The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Preferments and Slack Doughs

Slow to rise's picture
Slow to rise

Preferments and Slack Doughs

Hi all,

I’m new to the site and a relative beginner overall. I’ve been baking my way through FWSY for some time, and I’ve run into an issue with preferments I can’t seem to find an answer to on here: my doughs using preferments (whether biga or poolish) keep coming out very slack. I’ve tried more stretch and folds and shorter ferment times, but nothing seems to work. In the seconds between banneton and Dutch oven, they spread pretty dramatically. It’s still good bread, but disappointing nonetheless.

Any suggestions at all would be very much appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I work with sourdough, but I do have a few thoughts.

Have you considered the length of time and also the temperature of your preferment. If the room is too hot, it could affect quality of the preferment. If it ferments too long it will degrade. Then mixing the degraded preferment could degrade the dough.

Maybe try reducing the hydration of the dough.

Have you considered the quality of your flour?

A few thoughts that may or may not be correct.

Pictures would help.

Dan

Slow to rise's picture
Slow to rise

Thanks very much, Dan. These are very helpful points. I hadn’t thought much about the timing of the preferment, since everything I read seems to be around the same 12-14 hour prescription. I’ll try shortening the preferment time and seeing if that helps.

I should’ve taken photos—I’ll be sure to next time.

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Keep in mind, there is a huge difference between a 12 hr ferment at 66F and the same ferment at 78F. Time and temperature are relative variations.

If you posted the formula and the method, we might get better clues.

Slow to rise's picture
Slow to rise

Today was the most recent example. I was using Ken Forkish’s white bread with poolish recipe, but tweaked a bit to include 20% whole wheat flour. For the poolish, it was 250g white flour (I used King Arthur AP), 250g 80 degree water, and 0.2g instant yeast. I mixed and covered at 8:30pm, and the ambient temp was 70 degrees.

This morning, at 8:15 am, the poolish was domed and pocked with bubbles. So I mixed 150g AP flour, 100g whole wheat flour, 10.5g salt, 1.5g yeast, and used 125g of 105 degree water to loosen and incorporate the poolish. I then did four stretch and folds over the next hour and a half; let the dough continue rising for another hour and a half; shaped and proofed for about 50 minutes; and baked in a Dutch oven at 475 for 30 minutes with the lid and another 15 without.

i knew early on that the dough was awfully slack. I was able to make a decent boule heading into the banneton, but I had a strong feeling it wouldn’t hold its shape very well. Which is how it went (but again, the bread tasted good, with large irregular holes in the crumb and a crisp crust).

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I read Forkish’s instructions and it appears you are following them.

I don’t know what to think. Hopefully, someone that is familiar with FSWY will reply to your post.

Maybe try Bread Flour and/or reduce the water.

To reduce the hydration from 75% (original hydration) to 68% you would add only 90 grams of water to the final dough instead of 125 grams. The 68% will be a much drier feeling dough, but it should produce a nice loaf. This may help you to troubleshoot your problem. If this is successful you can gradually work yourway back up.

I hope this helps.

Danny

 

Slow to rise's picture
Slow to rise

Thanks for taking a look. I think shorter preferment time and lower hydration are both good ideas I intend to try tomorrow.

Thanks again—I really appreciate it!

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

If your house is cool the overnight ferment would probably be alright. The way you describe the poolish, it sounds active and healthy. If it smelled sour or foul that would not be good. I have to believe using less water should produce much better results.

I’ve heard good things about FWSY, but I haven’t baked any of his breads. And commercial yeast is not in my wheel house.

let us know how it goes. Remember the pictures.

Danny

davidg618's picture
davidg618

...by a couple of things you did. I will hasten to add my bewilderment is because your process does some actions I'd never consider.  I'll comment on them in their order of high bewilderment to low bewilderment. Most of my bewilderments arose while reading your post labeled Today was the most recent.

First of all, why did you find it necessary to use water at 105°F to, "loosen and incorporate the poolish"?

The polish developed (fermented) at 100% hydration, which is a very liquid measure. I frequently use a 100% hydrated polish for baguettes, ciabattas, and focaccias. Whether I use a stand-mixer, or mix by hand I use room-temperature water (usually 76°F). I incorporate final dough in this order: poolish, then water--mix a minute or two--and then add the remainder of the final dough ingredients, holding back the salt. I mix only to the point the dough forms a very shaggy ball. Then I let the dough rest covered with a damp cloth in the mixing bowl, at room temperature (or in the refrigerator if I'm going to bulk ferment the dough overnight at reduced ambient temperature). I rest the dough at least 45mins. to insure the flour, newly introduced, is fully hydrated at the end of the rest period. Subsequently, I incorporate the salt. Result: raw Final dough

Which leads me to my next bewilderment. 

