The Fresh Loaf

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Different types of preferment?

bakerman's picture

Different types of preferment?

I was doing a little reading about different types of preferment and the terminology and the different uses. This article I linked below seems to challenge received wisdom--and common sense?--about using different kinds of preferment for different purposes. It seems obvious, for example, that to obtain a bread (or whatever) with less sour character, especially in warm weather, one could opt for a stiffer preferment, which, developing more slowly, would yield a yeastier and less sour result within a similar timeframe.

I've read a bit about "competing" traditions of French sourdough bakers, some of whom (traditionalists) prefer a very stiff starter while others (a newer breed) are passionate about their liquid starters, with each producing types of baguettes that are equally delicious but totally different in character. And I tried to take advantage of this principle just the other day to make a preferment for dinner rolls: I wanted to ensure that that overnight preferment would not be overly ripe when I mixed the final dough--so I used a 50% hydration preferment.

But this author doesn't seem to think much of this or at least doesn't address that part, which seems like an obvious oversight. To be clear, I understand their point about the preferments being more interchangeable than some people would lead us to believe, provided you account for the different hydrations in the final dough--but surely there are will be practical implications and varying results given that wetter mixes ferment so much quicker... I feel like something is missing...

Anyway, what do you all think about the usefulness of different preferments for different products and their comparative results and/or practical features...?,butter%2C%20and%2For%20sugar.

tpassin's picture

I usually use my starter as is, which I suppose counts as a preferment.  My usual starter is a 100% hydration, white flour mixture which I keep in the refrigerator after it is refreshed and given time to ripen. I don't usually make separate preferments, though of course I have from time to time.

I tend to think about preferments a little differently from the way I read about them.  I don't even regard bigas, polooshes, etc. as being essentially different from sourdoughs.  In every case some flour is fermented.  If it's sourdough, I expect more flavor, but otherwise it's not essentially different (acidity effects aside).  You can simulate the typically slower growth of a sourdough starter by using a small amount of yeast.  For example, 1/4 tsp yeast in 300g flour.

I think in terms of time.  More time will bring out more flavor (and perhaps more sourness, if you want that).  Time under hydration will improve flavor even for unleavened flour, and time under fermentation will improve flavor of leavened dough.  So I usually target the time I want the process to take.

If you care about supposed health or nutritional benefits of using whole grains, or to reduce the effects of wheat sensitivity, you should definitely be using a sourdough starter and try for a long fermentation time.

I use a rule of thumb that when a room-temperature dough is put into the refrigerator, it continues to ferment for around another hour.  Yes, it will continue to ferment after that, but much slower.  Flavor will continue to develop in the fridge.

One way this plays out is that I will put dough or shaped loaves into the fridge (when I'm retarding them) before they are fully ripe or ready because they will continue to develop for that extra hour.  And I would try to remember that as they warm up again, they will start to develop further.  I have even cycled bulk fermentation in and out of the refrigerator, since I don't think it matters very much when in the development cycle the refrigeration takes place.

As for stiffness of the preferment, I don't have much experience with that because I find it annoyingly hard to combine the other ingredients with a stiff dough, since I usually mix by hand.  My 100% starter doesn't produce sour bread, so I don't feel a need to go stiffer to avoid sourness.  My problem is the opposite - if I do want some sour tang, how to get it.

BrianShaw's picture

Tom’s post reflects my (much more limited) experience exactly.