The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

sourdough preferment

dazzer24's picture

sourdough preferment

Hi all

I've been baking sourdoughs a couple of months and messed about with all sorts of variables. Lots of starter,little starter,short fermentation/long prove after shaping, fridge proving,warm water, cold water and many more. I've a tendency to change more than one variable at once too which doesnt help evaluation! Just cant help myself;)

Anyway current method

Mix 50g starter, 200g flour and 125g of water. Cover and ferment at approx 70f for approx 16 hours.

Mix the fermented batch with 304g flour and 221g water achieving 70% hydration(my starter is 100%)

Making 900g in total

Knead this mixture for 10 to 15 mins adding 8g of salt after 10 mins or so.

Pop back in bowl and do 3 stretch and folds at approx 40 min intervals

I then split the dough in two for 2 mini loaves. degass a little then preshape into boules. Final shape 10 mins later.

Into baskets, into plastic bags and prove at 70f for about 2 hours.

Bake! Im lucky to have an oven with multifunction including bottom heat only function..this has transformed my ability to achieve bloom/ I've realised it anyway!

I bottom heat for first 10/12mins, then fan only 15 mins,then off the stone and 5 to 10 mins with top and bottom heat to crisp up the bottom as well.

I suppose in am I doing? My loaves look great(in my opinion-feel free to critique!), have a nice rich flavour, soft texture and lovely fruity aroma-not that much sour flavour though.

I'm thinking should I be bulk fermenting the whole dough? I suppose currently I'm simply feeding a small amount of starter and letting it grow overnight..? I think i read somewhere yeasts grow more rapidly at room temps but the lactobacillus are responsible for more of the sour notes and these develop more(or more in proportion to the yeasts) when in the fridge. Have I got this right? 

I had previously been fermenting the whole dough for 4-5 hours and then shaping and proving overnight in the fridge. This has the advantage of course of being able to bake first thing in the morning but seems a little less controllable?

Sorry I'm writing an epic here! I'll stop now and be very grateful for any thoughts/feedback.

Cheers and thanks for your patience. Hopefully I'll be able to help people day!


clazar123's picture

The proof is in the pudding (or loaf). Your bread looks awesome and sounds like it tastes good,too. "Sourdough" starter does not necessarily make bread taste sour and it sounds like that is what is happening here.

The only comment I have is that I just bought a Brod and Taylor proofer which allows me to hold my newly fed starter , my preferment and  also my loaves while proving at a steady 80F. This has made a very noticeable improvement in the yeast developing in the starter and preferment and also the loaves proving more quickly. My kitchen is 65F this time of year and it really makes a difference. Just that few degree difference has made a big difference in the yeast population vs the lactos.

 I know there are German Ryes that have numerous steps in building a starter through different hydrations and temps in order to build different balances of yeast and lactos.This is so they can to achieve the desired taste profile. Too much work for me!

So develop a process that works for you-seems you already have!

dazzer24's picture

Hi there

thanks very much for your comments they're much appreciated. I might have to look into one of these proofers. Do you know if available in uk? I'm becoming addicted. Don't feel quite right at the moment if I've neither prepped nor baked on any given day!

i take the point about sourness not being essential/always there. I may get another starter going and try that against my first one. I did start the first one with some grated apple. Although now a couple of months old is it possible that's still contributing to sourdough flavour ie appley yeasts dominating? Not very technical I know!



dabrownman's picture

36 F or high temps 88 F  the Labs reproduce at more than 3 times the rate of yeast but ,t low temps, the Labs and yeast reproduce much slower than at 88 F.  Labs are 35 times lower and yeast is 24 times slower.  So, to encourage sour;  when you build your starter, use whole rye and put it in the fridge for 2-3 days then, build the levain using whole rye and refrigerate it for 2-3 days.   This should help innoculate the dough with as many Labs and as few yeasts as possible giving the dough a head start on making sour.

Then make the bread using what ever other flours you want and bulk ferment it in the fridge for as long you can, until it doubles, then let it warm up for about an hour or so before shaping.  Then proof it at 88F - it won't take too long at that temp - hour or maybe a little more.  This will give you the most sour in the bread that your starter has to give - if it has any Labs in it.    At least that is my experience.  Others may have different experiences with making sour.

You can use a heating pad like I do until you get your proofer.  I modulate the heat with layers of kitchen towels.  Works well and is easy enough.

