The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Prefermentation- failed; rising- probably too much; taste- bland

Leslie B's picture
Leslie B

Prefermentation- failed; rising- probably too much; taste- bland


I'm new to this forum and to bread making.  In fact, I had a miserable time at my first attempt today.  I'm hoping I someone can explain what went wrong so I can understand it.  I have looked online for hours trying to sort it out but nothing seemed to fit my experience.

First, I live in Boulder at about 5,500 ft and am aware that this affects rising times. And, my house never gets above 65.  Depending on the site, people give different suggestions, some contradictory, some make sense.  But, many have suggested using the prefermentation method to help with our rising problems.  This is the recipe I used:  (couldn't paste the link).


I made the prefermentation and let it ferment for 12.5 hrs (suggested 10-14) It was starting to pull away from sides so it may have over ripend.  And, i used a metal bowl (I'm thinking this had some effect.)

As suggested, I tried to dissolve it in warm water before mixing it with the flour but a big handful of it would not dissolve after 30 mins of squishing it by hand.  So, I dumped all of it in, mixed and let sit for 30 mins.

Added salt water, but who knew sea salt doesn't dissolve fully- it said to use kosher, so I used the water and dumped the salt granuals.  The dough did not absorb all the liquid- it was still gooey and wet, so I added flour and kneeded until it seemed like a dough consistency.

1st rise for 3.5 hrs, 2nd for 2.5.  The dough had more than doubled in size during it's first rise.  It got somwhat flatter in it's second and bigger.

result:  looked pretty but the crust was crunchy and the crumb was gummy and had no taste- well like too much flour

I did scale measure and temperature control my ingredients.  Obviously I was doomed from the start but wanted to continue to see what would happen.  However, I'd rather not spend another whole day making tasteless bread.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  I have looked on several sites about high altitude baking but there isn't anything that's concrete.

Thanks, leslie

nicodvb's picture

Hi Leslie,

generally when the bread is gummy the fault is in the flour: it's too strong. In the final dough you could use a flour with less gluten (or a mix 50/50 with the bread flour you used, to start with).

When kneading don't add all the water at once: start with a little amount and add it one tablespoon at a time when the dough needs it, so your dough will never get  too wet.

As for taste... I'm surprised that the whole wheat you added didn't contribute to the taste. Is it maybe the white whole wheat variant? I read many times that it tastes bland. In this case you could try to substitute is with some other whole wheat type, or maybe some spelt, kamut or rye, but be prepared to a slack dough.

Even doing a longer and stiff preferment could contribute to the flavor.

Leslie B's picture
Leslie B

I used gold medal enriched unbleached flour and whole foods organic whole wheat.  Many seem to suggest king aurther and I'll give that a try next.

I've read that the preferment can overripen in some forums.  Others seem to keep theirs for days- but in the refridgerator.  When mine started to get the folds on top, I thought it had sat for too long and that the foldy bit was the stuff that wouldn't dissolve. 

Do you usually dissolve the preferements/biga/etc. before adding them to the main flour mix?

Thanks for your reply.

proth5's picture

where I go on and on, but yes, usually I dissolve pre ferments a bit before I add them to the main dough - especially if I am mixing by hand - as it helps them mix in better.

Although King Arthur is an excellent flour and I use it, you should have been ok with the Gold Medal for this style of bread.  King Arthur flour has higher protien content than most all purpose flours and is a bit better for bread in general.  

Hope this helps.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Stainless Steel is known to neutralize aromas.  Just a thought.

Dough easily expands at high altitudes so knock the air out of it well before shaping.  Put it earlier into the oven as the instructions indicate.  May want to reduce some of the water.

Leslie B's picture
Leslie B

I was using aluminum. 

proth5's picture

at a Mile high (guess where....) 

Other than how the bread rises  (and what my personal experience suggests is that I need to carefully balance how much flour I pre ferment and restrict my yeast useage - but that is a long discussion  for when you are more advanced) another big factor in our area is dryness.  The recipe says to cover the pre ferment loosely with plastic wrap.  That works elsewhere - in Boulder cover it tightly or you will get the result you described - a dried out pre ferment.  It is unlikely it over ripened but given that you could not dissolve it in water it is likely it dried.

Dissolve the salt in water?  That is one way to do it, although in this case is a bit over delicate.  You would probably have been better off to add the salt and add the water.  One reason for a lack of taste in your bread might have been the absence of the salt you threw away because it did not dissolve.  I use the "fold in the bowl" method the recipe decribes and frankly, I add all of the water and the salt at the beginning on the instructions of "my teacher" (who is someone I will not name, but knows what he/she is doing, trust me.)  Others add the salt later, but usually all of the water at the beginning. Of course, starting with a dried out pre ferment might have made the incorporation of the extra water more difficult.

