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Bake Better Hearth Bread - Use a Pre Ferment to Improve the Taste of Your Home Baked Loaves (Recipe)!

Updated on December 26, 2011

Speed is not your friend, when making a good loaf of bread.

When you're making an enriched bread, like a brioche, challah or sweet bread, then the fermentation time doesn't matter as much, because it's the rich ingredients in the dough that add much of the flavor but when making a lean bread, such as a baguette, or a sourdough or an Italian bread or a ciabbata or any of these rustic hearth loaves, time makes or breaks it all.

These breads contain little more that flour, leaven, salt and water.

  • Mix that combination together and bake it quickly (within a couple of hours) and you get something that tastes fine.
  • Mix that combination together and let it percolate for a day or so, and you get something that tastes sublime!

Add water and flour and a very small amount of yeast together and let it rest at room temperature for hours and hours and something magical starts to happen. Enzymes start to work on the flour, breaking down long carbohydrate chains that have little taste into a multitude of different sugar molecules and flavors. This process cannot be rushed and it is this long enzymatic process that gives good hearth bread it's complexity of taste. It is this enzymatic process that makes good bread good.

Problematically, for the home baker, our lives do not and cannot revolve around lengthy rising and baking schedules.

So here is an answer; a way to achieve the great complexity of taste of long risen bread and still be able to bake bread within a couple of hours of starting, on any day you decide to do so. You make a pre-ferment.

A pre ferment is simply a batch of very low yeast dough that you make ahead of time and let sit for a day or so, prior to adding it to a final recipe for bread. The great thing is, you can make a sizable batch of preferment, portion it into loaf sized containers and freeze it for up to 3 months until needed. Then, when it's time to make a loaf of bread, you just take out a bag of pre-ferment and add it to your dough. You get the great taste of a long risen bread, in a much shorter time.

There are a number of variations of pre-ferment; here is one called Pate Fermente. I got this from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" which is a fabulous fabulous book!

Pate Fermente

  • 4 ½ cups of all-purpose
  • 4 ½ cups of bread flour (if you have only bread or only all purpose, feel free to just double the amount of what you have, and omit what you don't!)
  • 1 Tbls salt
  • 2 tsps of instant yeast
  • 3 cups to 3 ½ cups of water
  1. Mix all the ingredients together
  2. Knead for about 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and shiny
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough inside the oiled bowl (roll it around, so it gets covered in oil) and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  4. Let the dough rise on the counter for an hour or so, or until doubled.
  5. punch the dough down, and put it in the fridge overnight.
  6. The next day, this pre ferment is ready for use. This is enough pre ferment for 4 good sized loaves of bread, so punch down again and divide it into 4 portions, and then cover and freeze until needed.

When you make bread, take your bag of frozen pre ferment out of the freezer an hour or so prior to making bread (if you forget, don't worry about it, you can still use it). You will add this pre ferment to the bread dough after you have added the water but before you start mixing or kneading. To make incorporation easier, cut the preferment up into small chunks.

Proceed to make bread in the same way you would had you not added the preferment, it should make little difference…except in taste – it should make a great improvement in taste!

Remember to subtract the amount of water, flour, yeast and salt from the recipe you are using. Adding one bag of preferment means that you need to subtract from your bread recipe:

  • 2 ¼ cups of flour
  • ¾ tsps of salt
  • ½ tsp of yeast
  • ¾ cup of water


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    • Joy At Home profile image

      Joilene Rasmussen 8 years ago from United States

      Looking forward to trying this.

    • lrohner profile image

      lrohner 8 years ago from USA

      Wow! I've worked with sourdough many, many times, but I never thought to apply the same type of pre-ferment to other types of breads. I make most of my own bread, but I generally shorten the time span by using my Quick Dough setting on my bread machine and doing the rest by hand. I definitely will be trying this method soon, as I haven't yet made a country loaf or baguette that I thought was fabulous. Thanks!!!

    • John D Lee profile image

      John D Lee 8 years ago

      You are very welcome - there is nothing like the alchemy of making really good bread at home! Very satisfying stuff.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 8 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Thanks for letting us in on these bread making secrets. I've always wondered about them