The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Pre-ferment Question.

jim2100's picture

Pre-ferment Question.


This is my first time posting here. My first question is; are beginners welcome? For that is my skill level at the moment. I have only baked three loaves of bread thus far. Fortunately they all turned out well. The last, actually tasted really good. In spite of the fact that I used Active Dry Yeast when Instant was called for. But it really tastes good. I have been reading this and other boards for several weeks. And can say that this one is probably the most sophisticated one of all. I really like it here.

So My questions.

I just did this recipe from the Good Eats show: Dr. Strangeloaf. He calls for a pre-ferment.

" Combine 5 ounces of the flour, 1/4 teaspoon of the yeast, all of the honey, and all of the bottled water in a straight-sided container; cover loosely and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours. "

What I would like to know is, can I substitute a pre-ferment in any recipe that calls for Active Dry Yeast that is to be proofed in warm water? Wouldn't this add flavor as it did in this recipe?
Or for that matter any recipe that uses yeast. active or instant? If so I would like to be able to do so.




sphealey's picture

> My first question is; are beginners welcome?


Absolutely. Everyone here is a beginner in some area of breadmaking ;-).


> What I would like to know is, can I substitute a

> pre-ferment in any recipe that calls for Active Dry

> Yeast that is to be proofed in warm water? Wouldn't

> this add flavor as it did in this recipe?


Generally yes, although keep in mind that a pre-ferment is going to affect a number of things in the dough. A dough with a poolish will generally be stretchier and more elastic than one without; this is good for pizza dough but my family did not like the results when I tried it with cinnamon rolls. Crumb and texture are also going to be affected.


Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible has several pages on converting standard recipes to pre-ferment recipes (pg 29-41 in my edition). For poolish, she recommends:


=== A poolish is made the same day or the day before the bread and is always fermeted at room temperature, to ensure the formation of milder flavors. It is usually made with equal parts flour and water by weight. It uses between 1/3 and 1/2 of the total water in the recipe, wich is 22-33 percent of the total amount of flour [by weight]. The amount of yeast that is added to a poolish decreases with the length of fermentation. If too much yeast is added before a long overnight pre-ferment, the yeast will exhause the sugar in the flour. ===


I would add that most pre-ferments do not contain sugars, as this will cause the yeast to grow too fast. If they do contain sugar, they go into the refrigerator 1-2 hours after mixing as you note.


Generally when trying to add a pre-ferment, I make an overnight poolish with 1 cup of water, 1 to 1-3/4 cups flour depending on how goopy I want it, and 1/8 teaspoon yeast. Mix, cover, and leave overnight. Then I subtract these amounts from the entire recipe.



gianfornaio's picture

(And beginners are definitely welcome-- these are pretty warm environs.)

Don't get scared off by the math, though. I do this, and my math is pretty slipshod. First of all, there's reducing your yeast quantity to sub the bread machine/instant/rapid-rise stuff, but it's not a huge difference and if you're a new baker and like the yeasty flavor, don't worry about it. (Partially I'm encouraging that because I don't remember clearly and don't have my books at hand-- but I think you only need about 2/3 the amount of instant as the recipe calls for active dry-- err, uh, wait, maybe it's actually closer to 3/4...)

This is what I do, and I think it may be the easiest way to alter your recipe for a preferment: take about a third of the flour and water you'll need for your whole recipe, and combine it with half the yeast (this should be all the yeast you need, since the yeast will at least double if you don't abuse your starter). I like to mix this and give it a cursory kneading about 16-24 hrs before I expect to start my loaf's dough-- usually before work on the day before my day off. I knead it down halfway to that time, to redistribute the yeast and generally throw 'em a bone so they don't choke on the liquor and CO2 they're busy brewing up in there. They also reproduce during this time, so mood lighting and a little mellow funk won't hurt.

Then, when you would otherwise start with the straight (non-pre-ferment) dough, mix in the water, then the rest of the flour, and then proceed with other ingredients as your recipe recommends. This will change the rising time, but if you're not doing everything by weight and keeping a sharp eye on your kitchen temp, you should probably expect that to vary anyway.

It might bear mentioning here that if you're incorporating herbs, olives, nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, blue-cheese or other strongly flavored ingredients, a pre-ferment may not do much with what's already a strongly flavored loaf. That said, though, the best-tasting loaf I've ever made was an improvised loaf with a lot of roasted garlic and roasted butternut squash (certainly qualifying as strongly flavored) and semolina flour, with a pre-ferment, and I could definitely taste the depth of wheaty semolina flavor that I'm sure would have lacked some of its depth without the starter.  

   Surely someone else has that instant yeast substitution quantity available...

jim2100's picture




Thanks for the warm welcome. I really appreciate it.

There was so much info given I don't know what to say at the moment. But I am a talker so will speak plenty later I am sure. I did set up another pre-ferment the night before last for the bake today. I used Alton Brown's idea again, and did subtract those ingredients from the whole recipe. I also tried two more ideas. Not bad for my fourth loaf of bread, trying all these different techniques. I tried cool rise and Autolyse. Cool. I found a recipe for Amish White Bread. I also want to do the Better Banana Bread recipe I think I found here on this site. [Before I forget. Can anyone recommend a good bread flour and where to get it in the Chicago area? I am a member of Costco. They have a 50 bag of ConAgra Bread flour? Would The High Gluten flour at Gordon Food Service be alright?]

Later today. I called Bay State Milling He said that I could use the 25# bag of Primo Gusto High Gluten flour and would get great results for many types of breads. Any commnets?







My new iweigh i5000 digital scale just arrived. Guess I'll do that Banana Bread in Metrics :>