The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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Janetcook's picture


I bake exclusively with whole grains that I mill myself and I have used Peter Reinhart's method of using 2 preferments when preparing my dough. (A soaker which is flour, water and a bit of salt. And a biga which is flour, water and a bit of yeast or a sour dough starter)

I am branching out now trying formulas from other bakers and one thing I have run across is that of using sponges, poolishes and pate ferments in their breads.  All are used to enhance the flavor and strengthen the dough since the formulas I am looking at use primarily bread flour or all purpose flour as their main flour.  (Minimal whole grains used....)

I am thinking that using the suggested preferments is exactly what I am already doing using Peter Reinhart's method but I am not sure since the ingredients do vary a bit as do the hydration levels.  (Peter uses the 2 preferments in what he calls the 'epoxy method' to strengthen the dough, enhance flavor by allowing the enzymes extra time to work before fermentation takes place and to soften the bran to create a softer crumb.)

Because I use only whole grains I generally modify other formulas to fit into his style but I am wondering if the difference in the preferments effects the flavor and therefore I should not modify the formulas but I just don't know....soaking is soaking isn't it?

Anybody have any experience with comparing preferments and the final outcome of breads using whole grains exclusively?

Thanks for any insights....


lbcheatham's picture

I don't really use whole grains alot, but I do know a little about preferments. Firmer preferments are going to bring more strength to bread and often produce a much meatier chew. The higher the hydration level the more chemical activity that is allowed to go on, which in turn can allow much more flavor in the end but will give you a different style bread. I have found that biga or firm preferments tend to give much more of a yogurty flavor to the bread. Where as poolish or thin preferments can give more of a tanginess. 

Hope this helps. Best advice is just try it out. Don't forget to change your formulas hydration when switching to a different hydration of preferment.



Janetcook's picture

Thanks for the reply.  Somehow I missed your response the other day and luckily I found it just now.

What you say makes sense as to how it will impact the dough.  I know that is similar to using firm vs more liquid sour doughs too.

Always something new to experiment with!

Take Care,


ehanner's picture

What a great question Janet. I hope you get some activity on your question. I'm not an expert in this area although I have baked a fair amount using the Reinhart "Epoxy" method and some other authors who use a Mash/Soaker to activate the enzymes.  To your question-

I am wondering if the difference in the preferment's effects the flavor and therefore I should not modify the formulas but I just don't know....soaking is soaking isn't it?

The basic answer is no. The technique used, temperature profile and ingredient all will effect the outcome. The use of a soaker or soakers in a bread is designed to influence the outcome. A Borodinski Rye wouldn't be the same if you didn't scald the soaker. That isn't to say you shouldn't experiment with the procedure or hydration, it just won't be the classic bread. In stead of thinking in terms of changing the formulas, why don't you look in the areas of Old World Breads by authors who will expose you to various preferment's that change the flavor profile favorably. Any change you make will affect the flavor in some way the same as changing the grain or seed profile. Adding flax to your whole grain mix will add a nuttiness but only if it is first soaked overnight.

Daniel Leader's "Local Breads" would be a good place to start.

There are so many variables in technique and ingredients I couldn't give you a statement that "for this do that", you really need to experiment and read old breads styles. I hope this has been of some help in answer to your question.


Janetcook's picture

Thanks for the response Eric.  

I do have the 'Local Breads' book but have hesitated using it - in fact I was just going through it again this week - due to all of the errors in it.  I checked out the threads that discussed the issues and in the end Leader stopped responding and no complete copy of the errors was ever made available  and there has been no 2nd edition of the book.....I even emailed him last week in an attempt to see if there is now a complete list (The discussion was from a few years back....).  I have gotten no response.

So, to try to get a better understanding here - you think that even using whole grains that are full of flavor - using specific preferments will change the outcome.  I guess if I were to take a formula and convert it to the PR method and bake it next to the original method there would be a difference in flavor despite the fact that the ingredients are the same....

