The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Mixing a Stiff Pre-Ferment by Hand into the Final Dough

WatertownNewbie's picture

Mixing a Stiff Pre-Ferment by Hand into the Final Dough

Today I made a couple of loaves of Rustic Bread from Hamelman's Bread book.  The recipe involves a 60% hydration pre-ferment that is incorporated into the final dough.  As is the case for all recipes in Bread, there are portions for a commercial bakery as well as for the home baker, but the general instructions envision large mixers.  As Hamelman states in this recipe, "As the dough is coming together [in a spiral mixer], add the pre-ferment in chunks."

I like to mix by hand, and a 100% poolish or sponge is fairly simple to incorporate.  What I did in this case was combine the flours, water, salt and yeast in the final dough and then plop the pre-ferment on top, spread it around, and dimple it in.  Then I did a combination of pinching, folding, and pulling for several minutes until the entire mix was "supple and moderately loose, with moderate gluten development" (again quoting Hamelman).

The result was good (two photos with the crumb being from the loaf on the right of the duo), but I am not certain that I achieved as good a blending of the pre-ferment into the rest of the final dough as would have been the case either with a stand mixer or by doing something by hand other than what I did. At times I worried that the new flour was coating the pre-ferment rather than becoming uniformly mixed into and with it.  So I have a question.

Specifically, for those of you who have used a stiff pre-ferment and mixed by hand, did you break the pre-ferment into small pieces (similar to what would be done with a biga)? Or do something else?

Thanks for any suggestions.  As I indicated the bread is tasty and seems to have turned out ok, but I am always trying to learn more.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

or flattened out the stiff starter super thin and layered on top of flattened dough, rolled up the dough like a jelly roll, folding ends to the middle before kneading everything together.  Seems to be my "go to" method for mixing up dough.  

I learned several types of kneading when working with pottery clay.  One is a spiral knead that tends to blend doughs very well, makes a spiral shaped cone when done right.  Is also good at pressing out air pockets.  Unlike bread dough, air pockets are a hazard in pottery clay.  One doesn't have to go from spiral shape to cone shape with bread dough but it is an efficient mixing method.  After mixing by hand, shift to a folding and pressing type kneading with quarter turns which is more common.  

Here is a video showing spiral kneading or wedging of clay.  Clay is much stiffer than most bread doughs but the advantage to watching clay is that the whole method is easier to see and understand. Remember to use your shoulders and movement of the upper part of your body to push the dough so the elbows can stay relaxed.  This method can be used for a large amount of dough too!

alfanso's picture

I've made Mr. Hamelman's Pain au Levain with WW a number of times now, always mixing by hand.  This uses a 60% levain.  I use my bench knife/scraper to cut it into small pieces.  Which are then added to the mixing bowl in sets of 1 or 2 and incorporated using the pinch and fold method.  It's a lot easier to get the stiff pre-ferment to mix in this way.  Especially since the overall hydration of the dough is a relatively low 68%.  After that I use the French Fold method of mixing to build up the gluten and which also ensures that the pre-ferment is well incorporated.

mutantspace's picture

I too break into small pieces and pInch it in

WatertownNewbie's picture

Thanks for these comments (and especially for the link to the video, Mini Oven -- nothing like watching the hands of a master).