The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

retarding vs. poolish/biga vs. pate fermentee

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badmajon's picture

retarding vs. poolish/biga vs. pate fermentee

I usually put my dough in the fridge overnight right after mixing/kneading in order to get more flavor. However I notice that many bakers use other methods to get more flavor, like a poolish or biga, or some do a pate fermentee instead. What kind of advantage does this approach give over simply popping the whole thing in the fridge overnight?

isand66's picture

Using a starter, sourdough, poolish, etc. adds a more complex flavor profile to the dough.  Each technique has its own unique attributes that you should try for yourself to experience the difference.  Retarding the dough helps as well but when you combine that with using a starter you get an even more complex flavor profile.

This is why I love bread baking since by using the same simple ingredients and varying the time and method of mixing etc. you can create a myriad of different outcomes.


wally's picture

One major advantage associated with poolish is that makes your final dough more extensibe. For certain breads - baguettes for example - this makes shaping them easier. And as isand66 pointed out above, there is a flavor component as well. Poolish imparts a nuttiness to bread that I haven't found replicable if I merely retard either dough or the shaped loaf overnight.


FlourChild's picture

Yes, different pre-ferments give different characteristics- firm starters like biga help boost structure in high-hydration loaves, while the batter-like poolish is thought to enhance protease activity, which helps produce the softer/more extensible dough (as wally points out).  Biga and Poolish can also produce somewhat different flavors, which comes from the different temperatures that they are fermented at. 

Be careful once you start combining long pre-ferments with retardation- when I've done this, I've noticed that too much of a good thing can sometimes produce a dough in which the yeasts have consumed too much of the residual sugars and the dough suffers in flavor, losing richness.

hanseata's picture

FlourChild, I sell my breads to a local store, therefore I do all my mixing the day before, and the bulk fermentation overnight in the fridge. But I use preferments too, making soakers, starters or bigas in the morning, and the final dough in the evening before baking day. No problems at all, they rise and perform just fine. I only reduce the instant yeast a bit.

Especially with whole grain breads I find this longer procedure, preferments and cool bulk fermentation, really coaxes the best flavor out of the ingredients.


Yerffej's picture

Longer fermentations,  for whatever reason,  result in greater acidic activity within the dough which lends itself to improved more complex flavors and a longer shelf life.  The improvement in flavor is significant and you will find people commenting on how good the bread is even if they cannot tell you why they find it to be so good.


badmajon's picture

Hi everyone,

So I did my first bread with poolish and I had a very unexpected result. The texture/crumb was very, very soft. Almost like a hamburger or hotdog bun texture but with larger crumb. I wouldn't say it was unpleasant, but not what I was looking for.

I made a 70% hydration dough (10.5% protein white wheat flour), 33% of it being a 100% hydration poolish which I fermented for about 16 hours.

I hand mixed. Autolysis of 3 minutes, then 10 minutes of hand kneading, a 3 minute break, and then finished it off with another 3 minutes of kneading.

I did a single bulk rise. Then, on the second rise I let it rise for about 30 minutes, did a double stretch and fold (I could really feel the gluten strands tense up with that) without deflating completely, and then put it back in the bowl for another 30 minutes. Then I shaped it into a boule and baked it. It had pretty good surface tension and I think I did a pretty good job on the shaping part.

When put into the oven, the loaf had some amazing oven spring! Probably more than I have ever had before in my history of 70 odd loaves of bread! I was dissapointed though when I cut it open a couple of hours later at dinner, the crumb was rather small (think between BBs and bird shot) and it had an uncharacteristically soft texture.

If anyone can help me understand what happened I would really appreciate it. My only goal right now is to create a good white bread boule with rich flavor, great crust, and a nice open crumb. I'm baking 3-4 times a week, it's an obsession!

dwfender's picture

I see your technique, what are your ingredients? 


How long did you proof it for? 

badmajon's picture

Poolish: 132g flour, 132g water + pinch of yeast, fermented for 16 hours


268g flour
148g water
1 1/8 tsp salt
.75 tsp yeast

First proof was about 1.5 hours. Second was about the same with one stretch and fold in the middle. Final shaping one about an hour.

dwfender's picture

Not sure man. The only things I would think may cause the problem is that maybe the poolish overfermented and the acidity ruined the gluten structure in your final dough? How did it look after 16 hours? did it collapse on itself or was it still holding its own structure? 16 hours is towards the far end of a poolish so the amount of yeast must be tiny for such a long fermentation. 

Did you use all purpose flour or bread flour? 

Also an hour for the final proof may have been a little too much. Perhaps it over proofed and lost its structure again. 

I'm not a pro but this would be where i would start looking if I had those results.