One of the best things about sourdough baking is that the timing of the process is very flexible and forgiving. When first learning how to bake sourdough, it can intimidating to follow the specific timelines in some recipes especially if you have a very busy schedule. Utilizing your refrigerator to slow down the fermentation of your dough can make the process much more relaxing and flexible. In addition, refrigerating the dough helps build more complex sourdough flavor. I’ve also find it easier to achieve more consistent sourdough loaves when I use my refrigerator because it is temperature controlled (unlike most kitchens). It is possible to make delicious loaves without needing to adapt your schedule to the dough. Instead, you can adapt the dough’s schedule to you! I hope you find this flexible sourdough baking schedule helpful for your sourdough baking adventures.
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Suggested refrigeration times for each step of sourdough making
|Sourdough Step||How long can I refrigerate it?||Notes|
|Sourdough starter||1-2 weeks||After feeding your sourdough starter, you can refrigerate it for at least 1-2 weeks before feeding it again|
|Leaven (levain)||12-48 hours||After mixing your leaven (levain), refrigerate until very bubbly. You could also refrigerate it part of the time and keep it at room temperature the rest of the time, depending on your schedule.|
|Dough (bulk ferment)||24-72 hours||After mixing your dough, refrigerate until soft and billowy. Stretch and fold the dough a few times, based on your schedule. Let the dough warm up to close to room temperature before you shape it.|
|Shaped dough (cold proof)||12-72 hours||I’ve had good results refrigerating them up to 4 days. After 4 days, they don’t rise as much in the oven but still have good flavor. I think the ideal time to cold proof your loaves is 24-48 hours.|
A good recipe to test out this refrigeration method is my Basic Sourdough recipe (follow link for more details or follow below). This is the recipe I use for the majority of my sourdough loaves (and I definitely utilize my refrigerator). It is adapted from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. I encourage you to try the refrigeration method with any sourdough recipe you come across!
I like to use storage containers like this for the refrigeration because they prevent the dough from drying out. Also, my cats cannot open them.
Basic Sourdough Recipe with a Flexible Sourdough Baking Schedule
- Dutch oven
- Large container or mixing bowl
Ingredients for Leaven (Levain)
- 90 g sourdough starter
- 260 g water
- 180 g bread flour
- 70 g whole wheat flour
Ingredients for the Dough
- leaven (from above)
- 300 g bread flour
- 110 g water
- 8 g salt (about 1 teaspoon)
Mix the leaven
- Mix all the ingredients for the leaven together in a large bowl or a container like one of these.
- Cover and refrigerate for your desired time following the table above (12-48 hours). The leaven is ready to use when it is very bubbly.
Mix the Dough
- Next, mix the above ingredients together to make the dough. There is no need to knead the dough with a stand mixer or by hand, just gently mix it until combined.
- Once the ingredients are mixed together, cover and refrigerate the dough for 24 – 72 hours or until billowy and elastic. Stretch and fold the dough about 2-8 times during this time (depending on your schedule) by pulling up the edges of the dough and folding inward.
Shape the Dough
- Then, remove the dough from the bowl or container and shape the dough into a tight ball. Then fold it 4 times to create a seam at the bottom. Let the dough rest on the counter seam side down for about 20 minutes.
- Then, lightly flour (I use rice flour to prevent sticking) a kitchen towel in a bowl. Place the loaf seam side up into the bowl, dust with flour and cover with the towel. Refrigerate the shaped dough for at least 12 hours or until you're ready to bake it.
Bake the Loaves!
- Preheat your oven to 500 °F. If you are using a Dutch oven to bake, preheat that as well. While the oven is preheating, take your loaf out of the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature for 10-20 minutes.
- Once the oven is heated, very quickly remove the dutch oven from the oven. Slash your loaf across the top with a sharp knife, lame or razor blade. Transfer the loaf to the dutch oven, cover it and put it into the oven.
- Bake (with the cover) at 500 °F for 20-25 minutes. Then, remove the cover and bake at 450 °F until golden brown (about ~20-30 more minutes).
- Remove the loaf from the dutch oven and let it cool for at least an hour before slicing (otherwise the texture will be gummy).
I hope you find this flexible sourdough baking schedule useful for adapting your sourdough’s schedule to your own. Comment below if you tried this or have any questions!