) starting at 6pm. My homemade retarder shuts off @3am and it slowly comes to room temperature. Usually at 7 or 8am I can take from the retarder and bake directly. My rye though always turns out like a brick though. I get very little rise and what I do get contracts during the baking. The dough acts like it is over fermented but no rise. The crumb is soft and very edible a bit on the dense side though. BTW…. this brick was sliced and made some killer crackers when rebaked. If I use Stanley’s method from the book the O/R Rye comes out perfect just like in his book. Stanley’s recipe is an all day process on the second day with at least 9 hrs. I was trying to shorten the time or extend it into another day. Us old guys have to go to bed early

    Stanley if you read this how about a pinch of instant yeast to spike the final dough to shorten the time and just a tad more in the milk sponge to shave a couple of hours off in the total process? Wouldn’t think it would make that much of a flavor difference.

    Reply
  • Tony Kaiser

    December 6, 2020

    How do you feel about retarding rye sour starter at ~40 F in the fridge? I’ve had mine long enough I can come back after 3 weeks and it will be up and running in a day or two. I’m using Central Milling or Barry Farms pumpernickel flour, and like to put it in the fridge as soon as it’s had enough time to get going after a feeding. I typically just keep about 50-75 g of starter, using 25 g flour, 25 gr water, and however much of the old starter to seed it – usually 10g or so on a second feeding. What kind of negatives does that present in terms of LAB and yeast activity?

    Reply
    • Stanley Ginsberg

      January 17, 2021

      I keep mine refrigerated also, after it’s tripled in volume following a feeding. All the low temp does is slow the microorganism activity, which is what I want. Point is to preserve the population/nutrient supply until next feeding.

      Reply
      • Tony Kaiser

        January 17, 2021

        Thanks! It seems to be working. I can usually get 4-6 hour doubling of cold storage starter fed 1:1:1 after coming to room temp. Last two bakes were the Polish Milk Rye (my 5 YO niece LOVED it) and the POL-UKR Rye (yesterday). I think I’m on my 3d iteration of each. Gave the other loaf of the Milk Rye to a friend I borrow a log splitter from. Wonderful stuff! My first attempt on the latter was overdone, as I missed the temp reduction post-steam in my haste. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

        Reply

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