You were clear and concise providing us with the times, temperatures and mass of the ingredients, both for the polish and the final dough. Why didn't you tell us how you mixed the dough? And for how long you mixed the dough? These parameters are important. A 75% hydrated white-bread dough is far beyond my ken. I make white wheat breads, both sourdoughs, straight-doughs, and poolish augmented doughs.My ciabattas are hydrated at 75 to 77%, focaccia at 72%, baguettes in a range between 65% and 67%, and plain white bread at 65%. I can and have made plain white bread at higher hydrations, but they didn't meet my goals, which are: bake breads that are flavorful, have good mouthfeel, and good eye appeal, and in that order. holes in a bread's crumb contributes 0% flavor. In ciabattas they often hold soup, or aiole, same with focaccia. In plain white bread they dribble mustered, catsup or aiole on your tie. I, and at least two other commenters disagree with Mr. Forkin: 75% hydration is too high for this bread. However, we are open (at least I am) to showing me why I'm wrong. Furthermore, any dough with a final hydration of 75% is deserving of a two-step hydration technique where in the gluten is developed at a lower hydration, subsequently the rest of the hydrating water is added.

I don't own Mr. Forkins bread book, but I'll go on record that 75% is too high for plain white bread.

Which lead me to my next confusion.

Back to your polish. You completed mixing your poolish, using 80°F water, at 8: 30 PM.  Nearly 12 hours later (8:15 AM) you describe the preferment's appearance as "domed and pocked with bubbles" and reported "at which time the ambient temperature was 70°F".

I routinely mix 100% hydrated preferments (using King Arthur AP flour) with room temperature water, ferment it for only 8 hours at room temperature. and would describe its surface appearance as past-its-peak expansion with random, rounded peaks and valleys. 

I'm far from smart enough to sort out the physical, and chemical effects this roller-coaster of temperatures the preferment and final dough experienced, but it had to have some.  

Furthermore, my final observation is you seem to rest your dough minimal time periods, e.g. < 30 mins between S&Fs, 1.5 hours bulk formation, 50 mins final proofing. Do you feel a difference in the dough's response to stretching after each S&F and it subsequent rest period? Do you use a method such as the "poke test" to determine the status and character of the dough's proofing progress?

Recommendations: Mix and ferment preferments at room temperature. Judge the maturity of a preferment's "ripeness" by both its time fermenting and its surface appearance. (there are pictures on TFL and YouTube.

Try a recipe with moderate hydration 65 - 67% hydration. If you like it, stick to it with no changes (or only one at a time) until you master it.

Preferments account for a high percentage of the fermentation's contribution to the final dough. make certain it is fully matured before adding to the final dough

Making bread is a process divided into steps, acknowledge the process, learn the steps, study and practice the techniques to complete each step masterfully. Along with making good bread, add consistently to the phrase, and make it your goal.

Mastering the techniques is, at least, half the job (and the fun) of baking.

Good luck,

David G

 

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

David, I haven’t baked any of Forkish breads but I have his book. It looks like his instructions were followed to the letter. He specifies those temperatures. The temps are hot, but that is according to his instructions.

Maybe another formula with different techniques are in order.

Thanks for the thorough reply.

Danny

Slow to rise's picture
Slow to rise

Thanks, David. As Danny said, the formula and method was for Forkish’s white bread with poolish. Sounds like you’re not a fan! I’ll have to experiment with (among other things) cooler water and lower hydration.

Appreciate the reply!

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I'm missing something. That makes no sense to me.

I've no doubt the instructions were followed to the letter. However 75% hydrated dough isn't, in general, a learning tool for someone that describes themself as a relative beginner.  I hate to see a fellow home baker struggling with a complex bread, or not experiencing the contributions of preferments

I make ciabatta with polish and a 75% hydration and I rely on my stand mixer, two-step hydration and aggressive stretches and folds to achieve a success.

My principle learning loaves were more akin to Hamelman's Vermont sourdough. It's still a favorite with me. A preferment analog, also by Hamelman is Country Bread. both formulas are in "Bread, a Baker's book of Techniques and Recipes". Furthermore, Bread is an excellent textbook. 

And I particularly like the title's subscript Techniques and Recipes side-by-side: equals.

David G

Slow to rise's picture
Slow to rise

This is very helpful. I’ve had good results with Forkish’s straight doughs, but perhaps I’m on the wrong track at this point. I’ll be sure to check out Hamelman’s Bread, and I’m very much open to any other suggestions or advice.

Colin2's picture
Colin2

Total respect to Forkish, who is serious and original and always interesting, but he's a little quirky and maybe not where I'd start my journey.  I'd suggest Reinhart's _Apprentice_ as the best book to begin with 'cause it's written directly to newish home bakers.  Hamelman is the best bread book overall, but it's written with pro bakers as its main audience.

Slow to rise's picture
Slow to rise

Good to know—thanks very much!

David R's picture
David R

... able to pick up from the discussions here, it sounds as if Forkish's "quirks" might simply be that Forkish decided he needed to make a few basic assumptions in order to proceed with writing his book (which I think every author must do), and the assumptions he made were ones that don't match the situations of some of his readers. It certainly doesn't sound like he's unintelligent or intentionally misleading. But the book seems maybe not so user-friendly, unless you live next door to him. 🙂