Bread Making: Preferments

From King Arthur Flour . . . . . . . . .

The subject of preferments is one that can cause immense confusion among bakers. The variety of terminology can bewilder even the most experienced among us. Words from foreign languages add their contribution to the complexity.

A preferment is a preparation of a portion of a bread dough that is made several hours or more in advance of mixing the final dough. The preferment can be of a stiff texture, it can be quite loose in texture, or it can simply be a piece of mixed bread dough. Some preferments contain salt, others do not. Some are generated with commercial yeast, some with naturally occurring wild yeasts. After discussing the specific attributes of a number of common preferments, we will list the benefits gained from their use.

These terms, chef, pâte fermentée, levain, sponge, madre bianca, mother, biga, poolish, sourdoughstarter, all pertain to preferments; some are quite specific, some broad and general. The important thing to remember is that, just as daffodils, roses, and tulips all are specific plants that fall beneath the heading of “flowers,” in a similar way the above terms all are in the category of “preferments.”

Let’s examine several of the terms listed in more detail.

Pâte fermentée, biga, and poolish are the most common preferments which use commercial yeast. As such, we can place them loosely in a category of their own. We place sourdough and levain in a separate category.

Pâte fermentée

Pâte fermentée is a French term that means fermented dough, or as it is occasionally called, simply old dough. If one were to mix a batch of French bread, and once mixed a portion were removed, and added in to a new batch of dough being mixed the next day, the portion that was removed would be the pâte fermentée. Over the course of several hours or overnight, the removed piece would ferment and ripen, and would bring certain desired qualities to the next day’s dough. Being that pâte fermentée is a piece of mixed dough, we note that it therefore contains all the ingredients of finished dough, that is, flour, water, salt, and yeast.

Biga

Biga is an Italian term that generically means preferment. It can be quite stiff in texture, or it can be of loose consistency (100% hydration). It is made with flour, water, and a small amount of yeast (the yeast can be as little as 0.1% of the biga flour weight). Once mixed, it is left to ripen for at least several hours, and for as much as 12 to 16 hours. Note that there is no salt in the biga. Unlike pâte fermentée, which is simply a piece of mixed white dough which is removed from a full batch of dough, the biga, lacking salt, is made as a separate step in production.

Poolish

Poolish is a preferment with Polish origins. It initially was used in pastry production. As its use spread throughout Europe it became common in bread. Today it is used worldwide, from South America to England, from Japan to the United States.

It is by definition made with equal weights of flour and water (that is, it is 100% hydration), and a small portion of yeast. Note again the absence of salt. It is appropriate here to discuss the quantity of yeast used. The intention is not to be vague, but it must be kept in mind that the baker will manipulate the quantity of yeast in his or her preferment to suit required production needs. For example, in a bakery with two or three shifts, it might be suitable to make a poolish or any other preferment and allow only 8 hours of ripening. In such a case, a slightly higher percentage of yeast would be indicated in the preferment. On the other hand, in a one-shift shop, the preferment might have 14 to 16 hours of maturing before the mixing of the final dough. In this case the baker would decrease the quantity of yeast used. Similarly, ambient temperature must be considered. A preferment that is ripening in a 65°F room would require more yeast than one in a 75°F room.

Sourdough and Levain

The words sourdough and levain tend to have the same meaning in the United States, and are often used interchangeably. This however is not the case in Europe. In Germany, the word sourdough (sauerteig) always refers to a culture of rye flour and water. In France, on the other hand, the word “levain” refers to a culture that is entirely or almost entirely made of white flour. While outwardly these two methods are different, there are a number of similarities between sourdough and levain. Most important is that each is a culture of naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria that have the capacity to both leaven and flavor bread. A German-style culture is made using all rye flour and water. A levain culture may begin with a high percentage of rye flour, or with all white flour. In any case, it eventually is maintained with all or almost all white flour. While a rye culture is always of comparatively stiff texture, a levain culture can be of either loose or stiff texture (a range of 50% hydration to 125% hydration).
With either method, the principle is the same. The baker mixes a small paste or dough of flour and water, freshens it with new food and water on a consistent schedule, and develops a colony of microörganisms that ferment and multiply. In order to retain the purity of the culture, a small portion of ripe starter is taken off before the mixing of the final dough. This portion is held back, uncontaminated by yeast, salt, or other additions to the final dough, and used to begin the next batch of bread.

One important way in which a sourdough and levain are different from pâte fermentée, biga, and poolish, is that the sourdough and levain can be perpetuated for months, years, decades, and even centuries. When we make a preferment using commercial yeast, it is baked off the next day. We then begin the process again, making a new batch of preferment for the next day’s use. It would be tempting to say the pâte fermentée can be perpetuated, since each day we simply take off a portion of finished dough to use the following day. This is not actually the case. We could not, for example, go on vacation for a week and come back to a healthy pâte fermentée, whereas we could leave our sourdough or levain culture for a week or more, with a minimum of consequences.

During the initial stages in the development of a sourdough or levain culture, it is common to see the addition of grapes, potato water, grated onions, and so on. While these can provide an extra nutritional boost, they are not required for success. The flour should supply the needed nutrients for the growing colony. Keep in mind, however, that when using white flours, unbleached and unbromated flour, such as those produced by King Arthur® Flour, are the appropriate choice. Vital nutrients are lost during the bleaching process, making bleached flour unsuitable.

Use and Benefits of Preferments

How does the baker know when his or her preferment has matured sufficiently and is ready to use?

There are a number of signs that can guide us. Most important, it should show signs of having risen. If the preferment is dense and seems not to have moved, in all likelihood it has not ripened sufficiently. Poor temperature control, insufficient time allowed for proper maturing, or a starter that has lost its viability can all account for the problem.

When the preferment has ripened sufficiently, it should be fully risen and just beginning to recede in the center. This is the best sign that correct development has been attained. It is somewhat harder to detect this quality in a loose preferment such as a poolish. In this case, ripeness is indicated when the surface of the poolish is covered with small fermentation bubbles. Often CO2 bubbles are seen breaking through the surface. There should be a pleasing aroma that has a perceptible tang to it. Take a small taste. If the preferment has ripened properly, we should taste a slight tang, sometimes with a subtle sweetness present as well.

The baker should keep in mind that a sluggish and undeveloped preferment, or one that has gone beyond ripeness, will yield bread that lacks luster, and suffers a deficiency in volume and flavor.

There are a number of important benefits to the correct use of preferments, and they all result from the gradual, slow fermentation that is occurring during the maturing of the preferment:

  • Dough structure is strengthened. A characteristic of all preferments is the development of acidity as a result of fermentation activity, and this acidity has a strengthening effect on the gluten structure.
  • Superior flavor. Breads made with preferments often possess a subtle wheaty aroma, delicate flavor, a pleasing aromatic tang, and a long finish. Organic acids and esters are a natural product of preferments, and they contribute to superior bread flavor.
  • Keeping quality improves. There is a relationship between acidity in bread and keeping quality. Up to a point, the lower the pH of a bread, that is, the higher the acidity, the better the keeping quality of the bread. Historically, Europeans, particularly those in rural areas, baked once every two, three, or even four weeks. The only breads that could keep that long were breads with high acidity, that is, levain or sourdough breads.
  • Overall production time is reduced. Above all, to attain the best bread we must give sufficient time for its development. Bread that is mixed and two or three hours later is baked will always lack character when compared with bread that contains a well-developed preferment. By taking five or ten minutes today to scale and mix a sourdough or poolish, we significantly reduce the length of the bulk fermentation time required tomorrow. The preferment immediately incorporates acidity and organic acids into the dough, serving to reduce required floor time after mixing. As a result the baker can divide, shape, and bake in substantially less time than if he or she were using a straight dough.
  • Rye flour offers some specific considerations. When baking bread that contains a high proportion of rye flour, it is necessary to acidify the rye (that is, use a portion of it in a sourdough phase) in order to stabilize its baking ability. Rye flour possesses a high level of enzymes compared to wheat flour, and when these are unregulated, they contribute to a gumminess in the crumb. The acidity present in sourdough reduces the activity of the enzymes, thereby promoting good crumb structure and superior flavor.

Source: King Arthur Flour Company

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Bread Making – Guide to Raising Your Own Sourdough Starter

Stephen Jones and Stacy Adimando wrote . . . . . . . .

Baking an incredible loaf of bread falls, somewhat frustratingly, between couldn’t-be-simpler and intimidatingly complex. For 30,000 years, we’ve known that making dough requires only flour and water, yet somehow it’s taken mankind nearly that long to figure out what takes bread from the simple sum of its ingredients to the airy baguettes and chewy ciabattas we hold to impossibly snobbish standards today.

