What Is A Preferment And How Can It Improve Your Homemade Bread?

Anyone who has ever baked bread knows that a lot more goes into it than simply mixing up a dough, letting it rise, and popping it in the oven until it turns golden brown and fragrant. While some bakers enjoy getting down to the microscopic specifics of what is happening in a particular dough, the majority of home bakers are really only interested in the methods and techniques that can improve their homemade bread. One of the best ways to up your bread-baking game is by establishing a preferment.

Preferment is a term that can flummox even the most seasoned baker. At its most basic, a preferment is a separate dough that is made well in advance of the bread itself. It is allowed to ferment for hours, or even days before it is added to the final dough. Preferments go by many names and recipes, which is what can make them so confusing. There's levain, poolish, pâte fermentée, sourdough starter, mother, sponge, madre bianca, and many more that all have their own unique methods and ingredients.

Without going too deep into the rabbit hole, think of preferments as something of a head start. Making one and including it in your next batch of homemade bread is going to be an absolute game changer that can boost your bread's flavor, amp up its texture, and make the rising process all the easier.

Preferment can improve texture, taste, and rise

The key to success with a preferment is to make sure that it has properly ripened. Once it is full of bubbles and smells somewhat tangy, the preferment should be ready to incorporate into the main body of the bread dough as specified by the recipe. You then continue to make the bread as you normally would. If all goes well, an outstanding loaf of bread should come out of the oven.

The acidic preferment allows for more fermentation in the main dough, which increases gluten formation, which in turn leads to a better rise and a stronger structure. Depending on the variety of preferment you've made and how ripe it is, the bread should have a wonderfully rich, wheaty flavor and a gorgeous baked aroma. Sourdough bread, in particular, is known for its delightful tang that comes courtesy of its preferment. 

Thanks to the additional acidity, your bread may also be kept for longer periods without going stale. Furthermore, an established preferment typically cuts down your fermentation time by about half. So, for better bread and better baking, take the extra time to make a preferment. You'll be glad that you did.