The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Experimenting during the Pre-ferment.

phxdog's picture

Experimenting during the Pre-ferment.


I'm a newbie, consumed with bread baking . . .

Yesterday, I made Dan Leader's Whole Wheat Sourdough Miche. I got creative after preparing the pre-ferment; I wondered what would happen if I mixed the dough portion of the recipe (combined it with the water, less the remaining yeast) while waiting for the pre-ferment to do it's thing. Everything seemed to combine normally. I got a good first rise, but not much on the second rise after forming the loaf. I did not get a huge oven spring. The taste and texture were very good, not too dense, but not much in the way of an open crumb.

Has anyone got thoughts on the merits/advisability of doing this? Waste of time, or potential flavor enhancer?

BTW- I am in AWE of the amazing breads you all create!


Soundman's picture

Hey phxdog,

Thanks for your post! I have been experimenting similarly on occasion with what amounts to really large percentage preferments. A couple of things got me doing this. I noticed a line in Reinhart's BBA about using higher proportions of prefermented dough and I thought, let's try that. Also, Reinhart's Pain a l'Ancienne, which he borrowed and modified from the award-winning Parisian baguette baker Gosselin, offered food for thought, so to speak. Gosselin's original recipe call for mixing the flour and cold water, without yeast or salt, and retarding overnight in the fridge. The yeast and salt get added the next day, when the dough is remixed and baked.

When you mix flour and water, you start the process of building gluten. Also, this cold-water retarding technique apparently starts breaking down starch into its constituent sugars, and according to Reinhart when the yeast get to work they have more than enough sugar to feed on, and some of the excess sugar stays in the bread as delicious flavoring.

I noticed that Hamelman uses 50% preferment as his maximum in his 'Bread' book. I like using as much as 60% preferment, and have experimented with a long-fermented biga (60%) and treating the remaining flour a la Gosselin. The bread that resulted was delicious, but it took a lot of time to develop. I take my biga out of the fridge just before bed on the night before baking, so it's ready to use. But the cold flour and water mixture I took out in the morning. It was 1) very cold, and 2) strong, in the gluten sense. So it needs to be allowed to come up to room temperature, and also needs to be cut in small pieces for use. So you need a lot of time to bake this way, I found.

As to getting a good rise, I think that is mostly a function of building the dough properly, i.e. kneading and folding to strengthen the dough, and then being sensitive to how the dough ferments (when enough is enough) and when the proof has raised the bread enough, but still has some rise left to get a good oven spring.

I do wonder if there might be some limit to gluten development, or if developing it the night before in the fridge affects how the gluten will build in the bread dough. I did get a decent rise, though I can't say it was as much as if I hadn't pre-mixed the flour and water and retarded it. I'm sure others will have something to say about that.

Bottom line, I really appreciate your following this path, and will continue to do likewise, and will report on the results, either way.

Soundman (David)

phxdog's picture

Thanks, Soundman!

I'll keep on experimenting with various recipes and breads, and report back with the results. Now all I need is more room in the fridge!

Phxdog (Scott)