The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Question on Changing Pre-Ferment Type

ein's picture

Question on Changing Pre-Ferment Type

I'm using a pate fermentee in a whole-wheat loaf made with 50% ww and 50% apf. I much prefer using a poolish and would like to switch over. The dough is fairly extensible now and I wouldn't want to increase it.

The pre-fermented flour percentage with the pate is 25%. Anyone have experience with this type of substitution?


fancypantalons's picture

I've switched non-prefermented recipes to use a poolish.  It's pretty straight forward math.  Just make sure the total hydration at the end matches what you're getting now and you should be just fine.

In this case, I'd probably just jack up the water in the pate until the hydration is around 100%.  Then subtract the water you added to the preferment from the final dough, and you should be good to go!


bottleny's picture

Artisan's "Direct & Indirect Methods-Bread Making" can give you a basic idea of biga  and poolish, and suggests the fermentation time for different percentages of yeast and hydration used in the prefermet. It may be helpful for you.

ein's picture

A wealth of info ... gracias fancypants and wildeny. I've made a poolish with 20% pre-fermented flour and will try it out tomorrow.

dghdctr's picture

It's difficult to forecast exactly what you will run into when you switch, but if you know your baker's math and can think in terms of "percentage of pre-fermented flour" and so on, the switch isn't difficult.  Start with your "straight dough" formula, figure how much of the flour in that formula should go into the preferment, and then borrow as much water from the total water as you need to create the pre-ferment you've chosen.  Leave all the salt and nearly all the yeast in what remains of the straight dough, which you'll complete the next day (usually).

For instance, if you were starting with the following straight dough:

  • 1000 grams bread flour

  • 680 grams water

  • 20 grams of salt

  • 5 grams instant yeast

You might arbitrarily decide to pre-ferment 20% of the total flour in the formula.  So you'd take 200 grams out of the original 1000 grams and use it to make a poolish.  Borrow  200 grams of water from the original 680 grams in the straight dough to hydrate the poolish.  Then just a tiny amount of the yeast -- way less than a pinch -- to ferment it for around 12 hours.

Whatever flour, water, salt and yeast are left from the original measurements for a straight dough are re-combined the next day (that is, after 12 hours or so) with the poolish to mix the final dough.

You mentioned that you already liked your extensibility with the old dough (pate fermentee).  If you pre-ferment 25% of the flour with a poolish instead, you may find that the extensibility is more than you want, and the dough can seem noticeably more sticky, so I'd recommend using only 15-20% pre-fermented flour in the poolish.  On the other hand, it might be instructive to go ahead and pre-ferment the same 25% of the flour as a poolish just so you can see the difference in an apples-to-apples comparison.

Jeffrey Hamelman gives a good explanation of how to work with the baker's math.


--Dan DiMuzio

ein's picture

I was hoping you would have time to answer. Your compact description of how to do the pre-ferment math makes it very clear and simple. The method of trying out the poolish with the original pre-ferment flour% is a real eye opener. I seem to have guessed ok with the 20% flour% on my poolish but didn't really learn that much. The direct comparison you recommend will now be my choice in the future. You remind me that so much can be learned right from the dough on the bench.  I feel very fortunate indeed to have the help of so many generous folks at the Fresh Loaf!

ein's picture

Here's a couple of photos of the results ... same overall formula, first one with 25% pate fermentee and the other with 20% poolish.

I'm preparing for a presentation to a new organic restaurant in town so these loaves are worked up with all organic ingredients.What ever the local Whole Foods had available in bulk I purchased. The supplier is Central Milling.

org high protein fine whole wheat    50%

org ap flour with germ                    50% 

h2o                                              68%

org raw honey                                  9%

nacl                                                2%

inst yeast                                         .4%


and a possibility in ounces for 2   1.5lb Boules: 

16oz each flour

21.8oz water

3oz honey

.6 sea salt 

.13 yeast

     would do the trick for the overall formula.

The poolish loaf has more volume and seems a bit sweeter. The scoring left a lot to be desired on both samples and I'm sure affected the oven spring. Also, with the added honey I needed to back off the temperature from 450degf to 430 half way through the bake to slow down the quick browning (burning).





I don't know if I will be baking for this restaurant or not but the setup, finding suppliers, getting a bread menu worked up with a few samples, figuring out a baking schedule and production capabilities, as well as the all important pricing is a great process and lots of fun. I'm in it for the ride.

dghdctr's picture

I would say that I suspected the bottom loaf was poolish without looking at the captions (titles).  It's great when things happen the way they're supposed to in theory.  When I was teaching, the dough didn't always cooperate for the one demo I had time for during class.

From a scientific standpoint, you'd need to run this comparison repeatedly at least 3 or 4 times for observations that are in any way conclusive, but the results of this one bake-off are typical of what I've experienced.  The poolish seems to deliver more height, sometimes more overall volume than an old dough or sponge pre-ferment when the flour quantity is the same between the pre-ferments.

The sweetness you noticed in the poolish by comparison is also according to type.  Old dough is firmer and (often) longer fermented (also, usually, at a refrigerated temp), so it's often more acidic than a poolish kept at room temperature for only 12 or 15 hours.  Not sour, really -- just more acidic by comparison.

I would be happy with either or both of those loaves, though I agree that a more open scoring pattern, like an edge-to-edge cross shape, might allow for more expansion and a slightly more open crumb.  The pate fermentee version has a flatter profile, but this looks very, very much like what you'd see in some bakeries in France.  The more dome-like shape of the poolish version is also good-looking.  You should just go for which one you prefer, but it is nice to know how one pre-ferment can make a loaf noticeably different from the other.  Neither is necessarily "better" than the other -- they're just different.

--Dan DiMuzio

ein's picture

Thanks again Dan, your willingness to share the knowledge is invaluable for those of us hitchhiking along the road to Better Bread. I hope you can continue to help out.

Will you be teaching again soon? Either at School or in seminars around the country. I for one would like to find a way to get some more hands on teaching. Please keep us informed with any news.