The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Preferments - starters, biga,sponge,pollish et al

kmcquade's picture
kmcquade

Preferments - starters, biga,sponge,pollish et al

Ok This is my first post - I have this nagging question after experimenting with my bread making the last yr.


I have been reading reinharts text ( break bakers apprentice) and taken a bread baking class and I have come to the conclusion that


1. Preferments are critical for best tasting bread - however that it doesn't reeally matter - a Starter, biga, poolish, preferment, sponge - they only really differ by water content - so if you make a biga it las less water than a poolish you can use them in the same recipe you just need to adjust the water content. I usually find it very easy just to add a couple cups of flour and some water 1-2 cups, a pinch of instant yeast - the exact amounts are really not that important - just mix up a patch and let it ferment !


2. More confusing to me - is that if you are going to go through the trouble to make a preferment - How is that different from just making the whole dough batch mixing it up (without kneading) and letting the dough preferment 12-24 hours - ???  Then just prepare as usual  adding flour or water ad needed ? seems to create very taste bread for me .


3. Recipe smecifi  - I admit I hate following recipe's - once you develope a feel for the mix -  (just like making pancakes - anyone who has to measure pancake mix and water and cannot just tell when the batter is the way they want it  is well, either completly ocd or ??)  I just get a feel for when the dough is the right consistency, try to get confortable with wetter doughs - add whatever I feel like into the dough, herbs, seeds, oats, barlley, different flours - whatever I have on hand , and all my breads seem to be quite tastey.  So to me it seems like unless you are a bakery and trying to put out the exact loaf all the time - the whole idea is to have fun , be artistic, creative and experiment - don't be a slave to recipes . 


I am interested in your comments .


kj


 

Nim's picture
Nim

 I think the feel is the most important. I wouldn't however dismiss recipes because that is where you start. When I first started baking bread regularly (I haven't bought a loaf in nearly 5 years), with yeast, I started reading about sourdough. All the expert, amateur and in-between comments were useful for me to come to my place. I do sourdough baking now, yes, I do use the terms you mention interchangeably. I don't throw away any starter, for example. I just make sure that when I feed it, I will have enough for a recipe (usually 2 loaves) and then only about half a cup so the next time I can just double it without waste. So, you do tweak all these recipes to choose your cooking habits and philosophy and I believe that is how they are meant to be read. I love Reinhart's books but I remember they were very intimidating to me in the beginnng, precisely because I am not a "scientfic cook" , I go by senses than science, eyeball everything rather than be exact. But I can quite see somebody who does like exact measure ments and likes to know the exact science would find his recipes the easiest to begin with....and as for TFL, I have found such a wonderful mx of both kinds of cooks and also people who can break up the scienitific info into terms for people like me and vice versa!

kmcquade's picture
kmcquade

Thankyou for your thoughts. Its funny, actually I am a scientist & I teach engineerng and I believe that one of the most important elements of scientific thinking is to be able to work from what are called in physics "first principles" - or the basic principles - and being able to apply inductive and deductive reasoning to what you do and with experiments. So really its most important to understand what is happening - so this is my approach to baking - So if you understand about fermentation, the interaction of time, and temp , hydration etc... then you have it, so its really an interaction of the sceince and the art of baking ( sounds like a good title for a book :))  - if you play with these elements but alow for some exploratory uncertainty then you are being artistic.  The difference between a good cook and someone who cooks is that a good cook understands food, and how foods and spices interact - others just follow recipes but are not "good cooks".


kj

Nim's picture
Nim

I agree wholeheartedly that "a good cook understands food" and that the fundamentals are the most important. He/she would certainly know how the spices interact or rather the outcome of that interaction but may not be able to delineate the exact chemical changes that happen at the molecular levels. That said, I agree that the art of cooking that devloped over centuries of learning, experiment and accidents suggests that creativie sensibility is required in larger measure than anything else. What I meant about recipes is that none of us want to re-invent the wheel so they provide a useful guidance from which we can figure out some of the basic principles.