I am chuckling because as I typed that last sentence I just experienced a light bulb moment.....duhhhhh......The moment opened up a vast array of loaves that are created out of just flour, salt, a leavening agent and water......all different based on what you stated above.....

I was getting hung up on the fact that most of the authors I have been reading use the preferments to get more flavor out of breads that don't use whole the flour they are using doesn't have much flavor because the bran and germ have been removed....Soaking etc.  helps to those types of flours develop more flavor which enhances the final loaf.....

Now I get that all grains - whole or otherwise - can be influenced by different preferments....

Thanks for your help.  I will revisit Local Breads.

Take Care,


MangoChutney's picture

I bake bread using only whole grain flour.  I use a two-part system, inspired by a suggestion in Tartine Bread which the author did not demonstrate.  I started from my 100% whole wheat sourdough recipe, which also contains flax and sesame seeds.  The starter portion of the recipe I continue to make as usual, fermenting it overnight on the counter-top.  The entire rest of the flour I put to soak overnight in the refrigerator, along with all of the seeds, in all of the remaining liquid.  In the morning I combine the starter, the soaker, and the salt.  From there I continue as usual except that I skip a 30-minute autolyse which has been replaced by the soaking.

The bread produced by this is softer and more flexible than the bread produced using the 30-minute autolyse.  It makes good sandwich bread when baked in a loaf pan, which was my intent.  Below is a hearth pan loaf baked with steam, and a 9x5 pan loaf baked without steam.

Yesterday I attempted a freeform loaf with this method, my first except for some rather miserable ciabatta that I attempted early on in my sourdough experimentation.  Again, it made a good sandwich bread.  The different color is because it contained orange juice and turmeric, and lacked the seeds.

I do not know if one can get artisan bread appearance for the crumb using this dough, because I do not aspire to that goal.

Making a soak portion by combining all of the liquid ingredients with all of the flour, with the exception of what goes into the leavening portion, and soaking it overnight in the refrigerator, is not going to ruin the bread.  It won't make exactly the same bread as the original recipe, but it isn't going to make something horrible.  What it may very well do is make 100% whole grain flour more usable in a recipe that calls for some or all of the flour to be refined.

Experimenting is half of the fun of baking bread, the other half being eating the bread afterward.  Don't be afraid to try techniques that you already know work, on recipes that aren't quite in keeping with your goals.  The worst thing that can happen is you have some bread for making stuffing, bread pudding, or bread crumbs.  More likely you will have yet another delicious loaf.  For gaining new soaking techniques, seeking out recipes like those mentioned by ehanner is a good approach to take.

Janetcook's picture

Thank you for the reply.  What you are describing is what Peter Reinhart does in his book 'Whole Grain Breads'.  Have you seen a copy of that book?  It is full of great formulas all based on whole grains only.  Like you say - they are very tasty :-).

Take Care,


MangoChutney's picture

No, I don't have that book.  I started with dribs and drabs from older cookbooks, which do not focus on 100% whole grain bread, nor on sourdough.  I tried a few online recipes with indifferent success, mostly due to my insistence on leaving out any refined flour and using sourdough, and decided that I needed more books.  These are the modern references I am working from.

  • Laurel Robertson's The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, which uses 100% whole grain but has very few sourdough recipes, and those all depend on a Desem starter made by a rather esoteric procedure
  • Emily Buehler's Bread Science, which gave me the science I needed for a more rational understanding of bread dough
  • an online document by Jonathan Kandell, which demystifed Desem and was the key to my initial success at making 100% whole wheat sourdough bread which was actually taller than it was wide
  • KAF's Whole Grain Baking, which turned out to be a somewhat diffuse source for specifically 100% whole wheat sourdough bread, but has a large number of whole grain baked goods although a number use AP flour as well
  • George Greenstein's Secrets of a Jewish Baker, which has lots of good bread-making tips and lots of sourdough although mostly rye-based, but uses entirely volume measurements and also quite a bit of refined flour
  • Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread, which was the next step in my progress, in that he suggested the soaking step for the whole wheat version of his bread although he does not make it that way

After that, it has been a matter of experimenting until I could reproduce my results with a particular set of ingredients, baking pan, and oven temperatures.  I was making 12", 4-lb loaves but have gone to smaller ones on account of the heat and humidity here in this season.  The loaves were starting to mold before we finished them.  The positive side-effect is that I can experiment more because I am baking twice as often.

