The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why does Hamelman not preferment his whole wheat flour?

janij's picture
janij

Why does Hamelman not preferment his whole wheat flour?

I love Hamelman's multigrain breads.  Both the levain version and the preferment version.  My question is, why does he not preferment or use the whole wheat flour in his levains?  I would think, and I am NO expert, that it would enhance the flavor to use part of the whole wheat flour in the preferments instead of the bread or AP flour.  Does anyone have any insight on this?  I think I will try using the whole wheat in the levain this time and see what happens.  I use fresh, hand ground flour.  So I don't know.  Anyne got any ideas on this?

Salome's picture
Salome

i've asked myself the same question before and I'm curious whether somebody here has got the explanation on hand. I'm sure somebody does?


Salome

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hello,


Most pro bakers try to limit the number of pre-ferments they keep around to a manageable 2 or 3 different kinds.  Maybe 4.  Otherwise, in a high-production scenario, you're spending maybe a quarter of your day making pre-ferments for the next day.  Plus, from at least one perspective, you don't need to customize a pre-ferment for every bread you do.  As an example -- maybe poolish for baguettes (or liquid levain, which can also make mild sourdoughs) a firm sponge for use as biga or in sandwich breads, a rye sour for tangy rye or multigrain loaves, and that might be enough to cover all your needs.


I'd assume that Jeffrey's formulas are chosen from among what he actually makes at KA's bakery.  I've been there 3 times, and I think I saw him keep just poolish, liquid levain, and rye sour.


Other bakers (like Steve Sullivan at Acme, or Dan Leader at Bread Alone) might choose to keep more pre-ferments, or fewer, or just a different selection.  I do know bakers who make a lot of whole-wheat breads and who keep a whole-wheat levain going just for that purpose.  It's really just a matter of personal preference tempered by what trouble you're willing to go through to make a variety of pre-ferments.


Incidentally, there's been a realization among many artisans in this country that pre-ferments are not a pre-requisite to making great bread.  They are a handy shortcut (and sourdough, of course, requires a levain), but any bread leavened primarily with manufactured yeast can have it's yeast reduced, it's bulk ferment time extended to maybe 5 hours at room temp, and you'll still have great, complex  flavor -- no pre-ferment required -- if you have the time.


--Dan DiMuzio

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Am I reading you correctly - that time not being a factor, preferments are unnecessary? And so, by extrapolation, the flavour/character of a bread is defined by its total formula providing the fermentation time is long enough?


Why then do we care about the nature of preferments at all? - biga, poolish etc.. Given the same total formula, using one over the other does make a difference to the characteristics of the dough/bread...at least this is what I learned.


Surely there are benefits specific to preferments that go beyond a simple 'shortcut'?  Or are you saying that an identical result can be obtained by simply mixing a straight dough and letting it sit longer? I'm trying to get my mind around that concept - given the many different processes involved in fermentation in stages.


FP


 

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi FP, and David, and janij,


I would say that David's explanation of the origins of "yeasted" pre-ferments is about right.  There were some differences in their individual history, and somewhat different reasons for creating them in the first place, but it's fair to say that one primary reason for using them was to bring a bulk dough (underdeveloped in the mixer) to maturation more quickly than it would if you used no pre pre-ferment.


Now, the maturation I'm referring to results in large part from the presence of organic acids in the dough, which helps to strengthen the gluten bonds that can form passively during bulk fermentation, and from the folds that we would give to a loose, long-fermented dough.   You can get those acids the long, straight way (5-6 hour bulk ferment) or a shorter way w/a pre-ferment (probably 90min-2hrs bulk ferment).


It's also been found that these acids impart much of the flavor of the bread.  So that's another reason you might choose to use a preferment, but even if the flavor was the thing you were most concerned about, the strengthening, the shorter time for maturation, and any carryover enzymatic activity still occurs.  It's a "package deal", and a baker needs to be familiar with all of the effects of using one or another of the yeasted pre-ferments in their dough if they want to manage it as completely as possible.


A firm yeasted pre-ferment like biga might have great acidity and flavor but too much strength for an extensible baguette dough.  On the other hand, that's a great fit for floppy dough like ciabatta, which is sometimes way too extensible as a straight dough.


