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chef koo

Pre-ferment question

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What are the benefits of making a pre-ferment? And I don't mean the enhanced flavor and/or texture. I get that part. I mean why only pre-ferment a portion of the dough? Why not make the dough all at once and allow it to sit in the fridge over night. If a pre-ferment is a way to enhance flavor and texture, would it not make sense to pre-ferment the whole batch? At first I figured it was to taper the amount of enhancing. But then couldn't you simply pre-ferment the whole batch of dough but for less time?


Edited by chef koo (log)
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The answer (for me) is simply that it takes a lot longer for my full batch of dough to return to temperature for baking. If you only do half the dough, you get the same value out of it, but you warm it faster by mixing it.

 

Might not be the right answer, but it makes sense in my head ;)

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Good question, but I'm not sure what the answer is. Found this conversation here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/12436/why-use-preferment As you can see, there is disagreement, but all the points made are interesting.

 

Some dough recipes do call for the entire batch to rise in the fridge before using the next day. I'm thinking of the brioche dough I use, and I think most brioche doughs go for an overnight chill, which would enhance flavor, etc. Also brioche has butter, eggs, and sugar so the yeast needs more time just to do its work. Not all preferments are done in the fridge, some sit overnight at room temp. I think the desired outcome would dictate how you'd treat the dough. Try the preferment both ways, small part and full batch, and note the differences.

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I read the Bread Baker's Apprentice and all of that when it was published but basically I am just a home cook. I cannot wrap my head around a lot of the finer points when it comes to bread baking. For this reason, I generally just make my dough and if I have the time, I let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, sometimes a lot longer than that,  depending on what's going on in my life at that moment. As a matter of fact last year I inadvertently forgot about a bowl of dough that was in the refrigerator in my garage for over a month. I was going to throw it out but figured what the heck, let me see what I can do with it. I warmed it up to room temperature, added some more water and some more flour and lo and behold that sucker turned out to make the best loaves of bread I've ever made in my life! Don't ask me how or why this happened, I have no idea about the food science behind it. All I can tell you is that my garage refrigerator is set extremely cold, 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Maybe that had something to do with it?

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I agree with some of the statements at the Fresh Loaf. If you let an entire batch go too long, you have a lesser outcome in terms of lift and, you can get a very sour flavor which might be undesirable in certain breads. You also get the starch really, fully wet which affects texture. And, the fact that you have no way to make adjustments makes it riskier.

 

I suspect the main reason, though, is that making a preferment like a biga or poolish is space-saving. A small preferment is easier to handle and move around, and takes up less precious space in a refrigerator. The real estate in a walk-in is very valuable, and if you can make one thing smaller, maybe you add an additional item to your menu or just have a smaller cheaper walk-in.

 

Reliable commercial refrigeration is less than a century old, and was more costly in earlier times. Before that, bakeries (mostly in cities) relied on iceboxes and ice-cooled rooms, if they had cooling at all. I think there was a lot more juggling and finessing done at the last minute than nowadays in our very precisely controlled kitchens and equipment in terms of humidity and temperature.

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@keychris, could be, but I'm guessing that the benefit is something a bit more concrete.

@cakewalk, Great link. I think it really does come down to simply trying it and seeing for myself.

@Lisa Shock, I get that over proofing leads to a sour taste, so why not proof the whole batch but for less time? As for the fridge space, this technique has been adopted by home cooks as well. If that is the reason, I'd simply rather not, since fridge space isn't an issue for me. If it is the reason, would it make sense to assume that proofing the whole batch wouldn't make a difference?

 

Either way, the feeling that I got is that I'm going to have to find out on my own. I'll report back.