I must say though that the reverse of the "good cook" dictum doesn't hold, one can understand and appreciate good food but may not be able to actually cook. As a cook myself, I have come to realise how important this category is. When I see way too many people who cannot understand what 'good' food is, it is disheartening. Complexity of flavors and textures, even being able to tell the freshness of yogurt or milk seems to be a diappearing quality.


I am a teacher too and teach literature and philosophy.

Arbyg's picture
Arbyg

Hello,


In regards to your statements I have a few comments. Yes, all starters, pre-ferments make better bread. However isn't mixing the whole batch of dough and letting it sit a pre-ferment in itself. In Italy many recipes are made with 100% preferment usually biga, then only salt, water, and maybe a little yeast added the next day then mixed briefly. Feel is definately the most important aspect of bread baking because without it you can only copy what others have done. And in regards to many preferments being the same if you further experiment you will notice that each one gives the bread diff. characteristics and more important timing. In a bakery each starter performs different, some give you a spongy texture while  others a more open crumb. Try the exact recipe for baguettes one with poolish one with biga and you will have not only  two different breads but your folding, proofing,and baking will also vary. I don't claim to know it all but I have experimented thousands of times with almost every combo possible many of them going against the grain of modern baking. In the end you are on the right track keeping an open mind its essential for growth. If your ever in Florida look me up I'm trying to assemble a team for future bakery. Happy baking. 

kefir crazy's picture
kefir crazy

Your #2 is something that I also ponder.  If you've heard of the "No Knead Bread" craze,  seems to me that is exactly the method  you are describing there in #2 of your post.   My husband has been making that bread and it is next to miraculous how it actually transforms itself.  (no kneading required mind you)  The no knead method specifies an 18 hour rise at room temp for the first rise.


What is amazing to me,  is the difference in the flavor when he mixes it up and instead of leaving it at room temp for 18 hours as the method suggests,  he puts it in the fridge for a couple of days,  and then takes it out for 18 hours at room temp before proceeding.  He has made it both ways,  and the refrigerated method blows the regular method out of the water!  The flavor and texture are fabulous.


So if time=flavor, (especially cool time) then why not just mix it all up and let it sit, verses bother with a pre-ferment or poolish?   Good question!  Chances are, if you did mix it all up without kneading and left it the time that you specified above,  you probably wouldn't need to knead it much at all.


I guess if you're in a hurry for bread that a poolish or pre-ferment would be the way to go?  ?


 

kmcquade's picture
kmcquade

Thanks for your comments. I'll have to look that "no-knead" approach up - However I think I will still knead - something therapeutic about it .  Maybe a full mix batch with an overnight 8-10 hr cold rest, and then a knead -  is somewhere in between , and a good compromise. ??


KJ

kefir crazy's picture
kefir crazy

Try doing a loaf with an 8-10 hour cold nap,  and another with a two day, and knead both!  It's fun to experiment and pretty good chances that both will be delicious!  You can always make bread crumbs out of a flop! Or,  you could do the first 8-10 hr. cold rest without  kneading, then knead  and add more flour if you need to,  then form the final dough, cover it, and put it back in the fridge overnight for the final rise.  Some people take it out of the fridge and leave it at room temp for a while before baking,  and some people preheat the oven and take it straight from the fridge.  


I have gotten some of my best breads this way!  All I know is that time equals flavor.  Putting it in the fridge results in a different flavor for me. Far superior to a yeasty quick recipe.  Less sour,....and the smell when it bakes is to die for.  Whatever kind of magic goes on,  I don't know, but I am thankful!


Have fun!

kmcquade's picture
kmcquade

Thanks for your comments. I'll have to look that "no-knead" approach up - However I think I will still knead - something therapeutic about it .  Maybe a full mix batch with an overnight 8-10 hr cold rest, and then a knead -  is somewhere in between , and a good compromise. ??


KJ

GrapevineTXoldaccount's picture
GrapevineTXolda...

and all the more reason I wish I could go back a few thousand years to see how the ancients discussed this likely item. 


Food for thought.  Thanks for sharing.


 

kefir crazy's picture
kefir crazy

Pretty good chance that didn't have commercial dry yeast back then, too!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

as fast as we are by sharing information and ideas with one another.  The net has become a powerful learning device.  Just think of how isolated we would all be?  ..and progress would be a lot slower.


