The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

General Discussion about Prefermenting Dough

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

General Discussion about Prefermenting Dough

I've been baking yeasted bread at home for more than forty years; and have always paid particular attention to the life of the yeast. I am now baking bread in four-loaf batches about two or three times a week. I am not particularly interested in "sourdough" bread as such; but I am very interested learning more about prefermenting dough.

Through this site and other baking sites, I've found some fascinating recipes using prefermented dough. But have been unable to find general information and principles.

My general question is: Are there any usually recommended proportions between the prefermented dough and the "baking" dough? For example, My four-loaf batch of bread dough usually includes about 8-9 cups of whole wheat flour (no white) The yeast is usually about 2% of the dough. What would be the quantity of prefermented dough used for a batch? What would be the added dough (with new yeast?) amount in general percentages. Are there useful rules of thumb for expected outcome? i.e. taste, densities, textures, etc.

Also, in general, how many prefermented batches should be made at one time? Same question in different words: How long will a refrigerated batch of prefermented dough last?

I hope my questions are clear. And I am grateful for any and all observations, responses, opinions, etc.

foodslut's picture
foodslut

Just so we're comparing apples to apples:  when most people talk about %'s here, they mean baker's percentages - that's ingredient x's proportion compared to the total amount of flour used, not compared to the total weight of the loaf.

For example, I use a 70% hydration pâte fermentée, or old dough, using 96% white bread flour, 4% bran, 2% salt and 1% instant dry yeast.  I've seen formulas including up to 30% (of the total flour weight) of old dough in the mix - I tend to use between 10 and 15% in my breads (all leavened with instant dry yeast, not sourdough or other similar levain).  I store my old dough in a covered food container in the fridge.

I find the old dough gives it a deeper, more developed flavour than without.  The longer, cooler ferment leads to enzymes and stuff to be created that you don't see with a shorter, more intense ferment.  I'm also told the pre-ferment helps improve the structure of the loaf, but I haven't done side-by-side comparisons.

I do a new batch of old dough every couple of weeks or so, sometimes carrying over a bit of the previous batch to help "seed" the next batch.

Others may have different info, depending on how liquid or solid their preferment is, and what the rest of their baking process/routine is like.

Hope this helps.

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

Thank you, foodslut, for taking the time!

"Just so we're comparing apples to apples", and without confusing ourselves by comparing our varying favorite processes,I am assuming that the "old dough" would use an identical hydration to the "new dough?" Or is there an accustomed difference in hydration?

I do use baker's percentages. However I am still uncertain concerning my ability to properly estimate my usual hydration for two reasons: I have never assigned a "liquid" volume to the six large eggs included; and I am truely uncertain as to how much flour is finally used after all the final kneading to arrive at the proper consistency that I know in my gut. I may actually be using more flour than I claimed. My guess is 60% to 70% hydration. But I am very new to the defined vocabulary used here.

I am also assuming that the expressed percent old dough/new dough is an approximate volumetric relationship without including the yeast gasses.

Once again, thanks.

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... when using preferments.

I am assuming that the "old dough" would use an identical hydration to the "new dough?" Or is there an accustomed difference in hydration?

No, you can mix and match. It makes life simpler for working out hydration levels, if you stick to the same hydration for old dough as new, but that's all. But like many Fresh Loafers, I sometimes use 2 preferments, one of yeast water; one of sourdough, and those of very different hydration levels.

Have you come across the terms "Biga" and "Poolish"? If not, then these different types of preferment will keep you fascinated and busy for a very long time! A biga pre-ferment will give different properties to your bread than a poolish preferment. There is such a wealth of information here about both types of pre-ferment, you can find all the answers you never knew you needed to know (!) just by putting either term in the Search box, top left of this page.

I am also assuming that the expressed percent old dough/new dough is an approximate volumetric relationship without including the yeast gasses.

The expressed percentage of old dough to new dough is by weight, not volume. And specifically by weight of old dough to the flour content of the new dough - not the total dough weight of the new dough. Gas volume doesn't come into it.

I sympathise with your difficulty knowing exactly how much flour and water you are using in a batch of dough, as you are clearly used to doing things by experience and feel. Nothing wrong in that. But you will find it rather difficult using the answers folk give you here, until you start to weigh your ingredients. This isn't so hard, really.

For example, you can weigh out exactly how much flour you mix in your main dough, then set aside a specified weighed extra amount for adding if you feel it necessary. You might not use all of it, of course, but by weighing the flour left at the end, ie not used from this amount, you'll know exactly how much you added - and can thereby arrive at a fixed total for your flour content of that particular batch of dough. The same trick will give you exact water weight.

As to how much preferment to use - well, that's not written in stone. But the more preferment you add, the quicker your main dough will ferment and prove. If you're looking to get a decent rise in your loaf, then you don't want to add too much preferment such that there is insufficient new flour to provide lots of lovely carbon dioxide to aerate the dough.

FWIW, I tend to stick to pre-fermenting around 15%-30% of total flour weight.

All at Sea

foodslut's picture
foodslut

.... I am assuming that the "old dough" would use an identical hydration to the "new dough?" Or is there an accustomed difference in hydration? ....

In my case, most of my breads are in the 70-75% hydration range, but as All At Sea mentioned, they don't HAVE to be identical in hydration.

.... I have never assigned a "liquid" volume to the six large eggs included....

Using baker's percentages, you go by the weight, not the volume, of the eggs.  I find large eggs out of the shell weigh between 52 and 55 grams each, so that about 11 ounces of egg you may not be not including in your calculations.  Unless I'm not reading you right, of course.

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

Thank you, All at Sea!

You have given me much to chew on. That's a compliment, since I prefer chewy tasty bread.

I very much appreciate your style of answering. You provide many choices; and you share your experiences. You imply "This direction tends towards this; and that direction tends towards that." Very helpful.

P.S. In my younger years, I cooked for a living on a "work boat" in the Gulf of Mexico. It definitely created a sense of flexibility.

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... Country Bread Baker!

Flexibility and resourcefulness are qualities all boats seem to foster. Working in the galley for a living, suggests you have excellent sea legs, too!

All at Sea

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

Thank you, foodslut, for the fluid ounce conversion factor for eggs! I will write it in my cookbook.

I will certainly be working to match my vocabulary with the folks on this website because it will help greatly to improve our communications. It will take me time to get it right. We can only guess that my dough is within shouting distance of 65% hydration

Tonight I will be making my first biga/poolish(half and half?) preferment for use in tomorrow's batch. We learn by doing.

I don't know about my sea legs anymore, All at Sea, it's been more than thirty years. I now live very inland, in northern New Mexico.

I am counting on both of you for your prayers (or good feelings) concerning tonight's preferment. I will certainly learn.

Thanks

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... waves of frothy, fervid fermentations, Country Bread Baker.

Beauteous bigas and potent poolishes ... all New Mexico-bound!

All at Sea

foodslut's picture
foodslut

.... even if it doesn't work as you planned - use it to learn from it.

Good luck, and let us know how the pre-ferment adventures go.

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

With you folks' patient permission, I will keep a very small journal of this process. This will provide a printable record for myself. And this will allow comments, observations, suggestions, as folks are inclined.

A bit more than 9 or 10 hours ago, I mixed about 30% of the "usual" yeast( 2 teaspoons)in about 30% of the usual warm water (1/2 cup) and 30% (2 fl. oz.) of the usual cane syrup. After letting this set about 30 min...I then mixed in about 15% of the usual whole wheat flour. This mixture had the approximate texture of loose porridge. Less percentage of flour was chosen because it seems easier for the yeast to act, and easier to mix in later. So I'm guessing this is "half-way" between biga and poolish, if I may be so cavalier with the terminology.

My normal habit/prejudice is to mix in no salt into any yeasted dough until about 70% into the dough process in order to pamper the yeast. In this prefermented dough, I therefore, mixed in no salt.

I let this rise about 30 min again. Then I mixed it flat in order to work out the CO2 and work in more air.

This one and a quarter cup (or thereabouts) mix was then placed in a medium glass bowl with a ceramic plate cover was placed in the refrigerator for overnight.

This morning, I noticed a small (1/2 inch high) dome in the mix. The yeast is alive.

Since I will try the 15% "old dough" suggestion, I am going to base that percentage on the yeast which was mixed in at 30% more or less. So. by that logic, there are two batches of prefermented "old dough". I intend to divide the mix into two halves; and use one today. And save the other for about 2 or 3 days for the next batch.

Question:

Is it better advised to store the prefermented mix in a semi-closed container(non-airtight) such as my bowl and plate; or is it better advised to store in an air-tight container such as tupperware?

Thanks, Friends.

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

Now I have made the choice and mixed the "old dough" into the "new dough". There are still about three rises left.

Many recipes seem to call for the "old dough" to remain separate until the final rise or "proof". I am not certain.

In this case today, the "new dough" was beginning to become dryer than the "old dough". I felt that the overnight old dough would be wetter than the final dough it would be mixed into. I really wanted the mixture between old and new to be complete, so I took the leap. It is now committed.

Time will be the judge.

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

My taste tests will be more demanding tomorrow, after the bread has been overnight in the fridge. My personal bread goal is delicious bread on the second day. Lately I've been meeting that goal.

But tonight, out of the oven, there is a noticable improvement in taste. The loaves rose in volume about 10% or 15% more than usual, but the bread texture was even, with small even yeast "bubbles", and chewy. The yeasty taste is stronger, but not overpowering. The results are very pleasant. The mildly stronger yeast taste is very nice.

For tomorrow, I am cautiously optimistic.

***********************************************************

Second Day – 12 hours in Fridge

The taste is very good; but has me very confused. It is not at all what I expected. I expected sharper and more pungent. Perhaps this is better.

This is not like sourdough at all to me. And to my own tastes, that is good news.

My ability to select words for this will be difficult. The taste here is very subtle. There is no strong or sharp "yeasty" taste as expected. There is a smooth, "creamy", "buttery" taste that is very pleasant once accustomed. (I use olive oil, no butter or other dairy products.) The bread's texture remains even and chewy. There is a "softness" in both texture and taste. This taste comes to the mouth slowly; but once accepted, it "pampers" the palate with its smoothness. But my words are not the right ones. I will be working this process a good deal more.

I have a thousand questions about process choices; but I will wait until my mind gels a bit.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Why?  That's the fast lane to staling.

Paul

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is done on a cooling rack at room temperatures, not in a refrigerator.  Air should circulate around the loaf as it is still giving off steam until cool.  Then wrap in cloth, paper or plastic and left at room temp.  By cooling bread below 10°C into the fridge, the bread is officially stale.  Crumb gel hardens.  Recovery of crumb softness is done by toasting.

Chilled bread will not have the same aroma and flavours as when the bread is kept & eaten at warmer room temperatures.  Same with starters and cold pre-ferments.  Once warmed up the aromas bloom and flavour is more complex.   Cold, they seem very mild.

Emelye's picture
Emelye

The preferment percentages in Peter Reinhart's "Bread Baker's Apprentice" are quite high.  In his "Poolish Ciabatta" formula he uses 169% poolish.  The French Bread formula in this book uses 160% pate fermentee; the Pane Siciliano uses 100%.  For his basic sourdough formula he uses 49% firm starter.  The lesson I take from this is that you can be generous with preferments as long as you tweak the amount of commercial yeast you add with them, since the preferments bring a host of beasties with them into the party.  I use 90% BIGA in a formula for white bread that I developed.

The fun is in the experimenting!  Remember, you can still eat your mistakes and if they come out too bad for that, the birds will most likely bre grateful for the handout!  :D

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

Thank you all for your comments, Folks. They are truly appreciated.

I am self-taught baker; and I live in a remote rural area. I am a retired architect living in Social Security poverty. I am almost a recluse and an unreformed old hippy. I’m Cajun French by heritage; and, therefore inform my own cooking with idiosyncratic processes. I am out of the loop for most gossip.

So in my forty years of home baking, the fact that I’ve only just now heard about the staling properties of refrigeration should come as no surprise. But I hope that I am learning new things on the day that I die. Thank you both, PMcCool and MiniOven, I will certainly do the next batch without refrigerating the loaves. I’ll bet that you are right. It makes intuitive sense. And I have been constructing my own cooling racks.

However, in northern New Mexico, we have a very serious problem with the deer mouse, which is a carrier of the hanta virus—a retro virus responsible for at least one human death a year out here. I am still working on affordable bread storage that is mouse proof. The refrigerator is mouse proof.

Thank you, Emelye, for your comment in regards to the percentage of old dough Peter Reinhardt uses. I am absolutely brand new to preferments. It is good to know how wide the margin of opinion is about the percentages.

But I am confused as to how one can mathematically use a 160% preferment. This old hippy is dumb enough to think that 100% would be tops. But I still use a land-line phone that has no camera attachment nor video games. What do I know?

Does a 40% preferment mean that 40% of the batch is preferment and 60% is "new dough"?

Thank you all.

Country Bread Baker

foodslut's picture
foodslut

So, if a formula, for example, calls for 150% of preferment, you would use 15 ounces of preferment for every 10 ounces of flour (10 x 150% = 15).

All the ingredients in a bakers formula are calculated this way.

Making a bit more sense?

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

Thank you, foodslut.

I think I understand.

In this last batch, the yeast's concentration in the preferment was about twice as strong as the concentration of final batch yeast. But there was 1 cup of preferment flour vs. 9 cups new flour regardless of the yeast concentrations. This means that this formula approximated 11% preferment by conventional vocabulary. Correct?

The assumption being that the preferment yeast concentration will be the same as the "new dough".

I know I will be experimenting a good deal in the future.

Emelye's picture
Emelye

foodslut explained it well.  Thanks!  Baker's math is very unlike the math I was taught in engineering school indeed!  :)  Remember the numbers are just a shorthand for describing proportionality and not meant to come to a discrete answer.

Reinhart varies the amounts of preferment based on his (and his students') experimentation, as far as I can tell, so the actual amount used is apparently dependent on the formula and the flavor profile he is looking for.  Different amounts will affect the flavor of the final loaf in varying degrees, I've noticed.