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I guess I'm just not willing to risk it. (I'm a wimp at heart.) I'm making a loaf now that I've made many times before, it's simple and always good. It starts with a sponge of 1 cup bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 tsp yeast, and 1 cup water. Mix, let that sit for 12-16 hours at room temp, not in the fridge. She suggests letting it sit for 24 hours if the room is chilly. The sponge, after 12-16 hours, is pretty depleted. I mixed that last night, and in a couple of hours I'll add the rest: 3 1/2 cups bread flour, 1/2 cup rye flour, 1 Tbs kosher salt, 1 Tbs honey, and 1 1/2 cups water. No further yeast is added. I guess the additional flour is feeding the pooped yeast again. Let rise about three hours, shape, then let rise another 45 minutes or so before baking. Makes a nice large loaf, nicely flavored bread.

 

I don't know what would happen if I mixed the whole thing together at one time and let it ferment 12-16 hours. Not sure what would happen with only 1/2 tsp of yeast and so much flour. Or would it be the same, use up the food source and then, after 12-16 hours, need more flour in order to have a second rise? But I already added all the flour the recipe calls for. I'm sure someone with more knowledge about the science of baking could answer that. I'm not curious enough to see what might happen here, because I already know it makes a nice loaf the original way. I experiment with other things, but I'm usually less willing to experiment with bread. Don't know why, maybe because it takes so dang long, I just want the bread already! Good luck, keep us posted if you try it.

 

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So I made this loaf, just now. The whole batch of dough was made last night and proofed. Flavor was great and the texture was great. In comparison to baking a loaf with a preferment, the flavor was slightly better as was the texture, but not by much. Either way for future reference, I'm doing away with a pre-ferment. It never made sense to begin with and it still doesn't. Just an extra step that doesn't do anything, in my mind.

 

The recipe I used was follows

500g flour

400ml water

10 g salt

5 g yeast

 

Just mixed it all together and kneaded for a few minutes. Proofed it over night and baked at 450 for 40 minutes

 

 

IMG-20160125-00160.jpg

IMG-20160125-00161.jpg

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To the original question, "why not simply pre ferment the whole thing"?

 

Space constraints.  For the home baker or someone who's only doing a few loaves, sure, why not?!  You have space in your fridge.  

 

For the baker who is doing dozens of loaves, there is no space, as many bread only bakeries have very limited refrigeration, and no walk ins.  Also, yeast gasses are very harsh on refrigeration components and will corrode the coils.  This happens frequently with pizza places.

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Interesting. I've never worked in a professional setting, but I've noticed that the technique is shown and recommended in cookbooks and cooking shows as well. I figured there was a pragmatic reason for it, in regards to the end product.


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Another thing to consider: if you're working with anything other than 100% wheat, the pre-ferment can do more than just add flavour, it can also drastically improve other characteristics.  For example, I have a poolish that I'm about to turn into about a dozen honey and whole-wheat loaves.  Apart from the space this saves me (pre-fermenting the entirety of that much dough is impossible - my kitchen simply doesn't have the cold space) making the pre-ferment allows me to integrate golden pea flour, which requires extensive pre-hydration but properly handled adds worlds of flavour and texture to the finished bread, into the recipe in such a way that it doesn't bitter or dry out the final product.  Equally, for ale-hydtrated ryes, it allows the flour to interact with the liquids in ways that aren't possible with short exposure.

 

And Edward J mentions corrosion factors: as a commercial baker, you haven't lived until your fridge blows a coil and decompresses all its coolant into your doughs, utterly ruining a day's work.  The cost of replacing the coils is the reason I do ambient-temperature pre-ferments for 99% of my doughs now.  This moves a bit faster than a chilled pre-ferment, but that's less of an issue for me than it might be for other bakers, just based on the styles of bread I produce.


Edited by Panaderia Canadiense redundancy (log)
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Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

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So if I understand correctly, pre-fermenting isn't so much about the product as it is the logistics?


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...just logistics...

 

not really.  bread of 100% pre-fermented dough can have a rather strong flavor.

a little bit of twang is good; a lot of twang, mebbe' not.....

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As I mentioned before, if that is the case, why not simply proof the whole batch, but for less time?


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why preferment at all?

 

the questions are absolutely endless. 

certain people have developed certain recipes and certain methods that produce certain results.

but, those certain people do not own the whole world. 

even the richest 0.001% hire cooks - so, do your own thing and see how it turns out!

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