Dough Up

Pre-Ferments, Sourdough and Starters


Successful bread requires an understanding of the relationship between yeast, water and flour, the importance of temperature and the wonderful relationship with the pre-ferments or sourdoughs known as starters.

Readers who want to learn more about European bread making should consult the work of master bakers, especially in France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Turkey.

English language readers should search for copies of Wilfred Fance’s The Students’ Technology of Bread Making and Flour Confectionary and Jeffery Hamelman’s Bread, then start practising.

The majority of bread baked in Europe is made with pre-ferments, known as a biga in Italy, pâte fermentée in France, poolish in Germany and Switzerland and sourdough generally.

There is also a pre-ferment made with nothing more than a piece of sourdough, flour, water and the bacteria that exists in the air.

Barley, rye and spelt flours mixed with water are popular pre-ferments, which are a law onto themselves; every baker has their own version.


Biga – 1


For country bread dough made with white flour or wholemeal flour.

125 g whole-wheat flour
75 g strong white flour
125 ml water
1 g dried yeast

Sieve flours into a large bowl, add dried yeast and water, form into a loose dough, leave to rise covered for 22 hours, desired temperature 23°C-25°C.


Biga – 2


For focaccia and pizza dough.

200 g 0 flour
120 ml water
20 g yeast

Sieve flour into a large bowl, add yeast and water, form into a loose dough, leave to rise covered for 16 hours, desired temperature 23°C.


Biga – 3


For Mantovana and olive oil breads.

170 g strong white flour
120 ml water, warmed
Olive oil
20 g yeast

Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water, pour into a large bowl, sieve the flour and stir into a smooth dough. Coat with oil, leave to rise for 16 hours, desired temperature 23°C.


Biga – 4


For toast bread dough and bread buns dough.

100 g 0 flour
100 ml water
20 g yeast

Mix until smooth, leave to rise covered for 16 hours, desired temperature 21°C.


Biga – 5


For Pane Toscano dough.


For a final dough weighing 1.75 kg (1 kg bread flour, 730 ml water, 20 g yeast), the biga should be:

180 g flour
105 ml water
2 g yeast

Mix until smooth, leave to rise covered for 16 hours, desired temperature 21°C.


Natural Yeast Dough


For use in panettone dough and other dough preparations that require a natural yeast dough.


First Stage

15 g piece sourdough
30 g strong white flour
15 ml mineral/spring water

Mix and mash with a fork for three minutes, leave to rise for two hours or until dough has doubled in size. Desired dough temperature is 28°C.


Second Stage

15 g piece sourdough
30 g strong white flour
30 ml mineral/spring water

Repeat first stage.


Third Stage

20 g piece sourdough
40 g strong white flour
20 ml mineral/spring water

Turn out onto a clean surface, knead for ten minutes, leave to rise.

Retard unused yeast dough in the fridge.




For white bread dough.

200 g baking flour
200 ml water
Dried yeast, pinch

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, add a few granules of dried yeast, stir in the water to form a smooth batter. Leave to rise covered for 16 hours, desired temperature 21°C.


Sourdough – 1


For use in any dough that requires a sourdough.

50 g rye flour
50 ml mineral water

Mix in a small bowl, leave to ferment in ambient temperature for three days, top up every three days when using or retard in fridge.


Sourdough – 2


For use in any bread dough using multiple grain and wholemeal flour, nuts and seeds.

200 g baking flour
130 ml water
5 g salt
2 g yeast

Sieve flour into a large bowl, crumble in the yeast, add salt and water, work into a smooth dough. Leave to rise covered for 16 hours, desired temperature 21°C.


Formula, Method and Temperature


Dough temperature controls the speed of fermentation.

Fance gives a method for ensuring the correct dough temperature, ideal when the ambient temperature is unreliable.

Determine the desired dough temperature, then double it.

For 23°C that would be 46.

Take the temperature of the flour, subtract from the doubled figure. This gives the desired water temperature.

Therefore if the flour temperature is 15.2, the liquid temperature needs to be 30.8.

Generally this is achieved with lukewarm milk or water, which can be used to dissolve the yeast.

All bread is made to a formula based on the amount of flour and to a specific method.

The rest is uncomplicated.

Dough generally starts with the pre-ferment, a yeast mixture (flour, liquid and yeast, and sometimes sugar), liquid (usually milk or water, or a combination of both), flour and salt. Malts and molasses can be added to boost fermentation and provide colour and flavour.

The role of the pre-ferment needs an explanation longer than this book can allow. Essentially starters aid the fermentation of the dough and produce a required effect. See Adria.

For specific breads a specific flour must be used. See note on flours.

Salt is an essential element in bread making because it affects crumb and crust colour, assists moisture retention, influences fermentation, stabilises the gluten in the dough and gives the bread flavour.

But it can retard the yeast so its use is determined by the requirements of the particular recipe, in some instances not at all as in the Tuscan pane. See Malta.

All the breads featured in this book were tested using the hand-kneading method. A spiral mixer is quicker but hand-kneading is an experience every baker should know, especially in the home where small quantities are used.

Yeast referred to in this book means fresh pressed yeast, not dried!

Bakers will sell fresh yeast. Many shops and supermarkets carry baker’s yeast.


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