Poolish has characteristics that are about the opposite of that, with plenty of helpful protease for baguette extension, and a somewhat milder flavor profile.  It's flavor is not exactly like that of biga or firm sponge, but neither is it inferior.  Just different.


Old dough (pate fermentee) is just leftover baguett dough, usually, in artisanal baking.  It is already salted, and it sat in a refrigerator overnight after it was fully fermented (in most cases), so it will also impart some nuances you won't find in other pre-ferments.  Professor Calvel liked using old dough if he wanted a pre-ferment, but his protege (James MacGuire) wrote in an article in the Art of Eating that Calvel's favorite baguette was made from a very long fermented, straight dough.  Good flavor.  Very thin crust, and a wonderfully light texture that can't be precisely duplicated with any pre-ferment.  Try to obtain MacGuire's article about baguettes and the Professor in The Art of Eating, 2006 Number 73+74 (a double issue).


So no, the 5-6 hour straight baguette dough is not going to taste or even act exactly the same as one made with a pre-ferment and then held for 2 hours.  But neither is one really "better" than another -- they're just different.  It was the poolish baguette that came first, followed very shortly thereafter by the "direct" method with no preferment -- but more than twice as much bulk fermentation.


Both methods co-existed around the same time, with different bakers choosing one or another method.  Both make great bread, though not precisely the same bread.  Both are undermixed in the bowl, though the direct method might be mixed even less in anticipation of developing most of it's strength gradually, over a longer time.  You just need more time for the direct method dough to mature.


You can read about this in books, and I don't have the space needed here to get much more into it without getting writer's cramp.  I do highly recommend getting the 8-page article I mentioned -- it's a great read.  If you're a bread nerd like me, you might find Stephen Laurence Kaplan's Good Bread is Back at your local library and read up on this stuff ad nauseam.  Just like when using Ambien, though, don't operate heavy machinery while reading it, and stay close to your bed.


--Dan DiMuzio

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Dan,


Thanks for clarifying your earlier statement. You must have posted this as I was writing a reply to David's post further down the thread. Your above reply pretty much addresses it all.


Thanks,


FP


 

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Your concerns about possible side effects of a longer fermentation are valid -- not unfounded at all.


I would usually recommend tweaking a dough fermented for a long time at room temp to help alleviate those concerns.  Maybe a 75 degree goal temperature for the dough (does Jeffrey H. call that DDT?) instead of the more usual 77 degrees.  Use less yeast, too, because you don't want the dough to gassify completely before the acids we're looking for have enough time to develop.


As far as enzyme activity goes, it all depends on the "falling number" for your flour and other strength vs. weakness issues that would be normal for your flour.  King Arthur's "Artisan" flour has less gluten strength than their "Sir Galahad", which in turn is less bouncy than their "Special" bread flour.  If the dough is made with the "Special" and fermented for 6 hours, it would have different strength characteristics than one made with the "Artisan" or "Galahad" flours.


The Special dough might actually get too inextensible after 6 hours, and not be appropriate for longer, room-temperature fermentation.  But 6 hours is not a huge amount of time to worry about with regard to an excess of protease already present in the flour of a straight dough, unless that flour has a too-small falling number.  If anything, it is the protease-laden poolish (fermented 15-20 hours) that can introduce too much activity (even in 2 hours of bulk fermentation) if you use too much or if the poolish was fermented too quickly & at too high a temperature.


I may have unintentionally implied earlier that this is all so simple -- but it isn't simple.  Any change you make to a bread dough has the consequences you probably intended paired with those that appear univited.  They're like conjoined twins. You'll have to experiment when you make a change (like using a longer bulk ferment), and possibly manipulate either the temperature of the dough, or it's yeast level, or even other factors to bring things back into an acceptable balance.


That's what makes the mastery of bread baking a craft, and not just something you can succeed at by following recipes.  Recipes are valuable signposts, but no recipe can tell you everything that might happen and how to react to it.


