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.
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.
Handmade Small Breads
The above is an extract from Handmade Small Breads, which contains the recipes for dough starters. Buy it now directly from Fricot Editions.