how much preferment to use?

415
10
Joined Jan 15, 2001
I've been playing with poolish and bigas lately, baking Craig Ponsford's Ciabatta and enjoying making my own version. I'd like to know what factor influences a bread baker to use a small amount of preferment in one type of bread dough and a very large amount in other types of bread.
 
799
12
Joined Feb 21, 2001
I think you'd probably find that the amounts used will fall within a range, expressed in percentages of course. I think I use between 50%, for a pain ordinaire using pate fermentee and 125% using a sourdough sponge. For the ciabatta formula I like it's 100%. Peter Reinhart touches on it in The Bread Baker's Apprentice because he changed the amount of preferment used in what he calls Barm, or sourdough, and he explains why. In Crust and Crumb it was something like 128% in the dough, but in Apprentice he scaled it back by about half. Some of it has to do with whether you want the preferment to bring leavening or flavor to the bread. I like Ponsford's ciabatta but those poolish in Artisan Baking that take 16 to 24 hours drive me nuts. Like the Royal Crown Tortano, which is otherwise a nice loaf. I'm too impatient for that, but I would like to figure out the percentages of yeast in those as it's very tiny amounts. For the last couple of weeks I've been baking the Italian bread in a recent Cook's Illustrated and it's very nice stuff. I think the article says that too much biga will make the dough too elastic, and I've had trouble with some doughs that will burst unpredictably in the oven even when you think they're proofed, and I also read that too much preferment will interfere with autolysis, because the preferment is already well hydrated. I guess you could just add it after the water and flour for the dough are mixed.
 
1,635
158
Joined Aug 14, 2000
As TBH mentioned, I think it all depends on what the preferment is supposed to accomplish. If it's big flavor, I think a higher % of preferment, developed over a longer period of time, would work. If I were looking to slow down the fermenting and proofing times a bit, say to allow the use of less commercial yeast and add a little character, I might use a smaller % of a preferment developed more quickly.
 
2,068
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Joined Dec 30, 1999
Hi angrychef,

There are several factors which can determine the amount of preferment used in doughs. It's a difficult question to answer because there are so many variables. Including, for or instance, the type of preferment you are using (amount of liquid content, sugar, use of salt, etc). What may help you determine your preferment is to define your goals (time, flavor, texture) for the ideal end product.

Thebighat is correct in going with percentages, there is a good web page addressing this below.

As with most things, "less is more". Less with a longer rise time will increase the quality of the flavor and texture of the bread, assuming it is not over risen which will create off flavors and texture. It will also increase the shelf life of the end product.

In general, the more moist and elastic the dough is, the less preferment can be used because the liquid serves as a medium to increase the rate at which the yeast metobalizes.

'A preferment is used to develope the flavor of the bread by allowing your culture and yeasts to fully develope a portion of your dough so that when you mix your final you will notice a more developed and complex flavor. A preferment may also make it easier to shape breads like baguettes by making the dough more relaxed and easier to stretch without it wanting to retract. Different hydrations of you preferment will give you different characteristics in your final breads, and combinations will produce a result where two desired results might be achieved to produce the perfect loaf. It gets really complicated on the one hand, but it is never dull if you are willing to experiment with your culture.'

You may find the following links and sources informative:

Factors Effecting Fermentation

Baker's Percentages

Preferment

Baker's Tip: How to Control Crust Color

For the right dough or batter temperature, find that friction factor


"Volatile Organic Acids In Pre-Ferments For Bread"
Journal Of Food Science 26:578
Hunter, I. R.; Ng, H.; Pence, J. W. 1961.
 
415
10
Joined Jan 15, 2001
Thank you Kyle, big hat and cchiu!
I work in %, so I do understand what bighat was saying. I took a class with the bread baker of Essential Bakery, George Pasquale, and his flavored bread recipe used 40% biga. I found it lacking, I did it with 50% biga and I like it better. I'm using 12 hr. poolish with .10% fresh yeast or .03% instant yeast at 70F. The guy I work with makes AMAZING bread, and I notice he uses 24hr. biga/poolish along with his own starter.
Bighat, would you mind posting the Italian bread recipe?
 
1,635
158
Joined Aug 14, 2000
It makes sense that a larger % of preferment will give bigger flavor. Time is a major factor in flavor. Using more biga, which has had longer to ferment, would bring more flavor to the dance. I think the same is true of the 12 v. 24 biga. The longer it develops the more flavor it will add.
 
415
10
Joined Jan 15, 2001
Didier Rosada has a Pugliese article in the recent Modern Baking magazine. 150% biga, 80% mashed potatoes and part whole wheat flour is used. Looks like a good/interesting recipe and I will hopefully try it out this weekend.
 
799
12
Joined Feb 21, 2001
Here's that Italian bread from Cook's Illustrated--

biga:

11 oz bread flour
8 oz water
1/4 tsp instant yeast

ferment 3 hours, then refrigerate from 8 to 24 hours. I use it after 5 hours.

dough:

16.5 oz bread flour
1 tsp instant yeast
10.7 oz water
2 tsp salt

Mix the flour and water and autolyse 20 min. Add salt, yeast and biga and knead. Ferment till triple, about an hour, turn, then ferment another hour. Turn, and ferment for a third hour. Scale, round, rest, shape, proof and bake.

This is pretty good stuff. I made it the other day with 30% whole wheat and made it again today.
 
415
10
Joined Jan 15, 2001
I made Didier Rosada's Pugliese and it was great. His recipe says to scale boules at 3# 5 oz., but I did them at 2# and they were pretty large. Good keeping qualities, great for sandwhiches---I used the whole wheat flour at 12.5% while his recipe says 35%.
 
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