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trying to understand poolish and starter percentages compared to total bread weight, and how to incorporate starters in recipes

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shlegminitism's picture

trying to understand poolish and starter percentages compared to total bread weight, and how to incorporate starters in recipes

Is there a standard percentage that preferments and sourdough starters make up in a recipe?  I'm fairly new to bread baking, but i have successfully made a white wheat loafs and cinnamon raisin loafs by hand (no mixer) with store-bought instant and active dry yeasts.  I'm getting the hang of it, and i got a dehydrated san francisco sourdough along with some others from when i purchased some goods.  Its fully hydrated and growing, doubling in size after each feeding and smeliing good.  Now i want to try to get the hang of using natural yeasts instead of storebought, or a combination of the two if it is necessary/possible.  I've been enjoying SteveB's page, and for the sake of an example that i know, i would like to confront bread-bakers anonymous to see if changing a recipe to incorporate a sourdough starter is a good alternative to simply formulating a new recipe (with which i am still a little intimidated due to a lack of experience and knowledge).  All credit for the following recipe and its deliciousness goes to SteveB of


  • 185 g King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour

  • 185 g Water

  • 1/16 tsp. Instant Yeast

Final Dough

  • 460 g King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour

  • 370 g (all of the above) Poolish

  • 260 g Water

  • 15 g Dried Milk Powder

  • 1 3/4 tsp. Instant Yeast

  • 15 g Salt

  • 40 g Honey

  • 90 g Butter

This recipe yields two loaves, with a poolish that weighs in a 370g, and a total dough weight of 1250g. 

Q1.  Is the poolish mostly viewed as a big hunk of dough thats allowed to ferment to add flavor to the final dough, or should it be viewed as a certain percentage of dough or total flour weight that has some underlying reasons for being its size?

Q2. Could a sourdough starter be used gram for gram in this recipe (or others with a poolish), or better yet, what percentage of total dough (or flour?) weight should a viable starter be to be able to raise a dough enough to make it yummilicious?

Q3.  If i wanted to incorporate rye into this recipe, is there a percentage i should shoot for that would not affect the doughs ability to rise, and would that change the amount of starter that i would need, or would i need to add more starter to compensate for the rye?

Q4. Do people ever use starters in bread along with any commercial, dried, or fresh yeast or might they kill eachother off in a torrential rage that would sully the bread with a microscopic bloodbath of the likes that has never before been seen?

Q5.  How many questions can one ask before being excommunicated from this great site and forced to walk the long road of bakingdom with malformed and underaised loafs in which the salt has been forgotten? 

Thanks for your time, and to the site creators, thank you for this page, and the multitude of experience and kindness within, and SteveB, if you read this, thank you for your site and contributions to sorry bakers such as myself.

Chris J.
shlegminitism's picture

and sorry for the lengthy post.   :)

G-man's picture

Q1) Yes and yes. A poolish adds flavor and adds to the total weight of the final dough. The more you add, the more flavor you get from the poolish, but past a certain point the amount of poolish/starter to total fresh flour can become detrimental. Which leads to...

Q2) A sourdough starter could be used in this recipe, given a longer proofing time for the final dough. For my starter in the northwest US during spring, winter and fall I never use more 100% hydration starter than about 30-40% of the final dough weight depending on the temperature. I reduce this to about 20-25% during summer.

Q3) I wouldn't add much rye at all, maybe 50-100g. Someone more experienced with rye could tell you better than I can.

Q4) You can add yeast to an established starter, but make certain you set a part of your untainted starter aside before you do so.

 Q5) You've got two left.

proth5's picture

Welcome to the world of bread baking where some folks (not me!) would tell you that words are supposed to mean exactly what we want them the mean - no more or no less.  Many questions - and many answers for each.

Q0) You will be wanting to learn "baker's math" which I believe is discussed in the Handbook on these pages.  The questions you are asking indicate that you have the type of mind that will find baker's math intellectually satisfying.  And the rest of my answers are couched a little in baker's math.

