Any leavened dough can be made with a preferment.
Whether you should or should not make any recipe with a preferment is up to you. I have spoken about the benefits of using preferments in a previous video which you can watch here.
There are detailed explanations on all yeasted preferments and the use for each of them. All the specific benefits, and practical tips. You will learn everything about preferments in that video. In this video I will only demonstrate HOW to convert a recipe to be made with a preferment.
A good knowledge of baker’s percentage also known as baker’s math, and dough hydration is essential. Without those you cannot make or adjust recipes reliably. Click here for a full detailed explanation on that.
In short, a preferment is made by mixing a portion of the total ingredients of a bread dough recipe and leaving them to ferment for several hours. It improves the flavour, texture, and keeping quality of bread while reducing bulk fermentation time.
In a regular bread recipe 10% – 20% of the total flour would be prefermented. There are exceptions as you could easily preferment 100% of the total flour in a bread dough.
You can find recipes using all the different preferments in various breads in my Breads with Preferment playlist. There are around 30 examples from loaves made with 10% prefermented flour to pizza dough made with 100% prefermented flour. Sweet buns, ciabatta, rye bread, focaccia, baguettes, etc.
To convert a recipe to one that is made with a preferment first you must know the exact amount of ingredients. The example that I give is a regular loaf made with 500g flour, 300g water, 6g yeast, and 10g salt.
It is a 60% hydration dough with 2% salt, and 1.2% yeast.
No matter the amount of ingredients in the recipe that you want to convert, baker’s math never changes. The prefermented flour and the ingredients added to the prefermented flour will have certain percentages that you can use to calculate the weights accordingly. That is why baker’s percentage is important.
If you want to make the bread with poolish.
Poolish is a preferment with a hydration of 100%. Meaning that it contains the same amount of water and flour. Yeast is normally between 0.08% – 0.1% in relation to the flour in the poolish.
In the video I make this exact recipe. 20% of the total flour is prefermented.
So, we know that the total amount of flour is 500g. 20% of 500g is 100g.
That is the amount of flour in the preferment. To increase or decrease the amount of prefermented flour simply adjust the percentage up or down and calculate from the total flour.
Since a poolish has a hydration of 100% that means the amount of water we need to add to it is 100g.
As mentioned, yeast content should be around 0.08% – 0.1%. I went with 0.1%. 0.1% of 100g is 0.1g. My scales are not even able to pick this miniscule amount of weight up and that is why I normally just tell people to add a tiny pinch of yeast. A small pinch does correspond to 0.1g most of the time.
If your scales can weigh 0.1g, then use that option. Otherwise, a couple of tries making a preferment will give you a good idea on how big of a pinch you need with your fingers to make the preferment rise in time. If you watch any of my recipes that use preferments you will get a good idea on what 0.1g looks like. Alternatively weigh 1g of yeast and divide it into 10 equal parts.
With all that out the way, we have a preferment made with 100g flour, 100g water, and 0,1g yeast. The whole dough was made of 500g flour, 300g water, 6g yeast, and 10g salt. All that is left to do is to subtract the preferment ingredients from the whole recipe and you will end up with the ingredients you have to mix the preferment with to make the final dough.
In this case:
500g flour – 100g flour = 400g flour.
300g water – 100g water = 200g water.
6g yeast – 0.1g yeast = 5.9g yeast.
There is no salt in this preferment, so no subtraction needed.
If you want to make bread with biga.
Biga is normally a low hydration preferment of around 50% – 60%. That is the only difference between biga and poolish. So, to convert a recipe to biga the only extra step you will have to take is to calculate the amount of water in relation to the amount of flour in the biga.
If we use the previous example of prefermenting 20% of the total flour which is 100g, then if the biga we choose is 60% hydration that will mean the amount of water in it would be 60g because 60% of 100g is 60g.
The amount of yeast is the same. All that is left is to subtract the biga ingredients from the whole recipe.
Converting a recipe to be made with a sponge.
Sponge is different in that it contains all the yeast of the recipe and is normally used for enriched doughs. The calculations are still the same and you can find a detailed description and all the specifics in my Preferment Explanation along with all other preferments.
To convert a recipe to pate fermentee.
This is the simplest one if you bake bread regularly as you do not need to calculate anything except the total amount of preferment, so you know how much to pinch off and leave for later. There is no need to mix the preferment separately as it is made by taking a piece of fully mixed dough, leaving it to ferment and adding it to the following day’s dough. This can be repeated indefinitely.
The most important part of adjusting any recipe and making your own recipes is understanding baker’s percentage, dough hydration, and the preferments. Take just a little time to watch my videos on those topics and I guarantee you will instantly become a more confident baker. It is super easy to understand, and I do try to explain it as simply as possible.
Watch the video here