Fermentation is an essential part of bread baking. All naturally leaved breads call for some form of pre-fermentation during which a small proportion of bacteria and / or complementary yeasts are added to enhance the flavour, improve texture and in some cases add to the shelf life of the final product.
One you have become comfortable with making basic dough, you can move on to experimenting with a few simple pre-ferments like those mentioned below:
Autolyse is the most basic of pre-ferments and often used in the mixing process. Using the proportions given in your recipe, mix the flour with water for a few minutes until the dough comes together. Leave it to rest for anywhere between 1-10 hours before beginning production. This technique allows for better gluten development, gives you a more elastic dough and reduces kneading time. It also improves flavour and crust formation.
Stiff Dough: Pate Fermentée (Old Dough) & Biga
In France, the addition of old dough to a fresh batch is a popular way of combining direct and indirect methods of fermentation. This old dough contains all of the basic ingredients of the final dough, i.e., flour, salt, water and yeast. It takes approximately 12-15 hours to become ready for use and so if often made the night before. The old dough can be added in the proportion of 15-30% of the weight of the flour in the recipe and is added just before kneading. (E.g.: If your recipe calls for 250 g of flour you can add 37.5-75 g of old dough to it). The Italian Biga is similar to the french pate fermentée, except that it doesn’t have salt.
Recipe: Flour 250 g ,Water 159 g, Salt 4.5 g & Yeast 1.5 g
Both pre-ferments can be stored for upto 3 days in the refrigerator or for about 3 months in the freezer. Transfer to the fridge the night before you wish to use it.
Wet Sponge: Poolish
Polish is a wet sponge that can be made anywhere between 6 to 12 hours before you begin baking your bread. Due to it’s wet consistency (it resembles pancake batter), the yeast ferments and multiplies quicker and more easily as there is less resistance from the dough. It is excellent for rustic breads, pizza dough and focaccia. The sponge is usually added in accordance to the water weight given in the recipe.
Recipe: Four 200 g, Water 200 to 250 g, Yeast .5 g
Poolish freezers well for up to 6 months and can remain fresh for about 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator before it begins to smell of dying yeast.