The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What is the maximum preferment percentage in finished dough?

cranbo's picture

What is the maximum preferment percentage in finished dough?

Most recipes I've seen at somewhere hovering between 20-25% of flour weight. I recently read someones recipe that was using a 30% preferment and I thought it was a bit high. 

At some point, I imagine, once you reach an upper limit (say 50%?) your dough quickly changes to the preferment.

So I have 2 questions:

  1. Is there a theoretical (or practical) maximum to the amount of pre-ferment that should constitute a finished dough? 
  2. Anyone bake bread with 30% preferment or higher? If so, what are some of the pros/cons, and outcomes of that bread?


Emelye's picture

Peter Reinhart won the James Beard competition with a loaf that contained about 80% preferment or starter.  I guess the allowable amount would be relative to the other ingredients, the age and type of preferment and the desired result.

That's what I fond so fascinating about bread baking.  There's so much you can experiment with. Of course, that kind of variability can make ya crazy too!

cranbo's picture

80%? Wow that seems high, I'd love to see his recipe & formula. I wonder what the outcome might be?

Yes, I agree, all the variables are what makes baking so fun for me too. 

Thanks for the feedback!

Bread Breaddington's picture
Bread Breaddington

I often go up to near 50% for my baguettes and almost any other bread that a preferment would suit. I like the flavor it brings and it seems to help keep the crumb light and airy. Works for me.

subfuscpersona's picture

Are you familiar with Lehay's no-knead bread? When you think about it, it is essentially 100% preferment (flour, water, salt and a pinch of yeast, fermented for up to 18 hours at room temperature).

I routinely make a flax seed pan bread that has 65% prefermented flour (the prefermented flour is in a biga preferment). Recipe works reliably, good rise, good flavor.

However, I think most of us on this thread are thinking of preferments made with commercial yeast. Would be interested in hearing from sourdough starter bakers re. what percent of refreshed levain they commonly use.

cranbo's picture

subfuscpersona, thanks for your feedback.

I am familiar with Lahey's no-knead, I've made it and built other recipes around his technique. His recipe via Bittman is where I (like many) acquired the idea of baking in a cast iron pot, which was a significant change in my baking experience.  

...but I don't think Lahey's recipe counts in this case, because it's not a preferment, it's just a straight dough with a single, long, slow fermentation. Preferment in my mind means a dough (flour/water/yeast) that's prepared separately and added to the straight dough at the time of mixing of straight dough ingredients. 

yes, the question is really the same, whether commercial vs. sourdough: what percentage is maximum? 




Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

...epoxy method with whole grain breads uses 44%% of the recipe's flour to make a biga.  A soaker is used with most of the remaining whole grain flour.  The percentage of total flour that the total weight of the biga represents is 84%.

That method is my favorite for whole grain breads.


rjerden's picture

The Rosetta rolls I make typically call for a 12-20 hr biga which comprises 80-90% of the final dough. According to sources, this makes the dough more extensible, critical to getting the rolls hollow. Commercial bakeries often use an enzymatic dough conditioner containing L-cysteine to accomplish the same goal either with or w/o a biga.

cranbo's picture

thanks for the examples folks, very informative. 

Now you got me thinking about trying a bake with a lot of preferment...

It will be fun to push it to the limit and see what happens. 

Are there any special steps to take or consider when working with 50%+ of preferment in the final dough?

I imagine these kinds of final dough ferment very quickly, so perhaps longer, cooler ferment? Or extremely short room temp (or warmer) ferments? 

subfuscpersona's picture

cranbo on Feb 8 wrote:
Are there any special steps to take or consider when working with 50%+ of preferment in the final dough?...I imagine these kinds of final dough ferment very quickly, so perhaps longer, cooler ferment? Or extremely short room temp (or warmer) ferments?

Some observations based on my formula for pan bread with flax seed (which has 65% prefermented flour from a biga) -

> retarding the final dough overnight in the 'frig does not improve flavor. I attribute this to the high percentage of prefermented flour in the biga. In the same vein, using a "longer, cooler ferment" for the final dough should be unnecessary.

> rising times for the final dough are not appreciably shortened. I attribute this to the fact that the overall percentage of instant dry yeast (in the biga and the final dough) is low (about 0.7%).

I don't have a proofing box, so the dough just rises at the ambient temperature of my kitchen (which has varied between mid-60s to low 70s F over the past few months). Bulk ferment is from 2 - 3 hours and final proof in the pans is 1&1/2 - 2 hours. The biga is cool (from the refrigerator) when added to the final ingredients, so the dough temperature is slightly on the cool side at the beginning, which can account for the rising times I've observed.

Optionparty's picture

An article from 2007 "A Bigger Biga?" 600% pre-ferment.


cranbo's picture

I'll have to try this one. To me this basically means that with some care, there are no real maximum limitations to the amount of preferment that can be added to a final dough. 

sarafina's picture

I almost always use a poolish.


I check the recipe I am using and based on the liquid content I try to get around a cup of water and a cup of flour and a pinch of yeast into the poolish. Some recipes won't allow for that because they don't have a full cup of water in them. In that case I scale back.

When I mix the dough I just add in the remaining flour and liquid that hasn't already gone into the poolish. I can't tell from comments if you all are doing it like this or not.

So when I make a loaf of french I make the 1 cup, 1 cup, 1 pinch poolish and then the next day add another 1/2 c water and 2 1/2 c flour and salt and yeast. I think that makes the poolish around 40% or so.