The Fresh Loaf

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Preferments - how to add one that doesnt list it in the recipe

FLBezoar's picture

Preferments - how to add one that doesnt list it in the recipe

New bread baker – though you don’t know it, you’ve been helping me along this fun journey.  I appreciate it very much.

One of the things I've heard people say is that "a preferment will make any bread taste better".  My overarching goal in this question is to learn how to apply a pre-ferment to a recipe that doesn’t list one. 


 A few questions for you:

  1. Are there situations where where a preferment is not helpful?
  2. What general rules should I consider when thinking about the flour weight of the preferment as it relates to the total flour weight of the dough? 
  3. Referring to the oft cited article on preferments.  Should I consider my air-conditioned Florida kitchen, 74-75 degrees year round with a 50-52 humidity to be summer or winter conditions? Room temperature water is 76.
  4. I’m using 0.1-0.2% of the Poolish weight for my yeast.  Using the “summer time” scenario, what % of yeast would I use for a Bigga?
  5. And this is what confuses me most .... Using IDY, what general rules should I consider to adding yeast to the final dough after the preferment has been added?  Do I use the original recipe amount? Reduce the amount by what I used?  I use all KA flours: AP, Bread, Whole Wheat and White Whole Wheat.  The preferment will be about 10-12 hours old, in a covered bowl in a 74-75 degree room.
phaz's picture

1 - I'm sure there are, not that I can think of a case, I don't bother anymore.

2 - the preferment is a % of the total flour regardless

3 - room temp had been considered to be 74

4 - your materials aren't mine - no idea

5 - same rules that apply to any bread, it's no different really, except you're adding another leavening agent - a very different one and you compensate for its characteristics.

6 - Enjoy!

Oops - forgot - the goal - all a preferment is is part of a dough left to do its thing for a period of time, then mixed with fresh flour and water to complete the formula. What part and what period of time is up to you. And my favorite line - experiment and see what ya like - there is a perfect flavor in every loaf - you just gotta bring it out.

proth5's picture

1. In general, a preferment will add a depth of flavor. In these days of sourdough baking, every sourdough bread starts with a preferment, so if sourdough is being used, every bread (or vienoiserie) that you bake with sourdough will have a preferment. Different hydrations of preferments bring different qualities with them. For example a 100% hydration preferment brings extensibility to the dough - so it is the classic preferment for baguettes. A 60% hydration preferment will bring strength to the dough - so it would be used when the flour grain has weaker strength, such as a whole wheat dough. While a preferment can always be used, it is of less value for those doughs that get a lot of their flavor from butter, sugar or other flavored inclusions. A preferment is also of less value when the dough gets a long refrigeration for its bulk ferment. That being said, each baker finds a formula that works for them and some combine a preferment with a refrigerated bulk ferment. You can try different combinations of techniques and note if the bread is "better" or not for the extra effort.

2. I am assuming you are using baker's math as outlined by the Bread Baker's Guild of America - or another reliable source, For baguettes I often see about 30% of the flour in the preferment, and in general I would not go higher. Personally, I get the best results at about 12% in my sourdough baguettes (as proven over many trials). I do have a couple of formulas that I bake in a bread machine (Oh! The horror! Please now pile on about how useless a bread machine is.) where I preferment 40% of the flour - 20% commercially yeasted at 100% hydration and 20% sourdough at 100% hydration. I do this because the short fermentation times in a bread machine really don't develop flavor and this high percentage allows me to produce bread (during the summer when I try not to use the oven) that is tasty enough to eat and with a better keeping quality than standard bread machine recipes. So, what percent? The one where you feel the results are "best." Keep in mind that there is always a trade off as fermentation times get longer. Long fermentation times result in more "flavor" but also give enzymes in the flour time to degrade the strength (why the poolish promotes extensibility - it actually degrades the strength of a portion of the flour). So, while I have seen (and baked) breads with an excess of 30% of the flour prefermented, I would only do it knowing why I was doing it.

3. 74F is just a little on the cool side. Mostly I see formulas for bulk ferment and proofing at 78F. I think I would focus on that rather than summer/winter.