Happy baking

dazzer24's picture

Wow Dabrownman that's some detail! Hopefully I'll have the time to take such care one day. I'll certainly take some good tips from you. 

Thanks again


FlourChild's picture

I suppose in am I doing? 

Awesome!  Those loaves look just perfect to me.  Your process is well-designed to create a loaf that has complex flavors but is not overly sour- this is my favorite style of sourdough bread, the one I most often try to achieve. 

 I'm thinking should I be bulk fermenting the whole dough?

Sounds like you already are- 120 minutes during stretch and folds.

I think i read somewhere yeasts grow more rapidly at room temps but the lactobacillus are responsible for more of the sour notes and these develop more(or more in proportion to the yeasts) when in the fridge. Have I got this right? 

It's more complex than that- last week I made a mild sourdough loaf that was proofed overnight in the fridge.  Other factors, I find, are more important than fridge time for creating sour.  I view the fridge mostly as a way to make schedules work out.

A few thoughts:

In my experience, the two most important factors in creating sour are 1) the acid content of your sourdough culture , and 2) a longer bulk ferment.  So if your goal is to take the current bread and make it more sour, do two things.

Use a fully mature culture with a little whole grain.  You know that 50g of seed starter that you use to mix your levain?  Make sure you are using it late in the feed cycle- after it has peaked and then flattened.  Several feeds leading into the bread making should also be similarly timed.  Using the starter earlier in the cycle will produce a less sour loaf.  Here the refrigerator has more of a role- if you store your starter in the fridge, the cold temps and long stretches between feeds will naturally tip the ratio of yeast to LABs in favor of acid.  I prefer a milder sourdough, so I do a few room temp feeds to revive the yeast, but if you want more sour, a little fridge time might help.

Another thing that will put more acid in your starter is to introduce a small amount of whole grain, either wheat or rye.  The bran acts as a buffer so that the LABs have to work harder/ longer.  However, this only works if you let the starter mature well past its peak, until it has fallen.  And you have to be careful to use a larger seed/feed more often with whole grain, so that you don't end up leaving the culture vulnerable to infection.  

Extend the bulk ferment.   This really works.  Even when I do everything else to create a mild sourdough, if I let the bulk ferment go on for an extra hour or two, it creates a tangy bread.  For my doughs and cultures, a bulk ferment that lets the dough rise to 1.5x its volume produces a complex, but not sour, flavor.  Letting the dough rise to double produces moderate sour- discernable but still well-balanced with other flavors.  Letting it go past double produces a sour bread, which I don't care for.  If you're doing the stretch and folds throughout the bulk ferment, volume won't follow these guidelines.  I usually aim to get my folds done in the first hour or 90 minutes so that I can use volume as an indicator. 

Finally, a thought on temperatures.  To my way of thinking they are like fine-tuning, you can get more acid by going to 85-90F or by cooling off to 60F or below, and yeast activity is maximized (relative to LAB) at about 78-81F.  But I find these of secondary importance to other factors in determining acid content:  I have made breads that were bulk fermented at 80F and yet sharply acidic, and I've made breads that were proofed in the fridge and came out nice and mild, just the way I like them.

Hope that helps!


dazzer24's picture


Just wanted to apologise for not thanking both Flourchild and Poorlittlefish for not responding. I was called away quite suddenly for a few weeks and have had very little internet access.

Flourchild Im really very grateful you went to so much trouble to respond so fully.

I'm currently confusing myself a bit after purchasing the new edition of Hamelmans Bread. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there much of which, at least in my opinion, is understandable to amateurs/homebakers. I'm not really that clear though on the impact using a stiff or a liquid starter has? I'm keeping both at the moment but I'm not really seeing much difference in flavours. Hamelman alludes to different enzymes working differently in liquid and stiff states but I dont fully understand it.

 Also I find 125% for a liquid starter just seems to peak very quickly and then cover in watery suspension very quickly so I've gone back to 100% on that which just seems altogether more vibrant. 

As regards a stiff starter-if a recipe calls for a stiff levain could one not take a liquid starter, adjust the amounts of flour and water and turn it into the stiff levain called for? With 12-16 hours development in the levain surely there would be very little difference in a stiff levain made with liquid starter or stiff starter? I think I might just try that!



