The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Using commercial yeast with starter... and other questions.

mikeofaustin's picture

Using commercial yeast with starter... and other questions.

I noticed there are some recipes that require commercial yeast in addition to making an overnight biga, While others don't use commercial yeast and depend only on the starters yeast. Why is this? More of a rise? would there not be a trade off between taste?

Also, what's more preferrable, a biga or a poolish (I'm guessing it would depend on your desired final hydration level?)

Also, I've noticed that some recipes have simple proofed starter added directly, and then just waited for the 1-3hour rise (not holding overnight). Would this lesson the sourdough taste somewhat?

ehanner's picture

An active sourdough starter will rise dough as well as commercial yeast, if you are willing to wait a little longer. Depending on how active your starter is and what temperature the dough is it could be a lot longer. Speaking for my self here, but I think others would agree, SD starter gives the bread a better taste and consistency even if you also use commercial yeast.

I have a batch going now that I started last night with 50g of starter and 500g of flour/water. This morning I added 500g more of flour, 150g of water and 1-1/2 tsp of Instant yeast (20g salt and 10g sugar). After mixing, kneading, resting, kneading for 10 min, the dough doubled in 1 hour. Now it is fermenting the second time where it will triple in about the same time.

The advantage of using both types of leavening is that you get the lower acid and better flavor of sd starter and the improved reliability and ability of working in a one day time frame (day and a half if you count the overnight preferment).

The bread is terrific with excellent flavor and mild sour taste if at all.

If you want more sour flavor, skip the commercial yeast and retard the dough after the first hour of the bulk/primary ferment. That means, mix the ingredients, knead and or fold a couple times in the first hour or so, then place the covered bowl in the refrigerator for 8-48 hours. Allow to warm for 2-3 hours, shape, proof and bake. The results will be a more sour crumb. Results vary depending on your starter. And that's a whole nother story!!


goetter's picture

In Germany most sourdough-using breads apparently depend on baker's yeast added to the main dough for leavening, as Eric describes above, with the role of the natural-type starter added to predough limited to acidification and flavoring.  Seems to work for them.

But you're talking about a biga, right?  Baker's yeast in a low-hydration preferment, then additional baker's yeast in the final dough?  It would make an interesting experiment to withhold the yeast in one batch of the final dough, comparing the resulting rises.

My theory (and this is only a theory): recipes that add yeast in the second stage figure that the initial preferment will suffice for good flavor.  The additional yeast just accelerates the rest of the program so you can get on with your baking.

And as long as I'm running my mouth, my take on biga vs poolish:  Biga is slower-acting and longer-lived.  Biga is easier to manage if you want to autolyse your dough before adding the preferment.  Poolish is the way to go if you have less than the 8 hours for a stiffer biga to ripen.  Bookkeeping with a poolish is a little simpler since it usually includes all of the water in the recipe.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Because I find it easier to add dry ingredients to a wet dough than moist ingredients to a dry one.  It just seems to blend easier.  For me.  My poolishes average 12 hours.

Mini O

CountryBoy's picture

One of the major books, and I forgot which one, says quite clearly that poolish allows for the dough to have / develop more sour to it than the biga.

I prefer poolish absolutely for the same reason as MiniOven; it allows easier mixing also.

But Reinhart in his last Whole Grain book does just biga and I asked him why he did this when he was on this website, but he wouldn't answer the question....I must not be one of the inner circle...


aaronfabun's picture

Hey CB

Peter is always willing to talk bread. He must not have seen your question. You can email him and he'll write you back. His blog address is You'll find his email on the page somewhere.

 Also, there are a myriad of reasons why/why not to use different pre-ferments. Depends on the outcome you are looking for with your breads.


ChrisB's picture

To each his own, but if I am making a sourdough anything... I steer clear of recipes that call for commercial yeast added to a sourdough starter or preferment.  It's just not the same.  If a starter is that terrible in taste or activity that commercial yeast is needed to help it along, start over and take the time needed to nurture a healthy vibrant starter.  Fall in love with it, clear your palate of the taste of commercial yeast, and you'll never look back.