Up Your Bread Game by Using Preferments
On a recent episode of Pizza Quest, Nicky Giusto of Central Milling joined host Peter Reinhart during the International Pizza Expo to discuss what makes Central Milling pizza dough unique. During his interview, Nicky discussed using a sponge or levain in his dough - two key terms that any baker worth their grain should know.
The Preferment Family
Utilizing natural yeast for bread was a technique discovered by the Egyptians over 6,000 years ago. Over millennia, we continue to refine the process - from preferments to the advent of active dry yeast in the 1920s, to the artisanal baking renaissance.
Nicky referenced a sponge and levain during his interview; preferments also go by starter, chef, biga, poolish, and more. All preferments are essentially a flour and water batter inoculated with yeast, wild or commercial, with nuanced differences in hydration, fermentation, innolculation, and cultural origins. What they have in common are essential to good bread - extending fermentation, developing character, and of course, maximizing the rise.
French bakers in the 1700s created a levain by fermenting grape juice and flour days or even weeks to create loaves. Modern day bakers can yield a sponge by mixing active dry yeast with flour and water for an hour - both are different techniques to achieve the benefits of a preferment. The longer it takes for bread dough to perfectly ferment, the more benefits in flavor and texture.
Sourdough - The Classic Preferment
Sourdough received its name from the acidic flavor achieved from yeasts thriving in lower temperatures. The classic method is to use a starter that's made of wild yeast, but some bakers used a facsimile of dry yeast, flour, and a pinch of cumin to emulate the wild yeast's tang.
A loaf of sourdough is the perfect example of why preferments are worth the time - Crackly crust, light crumb, and flavorful edge.
The Key to Mastering Preferments
The critical element to baking with a preferment is utilizing it at the perfect time to maximize the yeast's lifespan. Use how thick the batter or dough is, temperature, and the quantity of yeast to guide your judgement, but stay within the parameters of your recipe to avoid over proofing.
By understanding yeast and preferments, you're a step ahead in creating beautiful baguettes, ciabattas, fougasse, and brioche. All you need is patience, water, flour, yeast, and the guidance of masters like Nicky.
Employee owned and operated, Central Milling is committed to preserving American farmlands and providing the highest quality flour and grains to the bakers of today. Thanks to Central Milling for supporting HRN and making this article and Pizza Quest possible.
Listen to the podcast interview here or find Pizza Quest wherever you get your podcasts: