The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Preferment

Kneads_Love's picture
Kneads_Love

Sourdough Preferment

I have seen (at least) two types of recipes…

One calls for a preferment which is made the night before and makes up only a portion of the total weight of the dough’s water and flour.

For example…

  • 2 oz Sourdough Starter (fed 12 hours previously and left out on counter. i.e. just starting to sag)
  • 3 oz Water
  • 5 oz Flour 

This is mixed and sits overnight before being added into a recipe. 

The second type (i.e. Pan Au Levain) calls for mixing the entire dough (all the flour, water, starter, salt, etc) and putting in the fridge overnight.

When is it appropriate to mix up a preferment as a component, and when should I simply ferment the entire dough recipe?

Today I am making a brioche dough enriched with eggs, sugar, and oil. Since I did not know how all of these extra ingredients would react with the starter, I chose to create the above preferment. Not sure if that was the best way to do it or not.

Also, most sourdough preferments (and Pan Au Levain recipes) call for letting the dough sit over night in the fridge. But standard preferments are left on the counter. I left my Sourdough Preferment on the counter.

Is it better to refrigerate the sourdough preferment or leave on counter at room temp? 

Thanks

Kneads_Love

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

I mix one-third of my flour, and the appropriate water, into my sourdough starter, and leave it to pre-ferment overnight on the countertop. The other two-thirds of the flour is left overnight, on the countertop, to pre-soak with the rest of water and some yogurt. In the morning I save out my starter from the pre-ferment, add salt to the pre-soak, and mix the two halves. A little kneading and a little oil, and it's dough.

Everything goes faster in the summertime when it is 80 degrees F in here overnight, instead of 65 degrees F as it is in the wintertime. I still leave everything on the countertop but, instead of 12-plus hours, I try to leave it around 8 hours. This is aided by the cats getting us up at the break of dawn, which in the summertime comes quite early.

Kneads_Love's picture
Kneads_Love

I have been thinking about this and I have come to the conclusion that the preferment, as I describe it above, is nothing more than an “overnight correction” to convert my 100% hydration starter into a 66% hydration starter. (After all, at the end of the day, the starter is just some combination of flour and water infected with a yeast culture.) So, there may not be any added-value in creating a Sourdough “preferment”, since its nothing more than propagating the Starter to the needed hydration for the recipe.

Perhaps a better question is: Does the hydration of the starter actually matter to quality of the bread?

Let me clarify here, OF COURSE the ratio of flour to water in the starter matters, but if you’re willing to do a little math and adjust the weights of the additional flour and water that will be added to create the dough, does it make a difference to the taste or texture of the bread if we use a 60%, 100%, or 125% hydration starter?

Kneads_Love

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

It has been said that the ratio of yeast to lactic acid bacteria varies according to the hydration of the propagated starter. This should change the flavor of the resulting bread. Some rye breads use multiple steps at different hydrations in order to obtain a more complex flavor by favoring different micro-organisms at different stages. I have tried with variable success to do that with my wheat bread, but mostly I just keep my starter at the same hydration as my final dough because it is easier for me to blend mixtures which have the same hydration level. There are fewer lumps for me to deal with.

I would think that the texture of the bread would be a result of the hydration of the dough and the handling it receives, rather than the hydration of the starter. Additional ingredients such as milk or oil will also affect texture.

In my opinion, whatever hydration starter a person maintains, if the person is happy with their bread then that works for them. It is easy enough to play with that variable, and see if you a) get a different result and b) like that result.