Final proof?

I’m new to this group and new to baking, all together new!
I bake bread for my family several times a week.
I mill my own grains and use a mixture of different grains.
The hydration rate is about 80%, and I often implement bulk fermentation overnight in the fridge, at least 8 hours. I use sourdough culture.
My question is about the final proof
Do I have to shape and add the final proof before baking?
I found that if I shape cold after the bulk fermentation, the bread rises nicely. However, after s & f, shape, and then long proof/ retard in the fridge, the bread doesn’t rise well.
What is the purpose of the second proof?
I have read that there should be bulk fermentation after s & f. Then, shape and second/ final proof before baking. However, I can’t get the bread to rise well when I add the second proof.
What am I missing?
Thank you,

I’m a novice as well so take this for what it’s worth. I’ve found and also read that proofing too long will inhibit the oven rise. Think about it as if the proof is too long then the loaf has nowhere else to go when it gets in the oven. I think an hour max has been working for me, but I haven’t been working with cold dough, room temp instead. Hope this helps.


I only have a year under my belt and I haven’t had real good luck with my starter because of the way I handle I guess. I have always had difficulty with bulk fermentation in the cooler ESPECIALLY with sour dough. Melissa may chime in she has a lot of experience and does all the time as she actually bakes right from the frig. Hopefully she will chime in. I believe from your post you may be having issues with procedures LIKE I DID and sometimes still do.

Using whole grains is a little different but not much mostly hydration.

I made myself a retarder that I could vary temperatures with regards to refrigerating dough for the following reasons. You can use refrigeration 3 ways.

  1. Delayed first fermentation or retarding in bulk. Dough benefits 12-18 hours around 45-48 degrees F. The dough can be divided and pre-shaped right out of the cooler. 3 to 4 hours may go by between removal, through the divide, shape & proof. Yeast can start at around 1.2% no idea where the sourdough starter would be but it would be more.
  2. Slow final proof of finished loaves. Retarding for a slow final proof the dough can be divided and pre-shaped a 1/2 hour after mixing. Allow dough to rest another 1/2 hour or so and shape again. Set dough in cooler at 48 to 50F. Anytime between 12-15 hours the dough can be removed and baked. The only thing is NORMAL household refrigerators are kept around the 40F mark. 1% yeast, again ??? starter.
  3. Retarded proofing of a finished loaf.** Use the same as above except the dough is kept at 38-40F. The dough can remain for 12 to 36 hours before removing and then finishing the proofing as it comes up to temperature. Yeast in this scenario needs to be more like 2%, again ??? starter. I BELIEVE this is what Melissa does with the majority of her breads BUT mostly her’s goes right in the oven.

I have even more notes on the subject that I do not mind sharing if you would like.

With all that said I am still experimenting when I can. I have had many flops usually because the dough had an enzyme attack (too much fermenting, too many S&F’s) and fell flat on its poor face.


I believe the preshape, bench rest, and final shape all add strength to the dough so that it can ferment for longer and still have form, especially if you’re making a freestanding loaf.

Also, a final proof also allows bakers making large quantities of dough to use one vat for the bulk and then divide and let new pieces come together during the bench rest and final shape.

If you are happy with your bread’s texture and flavor, I don’t think there’s any reason you have to follow conventions.