The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lesson Five, Number 9: Use a Preferment

Lesson Five, Number 9: Use a Preferment

Some call it a sponge, others a preferment, a poolish, a bigas, or a pate fermentee. Whatever you call it, the concept is the same: by taking a portion of the flour and water and fermenting it longer than the rest of the dough the baker can evoke better flavor from the ingredients.

If you are going to be baking two days in a row, one of the simplest preferments is to save a handful of the dough from the first batch for the next batch. I typically do not bake two days in a row, so instead I create a poolish the night before I am going to bake. My approach is to use between 1/8th and 1/4th a teaspoon of instant yeast (more if it is cold or I want to bake sooner, less if it is a warm night or I want it to develop slower) and an equal weight or volume of flour and water. Yes, I am aware that an equal weight of the two ingredients (8 oz. water and 8 oz. flour) is not the same as an equal volume of the two (1 cup of water, which weighs 8 ounces, and 1 cup of flour, which typically weighs around 5 or 6 ounces but depends on the type of flour and how tightly the cup is packed). Truthfully, it doesn't make a big difference as long as you adjust the final amount of flour and water by an equivalent amount in your final dough: either one will improve the flavor.

Assuming you combine the ingredients in the evening, cover the bowl with plastic, and leave it out at room temperature overnight, here is what should greet you in the morning:

poolish in the morning

Mix this in with your final ingredients (reducing the flour, yeast, and water the amount you used in your preferment) and your loaf should develop more interesting flavors and have a longer shelf life than a loaf created without this step.

Preferments can vary from as dry as bagel dough to as thin as a frothy liquid, and can be allowed to develop for minutes, hours, or days. I find that the poolish approach I describe above results in a nuttier, sweeter flavor that I quite enjoy. My impression is that harder preferments give you more of a sourdough-like flavor without having to go through the work of supporting a starter. But your experience and taste may vary from mine, so spend some time experimenting to figure out what you like most.

Next up, Number 8: Autolyse.


avatrx1's picture

If I make this and let it sit out overnight, what do I do then if I can't use it right away?  does it need to be refrigerated and if so, how long does it need to sit out to come back to temperature before incorporating it into the final dough mix.



MJO's picture

Hi Susie,

I was wondering if you ever received an answer to your question.  I too wondered the very same thing.


Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

I'm just getting into baking bread at home on a regular basis but I do see the results from a preferment. I used

85 g bread flour

65g water

1/8tsp instant yeast

I mixed it up thoroughly, covered it with plastic and left it on the counter in a room around 80F. When I got up some seven hours later, it looked like the picture above. I didn't use it until some three hours later. I've read that you can use the preferment in as little as an hour and beyond twelve hours later in a cooler room.

That preferment is still a dough of whatever hydration you mixed it at so if you have to run an errand, putting it in the fridge won't hurt it as long as it's covered. Just look at that action as a retarded fermentation. Chilled dough is said to need at least an hour at room temp to revive but today's pizza dough was gaining ground in less than 40 minutes at 79F.

If your prefrement is in a plastic container or a small bowl, it shouldn't take more than the suggested hour to be revived. Just check the container's outer surface evry ten to twenty minutes. If it's cold, wait. If it's room temp, start your engines.


JohannaG.'s picture

How does one make a preferment using active dry yeast?  I'm a newb so i do need specific instructions.  Thanks!

alabubba's picture

If you know the yeast is good there is no need to "Proof" it before using it to make a preferment.

booch221's picture

You can add the yeast to the water and let it stand 5-10 minutes, then add it to the flour.

sewingal's picture

made loves of almost no knead this wk-end,wasn't very good,i think i got my answer,needed preferment ..recipe didn't call for it but next loaf iwill use it i put it on cooling rack it started growing warts with air in it ,i'm thinking that was from spritzing.question? i have salt-rising bread yeast&LA-4 starter dont know what to do with it,i could research ka baking circle& i  will if i don't get answer thanks sewingal

mightywombat's picture

I had so much fun with my first loaf, part 1 last weekend, and part 2 last night (I split the dough rather than cooking two at once) that I really wanted to make some more bread tonight.  In all reason, however, I don't need to make MORE bread while we still have bread from the last loaf left, especially since my wife won't eat it after it cools off.

I solved my baking urge by trying this technique to make a preferment.  1 cup of water, 1.33 cups of whole wheat flour, and 1/4 tsp of yeast went into the fridge in a bowl covered with aluminum foil.  Tomorrow, when I get off work in the afternoon, I will take it out and leave it on the counter until I'm ready to bake.

