The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Lesson Five, Number 9: Use a Preferment

Some call it a sponge, others a preferment, a poolish, a bigas, or a pate fermentee. Whatever you call it, the concept is the same: by taking a portion of the flour and water and fermenting it longer than the rest of the dough the baker can evoke better flavor from the ingredients.

If you are going to be baking two days in a row, one of the simplest preferments is to save a handful of the dough from the first batch for the next batch. I typically do not bake two days in a row, so instead I create a poolish the night before I am going to bake. My approach is to use between 1/8th and 1/4th a teaspoon of instant yeast (more if it is cold or I want to bake sooner, less if it is a warm night or I want it to develop slower) and an equal weight or volume of flour and water. Yes, I am aware that an equal weight of the two ingredients (8 oz. water and 8 oz. flour) is not the same as an equal volume of the two (1 cup of water, which weighs 8 ounces, and 1 cup of flour, which typically weighs around 5 or 6 ounces but depends on the type of flour and how tightly the cup is packed). Truthfully, it doesn't make a big difference as long as you adjust the final amount of flour and water by an equivalent amount in your final dough: either one will improve the flavor.

Assuming you combine the ingredients in the evening, cover the bowl with plastic, and leave it out at room temperature overnight, here is what should greet you in the morning:

poolish in the morning

Mix this in with your final ingredients (reducing the flour, yeast, and water the amount you used in your preferment) and your loaf should develop more interesting flavors and have a longer shelf life than a loaf created without this step.

Preferments can vary from as dry as bagel dough to as thin as a frothy liquid, and can be allowed to develop for minutes, hours, or days. I find that the poolish approach I describe above results in a nuttier, sweeter flavor that I quite enjoy. My impression is that harder preferments give you more of a sourdough-like flavor without having to go through the work of supporting a starter. But your experience and taste may vary from mine, so spend some time experimenting to figure out what you like most.

Next up, Number 8: Autolyse.

Lesson Five, Number 9: Use a Preferment


avatrx1's picture

If I make this and let it sit out overnight, what do I do then if I can't use it right away?  does it need to be refrigerated and if so, how long does it need to sit out to come back to temperature before incorporating it into the final dough mix.



MJO's picture

Hi Susie,

I was wondering if you ever received an answer to your question.  I too wondered the very same thing.


Kirstenm2's picture

There is no set time to let your fed starter sit out before going bad. You just have to learn. I tend to let my starter sour more by leaving it out longer than overnight. Facts that influence the condition of your starter are : Temperature, humidity, cleanliness and quality of utensils and ingredients. If it starts developing a layer of pinkish bad smelling mold that makes you gag, you know to dump it or if just started, freshen it with baking soda. You just have to learn as you go.

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

I'm just getting into baking bread at home on a regular basis but I do see the results from a preferment. I used

85 g bread flour

65g water

1/8tsp instant yeast

I mixed it up thoroughly, covered it with plastic and left it on the counter in a room around 80F. When I got up some seven hours later, it looked like the picture above. I didn't use it until some three hours later. I've read that you can use the preferment in as little as an hour and beyond twelve hours later in a cooler room.

That preferment is still a dough of whatever hydration you mixed it at so if you have to run an errand, putting it in the fridge won't hurt it as long as it's covered. Just look at that action as a retarded fermentation. Chilled dough is said to need at least an hour at room temp to revive but today's pizza dough was gaining ground in less than 40 minutes at 79F.

If your prefrement is in a plastic container or a small bowl, it shouldn't take more than the suggested hour to be revived. Just check the container's outer surface evry ten to twenty minutes. If it's cold, wait. If it's room temp, start your engines.


RobynNZ's picture

Welcome to TFL

It is good know you are making bread that you and your partner enjoy.  I think however the point of Tip Number 9 in Lesson 5 "Ten Tips for Better French Bread"  was maybe lost on you.......

by taking a portion of the flour and water and fermenting it longer than the rest of the dough the baker can evoke better flavor from the ingredients.

Note too, in the introduction to Lesson 5 Floyd states

what Americans call French Bread (a simple bread containing flour, salt, yeast, and water baked directly on a hearth or baking stone) 

When you are new here it is a bit hard to decide where to post, next time how about starting a new topic in the forum section, where your ideas can be discussed.

I hope you will enjoy exploring TFL's archives, people posting here share your passion for bread, it is a friendly supportive community and we all learn a great deal from each other.