Jacob Burton's blog

Announcing The Stella Culinary Super Feed

Stella Culinary Super Feed

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Based on multiple requests, I'm happy to announce the Stella Culinary Super Feed. This feed will allow you to subscribe to free automatic updates either through iTunes or traditional RSS (using the "aggregator" of your choice). This means that every video and audio podcast released will be available through this one, simple to subscribe to, "Super Feed."

If you're already familiar with how to subscribe to podcasts via iTunes or RSS, simply click on the corresponding links above and you'll be set. If you're unsure how this free subscription process works, then read on.

How to Subscribe Via iTunes

How to Subscribe to a Podcast Feed Using iTunes

  • To subscribe to the Stella Culinary Super Feed using iTunes, simply click the iTunes link at the top of this post. A new window in your browser will open, revealing the feed in iTunes format.

  • Click the "View in iTunes" button found on the left hand side of the new browser window. A dialog box will pop up, asking if you want to launch iTunes (if it's not already open). Click "OK".

  • When iTunes launches, you will be taken directly to the Stella Culinary Super Feed Page.

  • Click on the "Subscribe Free" button found right underneath the Super Feed logo. When the dialog box pops up and asks if you're sure, click the "Subscribe" button.

  • You're all set. Now you can stream all of our videos and podcasts to your Apple TV or load them on your iPhone, iPad or iPod so you can study on the go.

  • Please take a second to leave Stella Culinary a review on the Super Feed iTunes Page.

Subscribing With Traditional RSS

RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" and is a convenient way to stay up to date on your favorite blogs and podcasts. Before RSS, you would have to go to each individual content producer and see if they had posted anything new. With RSS, you can "Subscribe" to your favorite content producers' digital feed using a "News Reader." This way, all you have to do it check your news reader to see if any new content has been published.

My personal favorite RSS Aggregator is Google Reader. It's easy to use, and since I already have a Google Account, it's extremely convenient.

How to Subscribe Using Traditional RSS

  • To subscribe to the Stella Culinary Super Feed through traditional RSS, click on the "RSS" icon located at the top of this page.

  • A new browser window will open and in the top right hand corner of the window, you'll have multiple options on what feed aggregator you want to use. Since I have a Google Account, I'll click on the "+ Google" button.

  • The next window will ask if you want to add this feed to your Google Home Page or your Google Reader. Since I use Google Reader to keep track of all my favorite websites, that's the option I'll choose.

  • If using a different RSS Reader that isn't listed, simply copy the RSS feed (http://feeds.feedburner.com/StellaCulinarySuperFeed) and paste it into the URL field under "Add New Feed."


Italian Inspired - Stella Underground Dinner, June 18th, 2015 Photo Wrap Up

Stella Culinary - Italian Themed Underground Dinner

It all started with squid ink pasta.

Alex brought it up in our menu meeting and we started riffing from there.

Below is our multi-course, Italian inspired menu served on June 18th, 2015. Thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; we had a blast hanging out and cooking for you.

Snacks - Wood Fire Ciabbatta, Focaccia, Olives, Italian Charcuterie
woodfire ciabatta, pickled peppadew peppers, herb focaccia, assorted olives

Arguably the best part of the Stella Underground dinners is our mingling period with snacks. Usually lasting about 30 minutes, our snack session gives everyone the opportunity to open their wine, pour a few glasses, and relax a bit before dinner starts.

On this night we featured about 10 different forms of cured Italian meets including prosciutto, coppa, mortadella, salumi, etc.

We also put out an assortment of cured olives, wood fire ciabatta made with our sourdough starter, freshly baked herb foccacia, and pickled peppadew peppers.

Beef Carpaccio
beef carpacio, cold pressed olive oil, minced shallot, fried capers,
preserved lemon rind, arugula, mustard vinaigrette

Simple, classic, delicious.

When we first developed this menu, I actually wanted to use Ostrich fan fillet for this dish. Ostrich meat is incredibly lean, with a rich, dark red color. It becomes extremely tough when cooked, but its amazing raw.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to obtain Ostrich meat in time for this dinner, so I went the classic route with a beef tenderloin. The tenderloin was partially frozen to firm up the meat before thinly slicing and pounding flat.