--Dan DiMuzio

janij's picture
janij

Dan,


I never thought of it in that context.  It makes sense that in a big barkey you are not going to make all kinds of pre-ferments when you can use one for all of them.  So thank you, now I understand why.  Since I am not running a barkery I think I will continue to pre-ferment the whole wheat flour.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

One thing I try to impart to any non-professional baker is that, while using well-tested published recipes is a very wise way to go, you should never feel constrained by them forever.  As long as you're willing to risk the occasional mishap (see my reference to keeping a formula in balance, below), there's no good reason not to play a bit with a formula and make it your own.


Once you feel you have a mastery of the basic process, you might just use other's formulas as roadmaps for general guidance.  The itinerary can be your own.


--Dan DiMuzio

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder


Once you feel you have a mastery of the basic process, you might just use other's formulas as roadmaps for general guidance.  The itinerary can be your own.



It's too hot to bake today. Instead, I will meditate on Dan's words of wisdom.


The map is not the territory.



David

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Here is my understanding: Pre-ferments originated as a method of improving bakery time management without sacrificing flavor. It has been recognized for ages that a long slow fermentation is necessary to develop the best possible flavor in bread, but to schedule your work so that you would have bread ready for the morning customers meant working all night. However, if some portion of your dough was fermented ahead of time, it would contribute its virtues of improved flavor, gluten strength and delayed staling to the final dough and permit the production of good bread with a shorter time from mixing to baking.


To achieve the same scheduling advantages without using a pre-ferment, the baker would mix intensively (to develop the gluten faster, but at the cost of dough oxidation and poor flavor) and use more yeast in the dough.


On the other hand, the baker can always return to the older method of slow fermentation. We see a trend in this direction, as exemplified by McGuire's "pain de tradition" that Shiao-Ping has shared with us. It still makes wonderful, fully flavored bread. It's easy for the home baker who can hang around the house and fuss with his/her dough every half hour or so for 6 to 8 hours. I would not want to make bread by this method if it had to be ready for sale at 7 AM though.


So, that's the pre-ferment story as I read its history.


As for why Hamelman doesn't pre-ferment whole wheat, Dan's explanation makes sense to me. Would the bread be (even) better with the whole wheat flour pre-fermented? I suspect it would. Reinhart thinks it is, as I understand his whole grain baking book. 


David

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

While pre-ferments may have originated as a time-management tool - I disagree that one can simply return to the 'older method' of slow fermentation and expect the exact same result.


Multi-stage levain builds, multiple pre-ferment doughs and other more sophisticated applications of preferments go much further than simple 'short cuts'. Bread science just doesn't support the notion that 'total dough formula' + mixing + time are the only factors that affect the final result. Complex enzymatic processes, development of acids, gluten development (or degradation), effect of salt etc. etc. all play roles which are procedurally sensitive.


I'm not saying that great bread can't be produced by straight dough method - it blatantly can - but to imply that straight-dough + time can replace any formula that uses pre-ferment - or that given enough fermentation time, preferments are rendered irrelevant just doesn't seem feasible to me.


FP


 


 

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

But neither are they always a prerequisite to good quality.

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Agreed and thanks again for the clarification.


Cheers,


FP


 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, FP.


I don't believe I said one achieves identical (or better) results with a long bulk fermentation than with the use of pre-ferments. I was saying, in my long-winded way, what Dan said in one sentence.


However, one does gain some of the same benefits of pre-ferments from a long bulk fermentation (development of acids, gluten development, etc.) Personally (so as not to over-generalize), the best tasting baguettes I've made have not used a pre-ferment, but they did use a long cold retardation. Those were the Gosselin baguettes. The second best tasting baguettes were actually Hamelman's "No-Knead" baguettes.  I have yet to make baguettes with poolish or with pâte fermentée as good as these. Perhaps it's time to try again.


David

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

I apparently misunderstood your initial point. However, I suspect baguettes are not the best bread to explore preferments vs straight doughs.  Then again...they might be - it's a matter of taste. One is not better than the other - simply different.


Perhaps my view is slightly skewed since I spend most of my time working with sourdough which is a preferment by default.


FP


 


 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Of course, I also bake with sourdough 90+ percent of the time - Not that I am averse to spiking the dough with some yeast on occasion.


I actually bake with poolish or pâte fermentée 2 or 3 times a year. Thus, I freely admit to basing my statements on a vast accumulation of others' experiences.


Happy baking!


David

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Mini