Bakers Journal

Technical Talk: Game of Preferments

March 30, 2017
By Alan Dumonceaux

How to extend your products’ shelf life without the need for mould inhibitors

Photo: Fotolia

With the constant desire for more natural products and cleaner labels, bakers are facing a dilemma. Many are asking, “How do I delay mould growth without the addition of inhibitors?”

One of the answers lies in acidifying your doughs by adding a preferment.

The benefits of preferment to your final product are significant. Shaping and moulding become much easier for the artisan baker. Your mixing times might decrease, leading to a significant improvement of crust colour, crumb colour and most importantly flavour.

There will no doubt be concerns from customers that their product will stale and mould like never before if you stop adding calcium propionate; however, you want them in your shop more often, anyway. The more frequently your customers visit your bakery/pastry shop, the greater chance you have to increase your sales.

When transitioning your formulas from straight dough to a formula with a preferment, there are considerations that need to be taken into account.

  • What percentage of pre-fermented flour do I use?
  • What type of preferment can I use?
  • Should I use more than one preferment?
  • Which flour should I preferment?

Question No. 1
The percentage of prefermented flour varies depending upon the type of preferment. If you choose to use a levain, the range is typically between 10 and 25 per cent pre-fermented flour. A mildly acetic flavour would come from the lower range and a more robust flavour would come from a higher range. There is an upper limit of how much flour can be prefermented. If you preferment with over 35 per cent flour, the ph of the dough becomes too low and the dough will begin to fissure on you while proofing and again while baking. This may be desired, but usually in rye breads.

When using a yeasted preferment, like a biga, sponge or poolish, a common percentage is 30 to 33 per cent, but it is not limited to that range. You can increase your preferment to 50 per cent or higher. As you increase your preferment, an important consideration is required. Your mixing time decreases with an increase in prefermented flour. The gluten has been modified through the long fermentation cycle and the final dough mix time will be reduced.

Question No. 2
The answer lies in what is your flavour profile that you would like to have. For a more acetic flavour, you would introduce, in order of a stronger acetic flavour to far milder flavour, stiff levain, liquid levain, biga, and sponge, and then to the least acetic flavour of a poolish. Higher-hydration, yeasted preferments have more lactic acid production and will be more on the sweeter side versus a biga which is a much stiffer preferment and will provide a slightly more acetic flavour profile. Higher-hydration preferments also ferment faster than stiffer preferments, so please take this into consideration for your formula and production timing.

Question No. 3
Chad Robertson of the famed Tartine Bakery in San Francisco pre-ferments both a poolish and a levain into his baguettes. This has been the preference of many bakers recently. The mildness of the poolish and the tartness of the levain, provide a nice depth of flavour for the baguettes.

Certainly in the world of competing, you can see two, three, or four preferments in one dough. Some may argue that this is a lot of work; however, if you looking for depth of flavour in your product, you can experiment with a variety of preferments in the same dough.

Question No. 4
It’s important to preferment your weakest flour, leaving your strongest or highest-protein flour for your final dough. This will assist in maximizing your loaf volume and oven spring as your final dough development will be the strongest flour and yield the highest, most robust loaf.

More importantly, the flavours that come with fermenting any ancient grain will be well received by your customer.

Below is a step-by-step example of how to add a preferment into a dough. The following example is for the addition of a polish; however, the same steps can be utilized for any preferment

Provide a formula to make 8 baguettes @ 400g ea. Please make a formula using a poolish, preferment 33 per cent of the overall flour in the poolish.

Step 1: Calculate the baker’s percentage for the overall formula.

  • Flour    100%
  • Water    69%
  • Salt    2%
  • Yeast    0.8%
  • Total    171.8%

Step 2: Calculate the total yield.

  • 8 x 400 = 3200g

Step 3: Determine the value of 1 part or 1 per cent of the baker’s percent. To do this, you take the total new formula of 3200g and divide it into the sum of the baker’s percent of 171.8 per cent.

  • 3200 / 171.8 = 18.63 (18.6263097 is rounded up)

Step 4: Create a new formula by multiplying the factor of 18.63 into each of the baker’s percent.

  • Flour    100% x 18.63 = 1863g
  • Water    69%   x 18.63 = 1285g
  • Salt    2%     x 18.63 = 37 g
  • Yeast    .8%    x 18.63 = 15 g
  • Total = 3200g

Step 5: Calculate your preferment using 33 per cent of the overall flour. The total flour is 1863g, therefore 33 per cent of the total formula is thus calculated: 1863 x .33 = 615 g of poolish.

Based on the type of pre ferment used, calculate your new formula. In this example we want to use a poolish which is based on the following formula.

  • Flour    100%        615g
  • Water    100 %        615g
  • Yeast    .2%            1g
  • Total    200.2%      1331g

Step 6: Calculate your final dough by subtracting the ingredients used in the preferment from the quantity in the overall formula. Where ingredients are not used in a preferment, simply carry the total required to the final dough. The total preferment will now be added into the final dough as an ingredient.

  • Flour    1863 – 615 = 1248g
  • Water    1285 – 665 =  615g
  • Yeast    15     –   1    =  14g





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