The carpaccio was then dressed with a generous amount of cold pressed olive, arugula, fried capers, minced shallot, preserved lemon rind, fleur de sel, and dotted with a mustard emulsion.


Squid Ink Pasta - Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Black Garlic
"black pasta;" squid ink pasta, black trumpet mushrooms,
black garlic emulsion ... guanciale, pecorino, pine nuts

Second course was my favorite of the night.

So many dishes this time of year are bright and colorful, but I wanted to go the opposite direction, making the presentation almost monochromatic. This dish was a play on contrasting black and white colors, while exploring various layers of umami and texture.

For the fresh pasta I used 45 ounces of bread flour, 25 ounces eggs, and 10 ounces squid ink. Expressed in the baker's percentage, my final formula for the squid ink pasta was:

  • 100% Bread Flour

  • 55.5% Whole Eggs

  • 22.2% Squid Ink

When making fresh pasta, I rarely go 100% bread flour, but for this dish, I needed the sturdy chew that only a high protein flour could achieve.

For plating, the pasta was placed on top of a squid-ink and black garlic emulsion. The cooked pasta was dressed with black garlic oil and joined on the plate with black trumpet mushrooms glazed in Barolo wine and butter.

For contrasting color and texture, the pasta was garnished with shaved pecorino, pine nuts, and a roll of guanciale (cured pork cheek).


Braised lamb shank
barolo braised lamb shank, porcini polenta, roasted garlic,
marinated artichoke hearts, oregano from the garden

These petite lamb ranks were first charred in the wood fire oven which we had at about 850°F/455°C. Once they were a rich brown, flirting with black, they were rubbed with tomato paste and charred once more.

The shanks were then submerged in a Barolo wine marinade made by simply simmering the wine with diced mirepoix and minced garlic; much like you would make a vegetable stock, but using wine instead of water.

After the shanks marinated for 2 days, they were braised in equal amounts Barolo marinade and roasted chicken stock for 8 hours at 225°F/107°C. The braising liquid was then strained and reduced to a glaze using the exact same method as demonstrated in our braised beef short rib video.

The accompanying polenta was made using our basic method, but instead of water, we used a porcini mushroom broth.

The lamb shank was garnished with house marinated artichoke hearts, slow roasted garlic, and fresh oregano from the Stella garden.


Lemon Tart with Pistachio Gelato
lemon tart, pistachio gelato, pistachio oil, maldon sea salt

This dessert was another exercise in focused simplicity.

After the robustly flavored lamb shank and porcini polenta served in the previous course, the last thing we wanted to do was bash our guests over the head with a heavy, rich dessert.

The lemon custard was made on the stove top to ensure an even consistency, and poured into "false baked" tart shells to set. The tart was then topped with a pistachio gelato deriving it's flavor from both extract and chopped nuts. The dessert was finished with a drizzle of pistachio oil, a sprinkle of maldon sea salt, and few fresh violas from the garden.

If you would like to attend an upcoming Stella Culinary dinner or cooking class, you can register at shop.stellaculinary.com.


American Classics Re-Imagined - July 2nd & 3rd, 2015

We had an amazing time writing this menu which we'll be featuring just before the Fourth of July weekend. Inspired by some of our favorite child hood ears, this menu features our take on American classics.


“everything bagel” deviled eggs; house cured gravlax, dill & chive, caviar

short rib stuffed cremini mushrooms

manilla clam dip with taro root chips

homemade lamb “smokies” with apricot-barbecue glaze

slow poached prawn, herbed cream cheese, horseradish cocktail, butter cracker

First Course

“lobster louis;” poached lobster, charred asparagus tips, shaved tomato, salmon roe, iceberg broth

Second Course

“pork ribs & apple sauce;” smoked pork rib terrine, dashi poached apple sauce, cheesy corn bread croutons, stone fruit barbecue glaze

Third Course

peanut butter and jelly doughnut; fresh fried brioche doughnut stuffed with homemade raspberry jelly, peanut butter-maple glaze, cereal milk

Register Now


How to Make Baking Molds Using Tinfoil

When baking hamburger brioche buns or sandwich rolls, it's sometimes desirable to use a mold. This will allow the buns to rise individually and hold their shape throughout the baking process.

This is especially important when baking hamburger buns since any outward expansion during baking will result in a larger diameter than desired, throwing off your burger to bun ratio.