It is, however, a starter. A mixture of flour and water, pre-ferments—or starters—are called so because they’re left out on our counters to ferment prior to mixing a full bread. Some are ready in hours. Others take days. But it’s as simple as stirring and walking away.

The Background

At various moments in the last 6,000 years, the miracle of natural leavening was discovered. By the late Bronze Age, Egyptians were advancing architecture, clothing, and bread baking, the latter with pre-ferments, which led to softer, lighter, more voluminous loaves. It’s from this time period that we have the first documented sourdough—a fermented dough made from wild yeast and bacteria, which produces natural acids lending it a sour taste.

As bread-baking rituals passed from Egypt to Greece and then throughout Europe, tricks and trends were applied to the art of wild leavening, most of which were short-lived. New flours were tested, fruits and their juices were added, and brewer’s yeast was introduced to fast-track the process. Most purists believe, however, that these additions’ microbes are rendered relatively null by the more adaptive bacteria floating around on wheat, containers, countertops, and most everything else. Which is why the classic combination of flour, water, and time has persisted.

It wasn’t until the 1850s that Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist pinpointed the science behind leavening. The gist is this: When flour meets water, a naturally occurring enzyme helps break down its starches into sugars. With enough time in a moderate temperature, wild yeasts and bacteria will help produce lactic and acetic acids, noticeably souring the dough. The yeast and bacteria also form gases which stretch and aerate the dough. The resulting starter will foam and bubble, and produce aromas of yeast and alcohol. The resulting bread will have a more open crumb, browner crust, and longer shelf life, plus the complex aromatic compounds we equate with “artisanal” flavor and finish.

Extending a starter’s active fermentation time (or maturation) amps up the flavor and makes proteins as well as micronutrients like iron and zinc more readily available to us. The time needed for each starter’s maturation varies, as does the bread with which each starter is ideally paired. Eventually, a starter may compose 15 to 50 percent of a final dough.

While pre-ferments are a mostly hands-off endeavor, they thrive best under certain conditions (like moderate temperatures) and sometimes need a little maintenance. Most famously, sourdough starters occasionally need to be “fed” with a mix of flour and water. (This may be why bread hobbyists often bestow cute names upon them, as they would to pets.)

But unlike in a hyper-controlled professional bakery, our home environments change constantly. And as a result, our starters evolve too. As unsettling as it may sound at first, a visit from a neighbor, an open window, or a nearby houseplant may introduce a new strain of wild yeast into the air and therefore into your starter. A heat wave or a polar vortex may temporarily boost or impede its growth. But this is normal. And as they change and mature, starters will go in and out of equilibria, gain a sense of place, and rise and fall. Some can be used indefinitely.

Learn to troubleshoot and rejuvenate pre-ferments with trial and error (not with the internet). You can feed them when the ritual works for you, or place them in the fridge (which stalls growth) when it doesn’t. Trust your starter, and try not to worry: Humans have been doing this for a long time.

Four Starters to Try

The flour-to-water ratio—and whether or not yeast is manually added to the mixture—determines how quickly starters ferment and in what breads or batters they are used. They may vary from a runny batter to a thick, gloppy paste, and many will change in texture as they ferment. They are ready to use when they have risen fully, or—for quicker pre-ferments—when bubbles form on the surface.

BIGA

Baker’s yeast is usually added to this fairly stiff, short-rise, one-time-use pre-ferment (you mix biga once, then use it immediately after maturing). Ideal for Italian breads like ciabatta, biga introduces an open, almost cakey texture to bread by reducing its gluten strength.

Formula: Stir together flour and water in a two-to-one ratio by weight. Though the amount of yeast you add to a biga varies depending on what you are baking and how long you have allotted to ferment it, a good guideline is to yeast biga at no more than 1 percent of what will be the pre-ferment’s final volume.

How to use: Mix, then let ferment at room temperature 12 to 24 hours prior to mixing into a final dough. Once ripe, use immediately.

POOLISH

Highly hydrated and runny, poolish can be used quickly and produces a less elastic, more extensible dough and open crumb—ideal in baguettes and country-style breads. Poolish usually has a touch of acidity, resulting in a nuanced, nutty flavor.

Formula: Stir together equal parts water and flour, and add a small amount of yeast—depending on what you are baking, this will typically be no more than 1 percent of the final volume of the pre-ferment.

How to use: Poolish ferments for about 12 hours or longer, depending on temperature, recipe, and the amount of yeast you’ve added. It can be used at up to equal weight of the flour in the final dough, and is designed for one-time use.