4. I haven't measured yeast into a preferment in years. However the percents for the yeast are pretty much the same for a biga and a poolish in my experience.

5.If you are working with a formula that is written for commercial yeast, you should be using only a tiny portion of the yeast in the formula in the preferment, so what I would do is just scale the yeast for the final formula and use that to supply the little pinch that goes into the preferment. Or just scale for the final formula and add additional yeast to the preferment. This isn't baking soda or baking powder - it's yeast. There is quite a bit of leeway when it comes to the amount of yeast. (Unless you are mixing commercial sized batches.) Again, you will need to make a trial and see if the results are "good." Also, your need for yeast will depend on the percentage of flour in the preferment and how long you want to spend on the bulk ferment and proof. Also remember that whole wheat flours will always move a little "faster" than while flour doughs. The preferment will mature faster and the bulk ferment and proof will take less time.

Sorry not to be able to give exact answers - because, frankly, there aren't exact answers. When someone else comes along and tells you that you must use exactly X% and subtract exactly this amount of yeast, they are telling you what works for them. You are the baker and must find out what works best for you. While the above referenced standards for expressing a preferment in a formula are exact and apply pretty much to everyone (despite what I often see on these pages) how you fill in the numbers is up to you.

If you have further questions and want me to weigh in, please reply to this post and I will be notified. Otherwise, who knows if I'll be checking in again...

Have fun!

FLBezoar's picture

Proth5-  thank you for the very thoughtful and sensitive reply.  You’ve given me some ideas to consider and permission, so to speak, to modify variables and observe outcomes. 

I think one of the variables I don’t fully understand is yeast.  I know scientifically what it does, where it comes from, why its used, alternatives, how its used etc … but don’t have an experiential relationship with it.  I’ve been very programmatic in my baking when it comes to yeast … I follow the recipe exactly – but what I don’t understand is why one recipe or chef uses more or less and what would happen if they changed it up and what would be the effects if I changed things up.  Time to experience!

proth5's picture

and this is to learn how to properly use Baker's Math to calculate formulas. The BBGA has published some technical articles on this which are available to the public. You can find them here:

These concepts made everything so clear to me that I've become a bit of an evangelist. There are a lot of people who have very pretty blogs and websites that do not do these simple calculations correctly. They apply equally to yeasted goods and pastry. If a formula is properly written you can take it and easily say "What would happen if I made a firm preferment instead of the liquid one?"  "What happens if I add 20% cocoa powder?" and run the calculations.

As to the mysteries of "why" - most of us started by using the formulas of respected teachers. They worked. Then we made variations on them. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn't. We kept the ones that worked and tweaked them. Sometimes they got "better." Some of us had "off the wall" ideas and they worked. The more one observes what factors go into success, the more one will be free to experiment. There are basic rules - like: "100% hydration makes a pretty gloppy final dough" (Although some bakers can handle it!) and "Use about 2% salt" (Although some of the pizza doughs that I make call for more because of their very long fermentation.). The more you look at formulas that have been properly written, the more you will see similarities. Yeast, by the way, is very forgiving as opposed to chemical agents (like baking powder or baking soda). I live at a mile high and bread formulas require no changes from their sea level counterparts to be successful. Cake formulas? Well, that's another story...

Good luck and have fun.

alfanso's picture

i picked up on the BBGA formula sheets several years ago now, and it is incredibly handy to modify and do what-if scenarios.  Anytime I post something on TFL accompanied by a formula, it is always in the BBGA layout.

and I do frequently modify the prefermented flour percentage as well as hydration percentages when picking up on someone else's formula, as well as when I want to shift some dough profiles for myself.

BXMurphy's picture

Thanks, Pat!

Well written and a must-read for new bakers, especially, and to be carefully considered by more experienced bakers who want to share their methods in a standardized format.

I very much thank you for the pointer to the BBGA page. It will take a few reads through to get my head around it but it doesn't seem overly difficult. The glossary alone is worth the effort. Also, the clarity it brings to the term "preferment," the whys and hows, and the different names given to different preferments are eye-opening.