Anyway, every step that says "cover loosely" - you need to cover tightly.  I use plastic containers with tight snap on lids - or lacking that cover bowls with wet towels or tight vinyl covers.  At every step in the process you will find that where we live, the dough will "skin" and extra flouring will not be needed.  Letting a shaped loaf just stand on the bench for 20 minutes without covering it with plastic, an inverted bowl, or damp towels will get you a dried out surface that will simply get worse as it bakes.  Same with just covering the rising loaves with clean towels.  Clean, damp towels or sealing them in large plastic bags - much better. I use the example that I rubbed flour into my couche cloth two years ago and still nothing sticks. When I bake in more humid climates I need to pay special attention to flouring work surfaces.

However, some "high altitude baking" writers suggest that more flour is required.  This may be more applicable for cake or pastries, but I have not found it true for bread - and I've been at this quite a while.

Hope this first experience does not discourage you - just remember to try and keep that dough well covered....

Leslie B's picture
Leslie B

Hi Proth,

I have only lived in Boulder for 4 months now since moving from the east coast.  I'm am at a loss as to how to cook here.  I know have the time to cook- unemplyment does have some benefit, but this altitude business is frustrating. 

I never would have considered the preferment to be too dried out.  It makes sense considering my constant sore throats. I have considered taking a baking course here at the Seasoned Chef.  I would love some recommendations.  And, would you mind telling me where you bought your bowls?  I think I read somewhere not to use plastic- after I was wondering if the aluminum had any negative affect.

I bought the High Altitude Baking book from CSU, but it is lacking details that an inexperienced baker needs- no mentioning of the dryness here.  I'm also not impressed with their recipes. 

I really appreciate your response.  Thanks.

proth5's picture

Water boils at a lower temperature - so if you are cooking something by boiling (pasta, etc.) or simmering,  boil it or simmer it longer.

If you are doing cooked sugar work (and I learned this the hard way)  - you must calibrate your thermometer.  Find out exactly the temperature where water boils - subtract that from 212F and then use that number to subtract from all temperatures that are given in the recipe.

You will often see bread recipes that call for you to take the internal temperature of the baked loaf and call for temperatures in excess of 200F.  Not going to happen in Boulder - aim for an internal temp slightly upwards of 195F

Other than that and the dryness (you'll get used to it) I've made few changes to my cooking since I moved from the flatlands 20+ years ago.

The one baking class I took in the area was a disaster for me (they really didn't set expectations well) and I have no insights as to the Seasoned Chef - so I'll stay out of that.

Most of my bowls I got so many years ago it wouldn't help to tell you and the ones I purchased recently are from Okinawa, so that's no help either.  I do pre ferments in metal bowls, but they are stainless steel.  Many people avoid plastic because they are afraid that chemicals may leach out.  I am not one of those people.  I use food safe Cambro containers that are available from most restaurant supply houses (or if you don't mind paying a premium, from the King Arthur Baking Catalogue).  Every professional baker I have worked with uses some form of plastic tub/container for fermenting dough - so avoidance of plastic is more of a personal choice rather than the needs of the bread dough.  They are marketing plastic "Stretch and Cover" reusable covers in the Denver/Boulder area (at your local King Soopers) which are probably more economical than the vinyl covers I use (But if you like that sort of thing, I got them by mail from the Vermont Country Store - they are sturdy covers and have done yeoman's work for me.)  I, personally, don't like aluminum bowls, but I doubt that this was the problem in this case.  I tend to like "non reactive" containers like glass, stoneware, stainless steel and, yes, plastic.  I think that Sur La Table in the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver sells nesting stainless steel bowls.  They might even sell stainless steel bowls with snap on plastic lids. (Back when I moved to Denver the Cherry Creek Mall was famous for its luxurious ladies rooms with self flushing tiolets.  I guess that's pretty commonplace these days, but it is a trip back into Denver's "cow town" past - because we actually went to the mall to see the ladies rooms. Still fun to go to the mall...) However, I find my vinyl covers or wet towels to be perfectly fine.

It all starts to make sense after awhile.  I find that a lot of the high altitude tips are for really high altitudes like 9,000 or 12,000 ft.  Mile high is nothing.  When you find yourself saying things like "Only 5,000 feet" and meaning it you'll realize it is nothing to be afraid of.   Relax.

Happy Baking!

EvaB's picture

reasonably priced stainless steel bowls of differing sizes at the dollar store, and even china ones, but they have tons of plastics. I avoid plastic unless its Tupperware for bowls because cheaper ones are made in China, and might not be safe even though they are supposed to be, witness the pet food with melamine, and the infant formula problem in China.

I personally like stainless steel or china or glass bowls, and to keep them from being cool (my room temp is not exactly warm in winter) you can wrap them in a nice large bath towel.
I live at half your altitude, and can still have problems with things but the dryness is the worst! We have around 35% humidity (that is where my lungs are happiest and that is usually from November to April) the rest of the year its around 65% unless its raining, I have a dehumidifier to keep the humidity down in summer. So I have to lay wet towels or wrap in plastic to keep the stuff from drying out.