AZBlueVeg's picture


I'm somewhat new to bread baking and I've done quite a bit of experimenting. I like a really flavorful bread with a slightly sour tang that lingers on your palate long after you've finished eating. I can get this result beautifully now that I know how, but using the pre-ferment method is not a way (at least for me) to get there. The problem? You are only fermenting a small portion of your total flour in a recipe that calls for a pre-ferment. Forget the pre-ferment and just ferment the whole thing at ambient temps! I also find that increasing the amount of starter does not add anything to the sourness or flavor, but instead makes for a pretty dull tasting loaf.

My ambient temps are 72-80 degrees depending on time of day, so please keep that in mind. Here is my recipe:

  • 525 grams unbleached AP flour
  • 10 grams active sourdough starter (not a typo)
  • 360 grams filtered water
  • 10 grams salt

Whisk starter into water until dissolved. Add flour, salt and combine with hands or dough wisk until mixed through and shaggy. Let rise in a covered container for 12 hours, but make sure your container's lid is loose to allow CO2 to escape during fermentation. The dough should at least double in volume during this time. DO NOT KNEAD OR STRETCH/FOLD YET! DO NOT REFRIGERATE YOUR DOUGH!

After dough has fermented for 12 hours (varies based on room temp and amount and sourness of starter), I turn it out onto a floured granite slab. The dough will be very soft, smooth, pliable but very sticky. Dust the top with some flour, flour your hands, and gently flatten and spread the dough into a circle the size of a large pizza crust. Fold the dough on itself using the technique of your choice, in the end you should have a nice, folded piece of dough resting on your board. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.

After the folded dough has rested for 15 minutes, gently pick up the dough in your hands and shape into a round boule. As you make the boule and form the ball in your hands, make sure you are slightly stretching the surface and forming a ball with a tight gluten sheath. You'll end up gathering up the dough underneath the boule. The shaping should take less than a minute.

Place the dough (gathered side down, smooth side up) into a floured banneton basket and let rise for 2-3 hours until doubled or passes the poke test. Invert banneton onto a pizza peel and place into a cloche pre-heated to 450F. Or place on a pre-heated pizza stone and cover with a roasting pan. Or bake in a covered, pre-heated dutch oven. Bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake for another 10-15 minutes until crust achieves a nice, dark caramel color. Turn off oven, crack the door open and let the bread sit for an additional 10 minutes.

Using this method is simple, requires no kneading, and creates a sourdough bread that is utterly delicious, full of flavor, with a well rounded sourness that is mild and lingers after you've finished eating. This is what I call good eats!

AZBlueVeg's picture

Sorry, here is a photo of my latest bake this morning:

dazzer24's picture

Hi Az

Great looking bread. Thanks for sharing your method. The more one heres from other people and their own methods, the more one realises there are lots of different ways to make it work!



FlourChild's picture

Re: your question about hydration of your ongoing culture, there is a somewhat milder flavor associated with 100% hydration cultures and a more complex, slightly stronger flavor associated with drier (60%) cultures. I have not found the popular wisdom- liquid cultures produce less acid than firm ones- to be true. Bulk fermentation length has a much stronger influence on acid than hydration of the starter culture.

So what does hydration matter? One of those enzymes that Hamelman refers to is protease, which attacks proteins and produces a more easily stretched dough, helpful for shaping breads like pizza and baguette. But it's a small detail. I make pizza from a firm sourdough culture all the time and find that a long rest/fermentation before shaping is all that is needed for me to be happy with the dough. And I like the flavor of my 60% culture.

If you're keeping both liquid and firm cultures right now, I would say pick whichever one you like the smell/flavor of and find easiest to maintain (for me, this is a 60% hydration culture), and go with that one. If you come across a recipe that needs a different hydration, you can just add more or less water for a feed or two before making that bread. Your enzyme and flavor profile won't switch over completely in that time, but it's a small detail and probably not worth keeping two starters.

dazzer24's picture

Hi flour child
Thanks again for very interesting and helpful comments. I shall plough on gathering information like a crop as I go thanks to helpful people like yourself. Currently I seem to have lost the lovely holes you see in the bread above. I've introduced long autolyse but perhaps I'm then kneading too much after this?
We shall see!
All the best

FlourChild's picture

A long autolyse is great for activating enzymes and raising sugar content of bread, and your instinct to reduce kneading a bit after a long autolyse is spot on. You might also be careful with shaping, that you are not degassing the loaf too much.

Good luck!