Mini

Nim's picture
Nim

Amen to that! Which is why I come to TFL almost every single day.

MandyLee's picture
MandyLee

Good question! What is really gained by working in stages instead of just putting everything together and letting it rise, retard, rise, shape, rise, bake...without having to add more ingredients somewhere during the process as you do with a pre-ferment? Perhaps I just need to do my own comparison of the two methods, but I'd be interested in what the more scientific observers have to say about this.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and you will soon learn it's limitations.  Yeasts and labs (beasties) have their favorite temps and times and work on the flour differently.  You will want to pair the type of flour to the method you like to use.  Not all flours work as straight doughs (where everything is put together at once) as compared to multiple build doughs.


By using multiple builds, I've noticed several things are happening.  (1) Beasts are fed with fresh flour at each stage, this has a pH influence in relationship to the starter amount and the flour amount.   If all the food is fed at once, there will be a long beginning stage until pH is lowered to ideal levels.  Not only do the labs and yeasts then work differently,  the gluten may weaken before the loaf has produced enough gas to raise it (even if the total hours are the same.)    (2) A variety of enzymes are also working in the dough.  Some of them we want early on, some of them we don't want until later.  By having stages in the recipe, ingredients with spicific time frames can be added or allowed to influence the dough when it is best to do so. 


I know, I wish i could be more specific. I hope that made sense.


Mini

kefir crazy's picture
kefir crazy

Mini, Is it safe to say that a dough fed flour in increments has a better gluten formation? And flavor as well?  Why is gluten developed without kneading if you let the dough sit?  (as in NO KNEAD BREAD)   What is the scientific explanation? 


When the "beasts" are fed  all at once rather than fed gradually,


does the dough become more sour than with a gradual build, and why, if it does?


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/4910/here-we-go-again-no-knead-part-deux#comment-24768


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10375/lactic-acid-fermentation-sourdough


All the beasts are not fed all at once, just the dough is being mixed all at once.  Upcoming generations have to deal with what the generation before them has done to the dough.


I think adding flour in steps depends on the type of flour and yeast being used.  The questions should be addressed to each type of flour.  Various sprouted flours, for example would need less fermentation because much of the breakdown process achieved thru a longer fermentation is already accomplished making it ideal for a quick instant yeast straight recipe that tastes good.  Some bland flours on the other hand need a long coaxing to bring out the flavor before any leavening is added.  I find that with rye doughs, the greater the % of rye flour, a 3 step sourdough build is hard to beat for flavor.


Mini

kefir crazy's picture
kefir crazy

You sound like you know what you're talking about!  I'm going to look through your posts and maybe I can learn a thing or two. (or three or four :)


 

LouiseL's picture
LouiseL

The reason a pre-ferment is used is because it tends to make the bread more flavorful and have a better texture and crust.

I always use a simple sponge which can be left to ferment for a few hours or overnight. I am not a fan of sourdough, but a simple sponge is not sourdough. It simply gets the yeast started and improves the bread's taste , texture and crust.

Simply take your favorite recipe for one or two loaves of bread. In a bowl mix 1cup of flour--whatever you're using for the bread, 1 cup of water (use bottled water if you prefer it) and about a teaspoon of dry yeast. If you're going to let it ferment overnight, you can use 1/2 to 1/4 of a teaspoon. The yeast grows during the fermentation process, so there will be enough. Using less yeast means your bread won't have a unpleasant yeasty flavor.

Leave the yeast mixture on the counter covered by plastic wrap.

Now when you're ready to bake, subtract a cup of flour and a cup of water from your recipe. Add the fermented yeast mixture to the remaining flour,add the salt the recipe calls for, and proceed according to the recipe.

I find it's best to give the dough two risings before putting it in the pan or shaping a free-form loaf for the final rising. Sometimes it takes a little longer for the dough to get to the doubled in bulk size in the first rising.

If you try this method and you can't tell any difference in between this and your bread without the pre fermenting process, I'd save myself the time and trouble and just make it the easy way. But I think most people will like the difference.

LouiseL