SPONGE

Sponge is a term that has various meanings in baking, but in this case we’re talking about a heavily yeasted, single-use starter that’s best in higher acidity doughs that require more strength. Many seasoned bakers prefer it for sweet doughs, such as brioche.

Formula: Stir together water and flour in a two-to-one ratio. Sponge is often heavily yeasted because it ferments for a shorter time.

How to use: Mix sponge and let ferment for two to 24 hours, depending on the yeast level. Sponge may make up to 50 percent of a final dough.

SOURDOUGH

The original pre-ferment, sourdough starters (or “mothers”) have no added yeast and are designed for long-term feeding and use.

Formula: In a mason jar, stir equal parts water and flour (preferably whole wheat, organic, and freshly milled) by volume—about a quarter cup of each ingredient to start. Let stand at room temperature overnight with the lid ajar (or cover with cheese cloth). Stir in the same amount of water and flour the next day, and you should see signs of life like bubbling and rising. Repeat for three days. Not much may happen during days two through four, but don’t give up.

How to use: After day five, use it in pancake or waffle batters. At 1 week and beyond, add to bread doughs, at up to a quarter of the final dough’s weight.

Source: Saveur


Read also at King Arthur Flour:

Sourdough Starter (step-by-step recipe) . . . . .

In Pictures: Stuffed Bread

Is Bread Crust More Nutritious than the Bread Inside?

Lisa Drayer wrote . . . . . . .

I asked Wesley Delbridge, a registered dietitian nutritionist and media spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who has taught food science for over 10 years at Arizona State University.

“I would say the answer is not necessarily,” he said. “If you ask parents, a large percentage will say the bread crust is healthier … but it’s a pretty common myth.”

Some breads such as challah or brioche might be “painted” with egg wash, giving the crust a different nutrition profile than the soft inside, said Ann Kwong, a medicinal chemist and expert for the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society and publisher of more than 50 peer-reviewed scientific journals.

But most of the hype around the nutritional attributes of bread crust is related to a German study published in 2002, which found that when compared with bread crumbs, bread crust contained about eight times the amount of a cancer-fighting antioxidant known as pronyl-lysine.

“They isolated the antioxidant and exposed it to human intestinal cells and found that it increased the activity of enzymes associated with cancer prevention,” Delbridge said.

“Our whole lives, we are taught to eat bread crust — and so now (this study shows) it’s been ‘proven,’ ” he said, “And moms and grandmas everywhere are like, ‘See, I told ya.'”

Crust chemistry 101

The crust of bread is the part that has the highest exposure to heat when baked, Delbridge explained. But on the chemical level, something known as a Maillard reaction (often referred to as nonenzymatic browning) is taking place. “In the bread, there are sugars, which react with amino acids in the presence of heat and create a brown color,” he said.

“The Maillard reaction gives bread a different color, texture and flavor, and that’s why the crust tastes and feels different from the actual bread.” Some manufacturers add caramel color to create a browner color.

But while the Maillard reaction is responsible for the formation of cancer-protective pronyl-lysine, it can also result in the production of a cancer-causing compound known as acrylamide.

That doesn’t mean bread crust causes cancer, however. It just means the science is mixed when it comes to crust.

“Within the bread crust, there are cancer promoters and cancer fighters. It’s like there’s a battle going on. Who is winning the battle? I’m not sure. But anything happening or reacting is completely marginal,” Delbridge said.

Bread basics: Getting the most out of your bite

So where does that leave us with regard to bread crust?

At the very least, whether to eat it shouldn’t become a battle with your children if they reject eating them.

“If I can get my child to consume most of the sandwich by cutting off the bread crust, then that’s great,” Delbridge said. “I’d rather him eat less than none at all.”

But Delbridge suggests using leftover crust as an opportunity for a conversation about ways to prevent food waste. “At home, I’ll say, ‘Let’s use the crust for something else.’ … And so we take the crust and feed the doves and birds around our house.”

You can also make stuffing or croutons out of bread crust, which can show children that there are ways to repurpose it with other foods.

As for the nutritional aspects of bread, experts say the type of bread you choose matters more than whether you eat the crust.

According to Delbridge, the most nutritionally superior bread is 100% whole-wheat bread or 100% whole-grain bread, which means all of the bread is made from the entire wheat grain (or other grains) and delivers fiber, B vitamins and vitamin E.