Q1) A poolish is a specific type of pre ferment.  Pre ferment simply means that a certain percentage of the total flour to be used in the complete formula is fermented for a somewhat longer period of time than the final dough.  A poolish is 100% hydration and commercially yeasted.  It may contain salt, but nearly always at a lesser percentage than the final dough.  So it is not a "hunk of dough."  A pate fermentee (or, "old dough") is a hunk of dough as it has about the same hydration (% of water) and salt as the final dough.  A pate fermentee is another pre ferment - with those specific requirements.  So is a sourdough starter, or a levain.  Except this takes flour and water and instead of using commercial yeast takes a small amount of "storage starter" to start the fermentation process.  We often express the amount of storage starter as a % of the total weight of the preferment. 

Q1) - Still going - A pre ferment is used to add flavor, but it does somewhat more than that.  It can also change the dough handling qualities - a poolish, for example, can be used (up to a point) to enhance the extensibility of the dough.  I have also heard quite advanced bakers refer to using pre ferments as ways to compensate for less than ideal flours.  But they didn't say how.  Pre ferments are a topic so deep and broad that I will be spending a good chunk of the week after next studying about them.  Stay tuned.

Q1) Still going - usually we like to express the amount of flour in the pre ferment as a % of the total flour in the formula (See: "You will want to learn baker's math")

Q2) Yes, pretty much if you keep a 100% hydration storage starter.  You need to make sure it is fully ripe (not over ripe) and to do this, many bakers will use the method I outlined above - mixing the flour and water and adding a small amount of storage starter (that's the thing you reconsituted and is now growing for you).  This allows you better control over the time it takes for the sourdough starter to ripen.  Over ripe starter should generally not be used for bread.

Q3) 5-10% of rye is a good start and will not have too much impact on dough handling qualities

Q4) I take your question to mean "Can I use commercial yeast in the final dough?" Yes, you can.  It will impact the flavor of the bread, but will cause it to rise faster.  You would want to add smaller amounts if you are supplementing sourdough than you would if you baked with commercial yeast alone. I am sure the micro organisms war a bit, but the elapsed time for making bread is not suffcient for either side to win. I have done this a couple of times and don't find the results to my taste, but tastes vary. (If you add yeast directly to your storage starter, the prevailing opinion is that "eventually" the wild yeasts will out compete the commercial yeasts)

Hope this helps.

Renee B's picture
Renee B

I think to clarify your answer to the original question number 4, you should have used the word "compete".  The two yeasts wont kill each other off, but they will compete for nutrients.  One or both of them will "win" but either way it goes, the bread will rise a little faster.

shlegminitism's picture

Yes, competition is what i was getting at, but as long as its not bad for the bread.  Thanks for all the answers and direction.  I must have somehow missed the handbook, which i found very helpful.  I ended up making the 60% rye from the handbook recipes found at , with some alterations.  I found a link somewhere in this lovely forum regarding a German spice mixture that consisted of toasted coriander, caraway seed, and fennel.  I had to guess on the amounts to use.  i looked at the 40% rye with caraway recipe also in the handbook, and since they weren't too different in weight, i just used the weight of the caraway seed and did half caraway, half coriander, and added on just a touch of fennel because it is so distinct.  If i could change it further, i would probably use more coriander.  It sure was a different ball game working with the rye though.  I multiplied the recipe by 6 because I'm a lunatic and figured it would be nice to have some at the farmers market of our small town. I staggered the feedings of the starters after i split them, retarding one in the fridge for a bit so i could maximize stove use. After getting the ingredients thoroughly mixed for the first group, i went ahead and split them into their loaf weights (not knowing if that was a bad decision or not).  I figured i would disturb the dough less after ferment if it was already its proper weight. They rose fast, I'd say about an hour or an hour and half, so i formed a round as best i could with wet hands, let them rise until they increased in size a bit (though should have let them rise a bit more i think), and then put them on stones in the preheated ovens. They had a little spring but were slightly flat, but not horribly so.  Taste is great though and crumb was moist and better than i expected for first batch.  The next batch went in loaf pans, and i let the dough rise a little more for those.  I look forward to cutting into it in the morning. Thanks again for the direction.