I'm going to use about 1/3 whole wheat flour, and add a tablespoon of molasses and see what happens!  EXCITED!

nuttybaker's picture

I tried making the poolish in Peter Reinhart's Crust & Crumb book for the team USA french bread recipie.  I used the poolish on the 2nd day of being in the fridge. It looked like it had seperated and had a yellowish liquid pooled in areas.  Is this how it is supposed to look after being in the fridge?  I read above that you do not need to refridgerate it- so now I am confused.

silkenpaw's picture

Did you use it and did the bread come out well?

Alcohol is one of the products of yeast fermentation and it's normal for it to accumulate after some time. Later on the hooch becomes brownish. Anyway, it's a sign of over-the-hill poolich.

Hope that helps

DMF's picture

I made a poolish using Alton Brown's (very wet) recipe (IIRC 1/2 c flour to 10 oz water, 1/8(?) tsp yeastie bits, plus honey).  He says put it in the fridge overnight.   I did and forgot it was in there.  Left it for several weeks.  It was separated as described above.  No bubbles.  Smelled good, though...

I figured, "There should still be some yeast bugs in there."  So used it in a rustic recipe.  It didn't rise much - perhaps the bugs were dead!  So I tossed in some active dry yeast and re-mixed.  I use a Sunbeam stand mixer with twin screws and just beat the hell out of it.

This time I got a good rise!  Carefully folded - no punching down.  Left it a while longer then formed and baked.  Nice oven spring and the best big bubbles / voids I've had yet!  Wonderful taste! 

I suspect this is what happened in the pre-ferment:  The yeasts ate all the flour and made their sugars (or whatever tastes so good to us), then basically died off.  This produced good taste but little rise.  Then the added yeast produced the rise.

Lesson:  Old pre-ferment is still useful!  Just add more yeasts.


MrBytchy's picture

I have researched yeast growth and read a lot of blogs etc about biga, pooloish etc.

My conclusions, after a great deal of experiment, is that yeast grows at its fastest after about 2 hours, then everything slows down. So currently I make my biga by adding all the sugars to all the water that I will use in my recipe.  First I boil the water, in my case usually 550ml (for 900g flour mix) and pour it into a large basin (acts as a heat sink). Then I add the sugars, my partner likes sweet bread, so I add about 120g of castor sugar and sometimes about 50ml of maple syrup. When is has cooled to blood heat  I whisk in 25-30g of dried yeast (Allinson's) and leave for 5 minutes ish. I sift in about 200g of flour and whisk for a couple of minutes. Cover the basin tightly with film and leave it for at least 2 hours. It becomes very active. Sometime I will leave it a lot longer, but I have found it makes little difference. When I am ready I add the rest of my flour and the salt (700g flour and 25g salt) to the basin and knead per usual.  This makes a very light dough which rises well.

I have publishe a recipe here if you want the whole thing.

RobynNZ's picture

Welcome to TFL

It is good know you are making bread that you and your partner enjoy.  I think however the point of Tip Number 9 in Lesson 5 "Ten Tips for Better French Bread"  was maybe lost on you.......

by taking a portion of the flour and water and fermenting it longer than the rest of the dough the baker can evoke better flavor from the ingredients.

Note too, in the introduction to Lesson 5 Floyd states

what Americans call French Bread (a simple bread containing flour, salt, yeast, and water baked directly on a hearth or baking stone) 

When you are new here it is a bit hard to decide where to post, next time how about starting a new topic in the forum section, where your ideas can be discussed.

I hope you will enjoy exploring TFL's archives, people posting here share your passion for bread, it is a friendly supportive community and we all learn a great deal from each other.

MrBytchy's picture

Hi Robyn,


Thank you for your welcome to The Fresh Loaf.

Your reply to me seems a little condescending, but I will put that down to culture. Perhaps if you read my post you will notice that it is about a preferment.  I was offering my recipe for a poolish.  I have tried the method mentioned in the lesson and found it works fine, however my solution works amazingly well.  I think it is because the yeast is able to work at its maximum in the very liquid environment.  I take your point about posting a blog and I hope to do that soon.  I believe the input from people like yourself and others who are passionate about bread, will be very helpful in my obsession.


edwingroenewold's picture

What I do, is simply use half the flour in a recipe, all the water and all the yeast, mix and leave overnight.

The next day I add the salt, the rest of the flour and a little bit of sugar ((Honey, or whatever) to compensate for the fermentation of a lot of the sugar (this gives more browning of the crust)))  

Follow the rest of the recipe.


Hope it helps.