Wheat bread may sound healthy but is often made with enriched wheat flour, with which the bran and germ have been removed and you’re left with starch, though B vitamins and iron are added later in the production process.

A bread containing whole grains might be referred to as “in-between” bread, according to Delbridge, as it may contain 100% whole-wheat flour mixed with enriched flour for a different flavor profile.

So choose bread wisely, whether you eat the crusts or not.

Source: CNN

Survey Finds Huge and Unnecessary Salt Levels in Store-bought Bread

Major findings of the survey:

  • Canadian bread product saltiest in survey of global bread products
  • Some breads surveyed had as much sodium (salt) as seawater
  • More than a third of breads worldwide have more salt than UK maximum salt reduction target for bread (1.5 g of salt or 600 mg of sodium /100 g)
  • 73% of Canadian breads exceeded Health Canada’s 2016 targets for sodium in bread products and 21% were above recommended maximum levels.

Bread features heavily in many diets worldwide, and is one of the biggest sources of salt in diets. A new survey by World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), based at Queen Mary University of London, has revealed the shocking levels of salt present in this essential staple. WASH surveyed over 2,000 white, wholemeal, mixed grain and flat breads from 32 countries and regions, including over 500 products from Canada collected by Professor Mary L’Abbe’s lab at the University of Toronto.

Researchers found that the saltiest bread in the survey – Rosemary Foccacia by ACE Bakery, available in Canada – had a shocking 2.65 g of salt (1060 mg sodium) per 100 g, which is saltier than seawater.

In Canadians more than 1 year of age, bread contributes the most sodium to dietary intakes (14%), primarily because it is consumed in large quantities. While voluntary sodium reduction benchmark targets exist in Canada, there is currently no federal or provincial sodium-monitoring program to track the food industry’s progress, although aggregate data was published by Health Canada earlier this year.

Previous research by Professor L’Abbe’s lab has examined industry’s progress between 2010 and 2013 and found only a 6.6% reduction in bread products. Reducing salt in bread is an easy and effective way of lowering salt intake across the whole population – research has shown that the salt content of bread could be lowered by 25% over 6 weeks and consumers would not notice the difference.

44% of white breads included in the WASH survey had more salt than the UK’s maximum salt target. The Republic of Macedonia produced white breads with the highest salt content, averaging 1.42 g/100 g, compared to China which had the lowest average salt content of 0.65g/100g. Canadian breads in this category had an average salt content of 1.23g/100g, ranging from 0.43g/100g to 2.65 g/100 g.

Despite the UK’s progress with salt reduction to date, the average salt content of wholemeal breads from Qatar, China, Costa Rica and South Africa (0.78 g/100 g – 0.92 g/100 g) were lower than the average salt content of wholemeal breads in the UK (0.93 g/100 g). This suggests that mandatory salt reduction targets, such as those put in place in South Africa, may be more effective than voluntary targets.

Although mixed grain breads had the lowest salt content of the bread categories, there was still a huge variation within this category. The highest salt bread available in Bulgaria had a salt content of 2.50 g/100 g, compared to the lowest salt bread available in Costa Rica with a salt content of 0.09 g/100 g, a massive 27-fold difference in salt content. In Canada the highest salt bread in this category had a salt content of 1.69 g/100 g and the lowest 0.46 g/100 g.

A recent survey by WASH found that a third of respondents felt that the WHO could do more to encourage countries to lower salt intakes. However, the majority of respondents felt that their country’s government should take primary responsibility.

Professor Mary L’Abbe at the University of Toronto says: “Although recent Health Canada data has documented some progress in the reduction of sodium in prepackaged foods, Canadian bread products surveyed here demonstrate that more work is needed to meet recommended levels”

Mhairi Brown, Nutritionist at WASH, says: “This survey clearly demonstrates the progress still to be made to lower salt intake by 30% by 2025, in line with WHO recommendations. Bread is an essential staple food in many countries but is still a key source of salt in our diets due to the frequency with which we eat bread. Globally we must do more to reduce salt intake, and a simple way to do this is to lower salt in our staple foods.”

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiology at Queen Mary, University of London, and WASH Chairman says: “Eating too much salt puts up our blood pressure, the major cause of strokes, heart attacks and heart failure, the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Reducing salt intake around the world would save millions of lives each year and all countries should be working towards reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025. Our survey has shown that many bread manufacturers internationally are still adding huge and unnecessary amounts of salt to their products. Governments must act now and reinvigorate salt reduction work in the food industry.”

Source: EurekAlert!