One thing I do to save time is that I freeze a number of different prefermented doughs so all I have to do is defrost them and throw them into the mix when I need one.  I've done this successfully with biga, pate firmantee and poolish.  Freezing and thawing adds time as well, which can sometimes help the flavor along.  It's just important to make sure the preferment has developed a good bit before freezing and then, when you use it, warmed enough so the final dough isn't too cool.

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

Thank you all again. And thank you, Emelye, for the three-week follow up. My cooking and baking has always been intuitive. But when people start talking "Bakers Math", it is good for an old architect to know that there is an engineer on board to help with the translations. foodslut, you are repeatedly a help.

I've must have recently done some cosmic misstep because something has chased the Goddess of Yeast away, My last couple or three batches have been less than I want to brag about. Edible but not delicious.

So I have two new questions:

- The "Sourdough" recipes I've had access to seem to encourage the addition of the starter into "today's" dough just before the last rise. Is this the very common time to add the preferment? Does this time for inclusion change with poolish, pate firmentee, and biga?

-I'm on a waiting list for a used edition of "The Baker's Apprentice" because folks here seem to feel it is the "go to" book for pre-fermentation info. Are there other good sources? Are there good websites or web pages?

I am always grateful for your opinions and comments.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

as a base and add the rest of the recipe to it.   Especially when all the yeasts are in it.  

What kind of sourdough recipes (flour)(author) are you looking at that mix in the preferment just before the "last rise?" ("Last rise" might not necessarily be the last one if the author of the recipe calls the very last rise a "proof.")  

Country Bread Baker's picture
Country Bread Baker

Thank you, Mini Oven.

I have not been attempting to make Sourdough as such. It is just that my own experiments with preferment have resulted in results that are confusing to me; so I've done a cursory internet search that landed upon a number of random "sourdough" recipes (which I have now lost). These random, lost recipes recommended adding the preferment very late in the rising sequence; and I forget the exact wording.

My experiments have not been "unsuccessful", just confusing.

In the past I have always used a one-day, all-day process. I activate the yeast from the beginning, very much baby the yeast with a generous amount of sweetener (cane syrup), and use no salt until late in the kneading process. This has been resulting in a very "alive" yeasty taste that myself and others have much enjoyed. So I've been motivated to learn more about yeast and preferment.

The preferment that I've been working with has been a very "slimy" very soft ball--closer to a poolish than a biga, I am guessing.

I at first experimented with the yeast very similar to your method. The preferment was part of the initial mixing process--right at the beginning. This resulted in a "creamy" pleasant taste that was more subtle than the accustomed taste. I then tried adding the preferment in the middle of the process. This resulted in a similar subtle taste. The breads have been good; but I became confused.

So, I've become interested in how one adjusts the taste. Hence my search through "sourdough" recipes.

My assumed answer is that I simply need to learn much more about the whole range of the preferment processes.

My confusion is probably that of a beginner.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It is my understanding that preferments are made adding commercial yeast and sourdoughs are a different slower yeast/bacterial culture altogether.  Sourdough bread recipes that adds a delayed preferment (with yeast) is something I haven't yet tried.  I have taken sourdoughs and added instant yeast to speed up the ferment after seeing too slow a rise in the sourdough.  That was done before the last proof simply because I didn't think my dough could take any more slow fermentation and in danger of over-proofing.  I have also taken yeast bread doughs and added very ripe sourdough (wet or dried) to kick out a little extra flavour.  

One of my favorite methods to boost flavour is simply wetting the flour and letting it sit 8 - 24 hrs and then adding the yeast and rest ingredients to raise the dough when I'm ready for it.     There are many ways to affect the flavour of dough.  

One way of looking at bread and flavours is to look at what's really happening.  When grain or flour is moisturized it begins to decompose to return to to basic elements.  It goes thru steps of fermentation which give off flavours and aromas.  Yeast and bacteria attack and speed up decomposition.  So does warmth and enzymes.  Some sooner than others.  Some stronger than others.  We stop the process of decomposition when we feel we've trapped enough gasses baking the dough into bread.  Ferment too long, the dough decomposes breaking down before we get it baked.  That's your time window to play with your dough, from wetting flour to it falling apart.  :)  

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Good Afternoon,

I am late to the discussion and haven't read through all the comments so forgive me if I am repeating what has already been said.

I use 100% whole wheat in all of my breads and the method that I discovered a couple of years ago made a huge difference in the outcome in my loaves.  All came from the book Whole Grain Breads by Peter Reinhart.  Sounds as though you aren't close to a library where you could check a copy out....He does a great job explaining about the different pre ferments as they specifically relate to whole wheat commercially yeasted as well as with wild yeast breads

I did find a thread here of someone who also has a blog where she has his basic ww recipe written out so am attaching it HERE so you can give it a try yourself and see if you like the results as much as I do.

Have fun  :-)

Janet