In the process of this whole affair, I ended up buying a manual grain mill, followed by an electric grain mill, and recently a manual grain flaker.  I keep on hand whole oats, whole wheat in three types, and whole barley.  So far I have only used the barley for cooking, in place of rice or wheat.  I do have some old malt left in the basement, from my beer-brewing days, which I may try to incorporate into some baked goods.  I had to throw out the canned syrup because the cans were swollen, but the dry malt and the malt sugar were stored in plastic and may be okay.

Along the way, I have learned to make whole wheat pasta, which in terms of hydration is just flattened bagels with no yeast, and realized that gravy is just thin porridge made with drippings.  I also explored more of the by-ways of fermentation than I had previously.  I now make my own milk kefir and water "kefir", which led back into baking when I mixed some applesauce and some of both kefirs into some of my sourdough starter.  This made a sweet batter for cinnamon buns.   The cheese I make from the milk kefir makes a fine spread for the bread, and the whey from that goes into my bread dough.  Everything has begun connecting to everything else, and it all tastes good to eat or to drink, and it is healthy.  Even one of my failed kefir experiments, which involved orange juice, produced some wonderfully fragrant vinegar that I can use to cook meats. 

My next goals are to try making fermented cole slaw, and perhaps try baking with some rye.

I have found this forum to be a good source of many ideas.  There are so many different things that I could try, that I am actually relieved when something is clearly outside my inclinations, such as building a WBO or lining my oven with tiles.  We already cannot possibly eat as many things as I would like to try to bake.  *laugh*

Janetcook's picture

Thanks for the response.  

I just finished reading the article by J. Kandell - the one item on your list that I was not familiar with.  Nice and straight forward.  Reminds me of Mike Avery over on Sourdough Home.

I started baking in ernest a little over a year ago.  Prior to that time the only bread baking book I owned was Laurel's first bread book.  I used her basic ww recipe for about 15 years.....Somehow I found Peter Reinhart's and it revolutionized my baking. ( I am surprised you don't have that one on your list as it is exclusively whole grain.) It provided  a very easy transition into sourdough as most all of the formulas in the book can be baked with SD rather that CIY. His SD instructions are very similar to Kandell's though his hydration level is 75% as that is the HL for most of his breads.

In my initial post I mentioned that I convert many formulas now to his method of using a biga/starter and a soaker and I get great results.  A lot of the formulas I have been converting are from Laurel's new bread book.....It has been out for some years now but I didn't know about it until just last year....Her's lend themselves well to his method which I prefer due to the longer soaking time for the grains.  I prefer using SD too and her's are easy to switch to SD and they taste great!  (Just made her Raisin Rye yesterday and people say it is wonderful.)

Not sure if you are familiar with txfarmer's blogs on whole grain sandwich breads but she has also converted Laurel's formulas to SD and the results are super.

I agree that one thing leads into another.  My one simple loaf has turned into many now thanks to the input from many bakers who blog here and the those who have published books in recent years dedicated to educating home bakers in the science behind their methods.

I like your closing statement but will add a word or never know when the inclination to build your own WFO will hit!  (I was NEVER going to attempt using SD......)  You just haven't lined your oven YET......I bought 2 baking stones for mine - never would have done that before reading about it here....just had to try it out myself and I am glad I did.  :-)

My family can't keep up with my baking so my overflow goes to neighbors, friends, the mailman, the garbage men, the local Ace Hardware name just a few of my resources for my excess......

Thanks for your input :-)

Take Care,