The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Preferments and Dough Strength

louiscohen's picture

Preferments and Dough Strength

Do any of the preferments (pâte fermentée, biga, poolish, sponge) have any effect on dough strength and/or oven spring?

I have been trying to make high hydration whole wheat with straight doughs, but I'm not getting the dough to keep shape when placed on the stone and I'm not getting much oven spring.  

Would a preferment help with this, or is it just a matter of more mixing, more folds before/during bulk fermentation, and more tension in preshaping and shaping?  


Colin2's picture

Could I ask what % hydration and what % whole wheat?  Because "high hydration whole wheat" sounds like a real challenge!  Are you happy with the feel of the dough as it develops?  

I find pre-ferments mainly helpful for flavor.

louiscohen's picture

My last try used the Lean Whole Wheat Dough from the CIA baking and pastry text: 40% whole wheat, 70% hydration.  I got less spread and more oven spring than before, but too much of one and not enough of the other.

Before that I tried 60% whole wheat at 80% hydration.  

The dough never feels as strong as it does for white bread, or lower WW/hydration doughs.  The last batch looked more or less like the videos with high hydration sourdough.  

I can understand preferments for flavor; I usually bulk ferment dough overnight in the fridge.  I've seen some references to preferments helping structure, but they never say which one,

DanAyo's picture

Louis, is it possible to get another bag (or brand) of Whole Wheat?

It sounds like you are experienced at baking white bread. “The dough never feels as strong as it does for white bread, or lower WW/hydration doughs.  The last batch looked more or less like the videos with high hydration sourdough.”

 You seem to be doing things right. As previously stated, preferments are mainly for flavor. If possible, I suggest another source for your whole wheat (Bob’s is great, maybe a bad or old bag) and if that doesn’t correct things you might omit or reduce the  cold retard.

Clazar may be on to something. Your frig temps may be too warm. Question - is the dough rising during the retard phase of ferment? If so, by how much?



hreik's picture

Take a look at Trevor J Wilson's 50% ww bread.

Might offer you some pointers, though it is sourdough.  Particularly mixing the dough and water before hand, leaving out the starter (yeast) till next day.  The premixing helps develop the gluten

Good luck


louiscohen's picture

Thanks for the link.  It sounds like an autolyse, but he includes the salt.

I'm trying a 33% poolish, all whole wheat.  It doesn't look much like the pictures; even at 100% hydration it looks a little dry.  Tomorrow AM I'll add the rest of the flour and water and autolyse for 30 minutes, then the remaining yeast and salt.

We'll see.    

hreik's picture

than white.  I made a 100% whole wheat loaf (sd) a while back. Here's the link.  I had 2 huge failures b/f my semi-success


clazar123's picture

So much information is missing:

SO it sounds like you use commercial yeast and you mix and bulk ferment overnight. Did I get that correct? Is the WW flour freshly milled or storebought?  What is the rest of the flour in the mixes you are doing? Bread flour? AP? Are you mixing/kneading to develop to windowpane?  Any stretch and folding going on? Is the dough actually very loose and wet when you try to shape it? Or just loose. What does it smell like? WW tends to ferment faster than AP flour,. Could it be that the overnight bulk fermentation is too long? What temp is your refrigerator actually at?


louiscohen's picture

On the theory that insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result, I have tried a few variations. They are all straight doughs with SAF instant yeast, Bob's Red Mill whole wheat and General Mills All Trumps high gluten flour.  

I've tried using formulas for 60% WW and 80% hydration 40% WW and 60% hydration, and a few in between.  

  • I always do a 30 minute autolyse (I tried 1-2 hrs, no change) of the flours and 90% of the water. 
  • After the autolyse I add the remaining water, salt (2%) and yeast (0.6%). and mix
  • I have tried 5 minute speed 1/5 minute speed 2 in the KitchenAid, 3/3 minutes, hand mixing trying to follow a Trevor Wilson video, 10 minutes mix, 10 minutes rest, 5 minutes mix, 20 minutes of slap and fold
  • There is a sort of windowpane after mixingh
  • stretch and fold after 30 minutes of bulk fermentation, repeat; 
  • Bulk ferment another 15 minutes at room temp, or into the fridge overnight with one more fold at bedtime
  • Degas gently and preshape with tuck and rolls; 20 minute bench rest
  • The preshaped dough spreads, less in the more recent attempts than before
  • Degas, shape with folds, tuck and rolls, and tension pulls
  • Proof in a banneton either at room temp or overnight in the fridge
  • When poked with a wet finger based on formula proofing time, the dough comes back partway, slowly
  • Scoring is tough; the lame drags and tears the soft wet dough (which has started to spread on the peel)
  • Mist the dough on the peel and slide the dough on to the pizza stone
  • Steam the oven with a boiling water in a hot pan
  • Bake

The dough never gets the strength to sit on the peel for even 2 minutes without spreading.  I did get some oven spring the last time, but not much.  

So I'm trying a poolish with 150 g of WW flour and 150g of water and a pinch of yeast.  It doesn't look nearly as soupy as the poolishes in photos/videos online.  Tomorrow AM, I'll add the rest of the flour and most of teh water water and autolyse.    I'll probably mix in the kitchenaide, 3min/5 min.  Then fold every hour until the dough seems string enough.     


clazar123's picture

It looks like you have either 45 minutes or 75 minutes of bulk fermentation at room temp and then overnight in the refrigerator. Room temp bulk of 45-75 minutes may be close to enough for this dough, depending on the room temp. Where I am, that would be all it needs.

In response to one comment above: WW does not necessarily need more water but it requires time to absorb the water (as in some form of autolyze/soaking/sponge,etc) so all the branny bits get internally soggy. If you don't build in soaking time, these internally dry branny bits will continue to absorb the moisture from the crumb AFTER the bake , resulting in the characteristic crumbling-in-your-hands sandwich.

These statements were very helpful:

  • There is a sort of windowpane after mixing (autolyze and windowpane are key to good crumb in WW variations).
  • Developing the starchy gel is key in any loaf development but esp in WW so it can fill in and span those rough bits to help form a flexible crumb. It can even be done with 100% ww!
  • stretch and fold after 30 minutes of bulk fermentation, repeat; ( Question:repeat the 30 min bulk fermentation for 60 min total bulk at room temp and 1  s&f ?or a 30 min bulk fermentation and 2 s&f?)
  • Bulk ferment another 15 minutes at room temp, or into the fridge overnight with one more fold at bedtime

I think the refrigerator portion of your fermentation is too long and the gluten is degrading. That may be why your dough is extensible. Cold doesn't stop everything immediately and the your final dough temp will influence this. Your refrigerator could be warmer than you think or, even if cold enough, it could be just too long.  OR your dough temp remains too high for too long in the refrigerator and fermentation continues too rapidly.

You may have to knead longer for better development of the starchy gel (windowpane) and/or decrease the overnight bulk fermentation time. You can also try cooling the dough by using very cold water in the recipe before the overnight refrigerator stay as an easy enough experiment.

A few more delicious experiments are in order but you are learning a lot.

My favorite recipe and technique-can be starter or yeast based.

Have fun!