If you plan on making lots of hamburger buns on an ongoing basis, you may wish to opt for metal tart rings scaled to your desired diameter or a specialty brioche bun pan. This recommendation is meant more for a professional kitchen that will need to produce over 50 brioche buns on a daily basis. Although the tinfoil rings are re-usable, they will build up gunk and have a hard time keeping their shape for more than a few bakes, making a tart ring a more convenient approach.

However, if you're just casually dabbling with brioche buns, making the rings out of foil is incredibly simple, and doesn't take much time when only making a few. Add to this the versatility of being able size the ring to any diameter you want, and its clearly the best option for low production environments such as the home kitchen or restaurants that want to run a special.

The Process

Start by pulling out a sheet of tinfoil, about 14-16 inches in length, and laying it lengthwise on your work surface. Fold the bottom third upwards into the center and crease. Repeat with the top third, folding it down into the center, and creasing.

Tinfoil Baking Rings Step 01

Continue this pattern of folding the bottom third up and the top third down, creasing as you go, until you're left with a strip of foil with a width of about 0.75 inches.

Tinfoil baking rings step 2

Make one final fold, folding the tinfoil strip in half horizontally and creasing firmly.

Tinfoil baking rings step 3

Measure the foil strip to the appropriate length, making a crease.

  • 4.5" Hamburger Bun = 14.25 inches

  • 4" Hamburger Bun = 12.75 inches

  • 3" Slider Bun = 9.5 inches /


Tinfoil Baking Rings Step 4

Place the long end of the foil strip inside the crease, and attach using two staples.

Tinfoil baking molds step 5

Gently pull the foil outward in a circular motion to form into a ring shape.

Tin foil baking molds step 6

Spray ring with non-stick spray, place scaled dough inside, and allow to proof before baking.

Tinfoil baking molds step 7

Quick Note on Measurements

You can create any size bun you wish just by knowing your desired diameter.

For example, if you want to make a 5" bun, you would multiply 5 inches (your diameter) time 3.14 (π). This will give you the circumference of the bun, which is also the length to which you need to measure your tinfoil strip.

5 X 3.14 = 15.7

However, while experimenting with various sized buns during the R&D phase of this project, I found that my diameter was always slightly smaller than I wanted by the time I formed the foil into a ring shape. This is because no matter how hard you try, you'll never be able to form a perfect circle.

This led me to start rounding the circumference up to the nearest quarter inch. So in the example above, 15.7 would become 15.75, or maybe even 16 inches.

I know it's not an exact science, but this will at least get you in the ball park, allowing you to adjust the overall circumference of your mold up and down as needed.

Also, in the Hamburger Brioche Bun Video (linked below), you'll notice that the vertical height of my molds are fairly deep, about .75 - 1 inch.

However, after further testing, I found that I actually prefer a more shallow mold, between .25 - .5 inches. This allows the mold enough depth to aid the bun in holding it's shape throughout proofing and baking process, but still allows for a more natural expansion during oven spring.

Related Content


Upcoming All Merlot Wine Dinner & Five Course Tasting Menu Featuring Michael Keenan

I'm excited to announce my upcoming dinner with Michael Keenan, of Keenan Wines in Spring Mountain, California.

Michael is not only a good friend of mine, but he also makes, hands down, some of the best Merlots and Cabernets you'll ever have the pleasure of drinking.


End of story.

What's most exciting about this menu is we'll be pairing every course with one of Michael's signature Merlots or merlot-blends. No whites, no subtle openings, just smashing you over the head with massive umami bombs from start to finish.

We set-up two, long community tables with a full view of the kitchen, so you can watch me and my crew sweat it out as we attempt to go toe-to-toe with the amazing line up of wines Keenan plans on bringing. Couple this Michael's commentary, which gets progressively more "salty" in direct proportion to how much wine has been poured, and you have the makings for a fun and entertaining evening.

If you're interested in attending the dinner, please let us know as soon as possible; space is limited. Or you may just have fun reading through the menu, which I've posted below.

Keenan Wine Dinner Menu

Fermented Brown Rice Cracklins

In this industry, we all stand on the shoulder's of giants. As we play with ideas, techniques, and flavors, we create fun and sometimes unique derivative works that open the door to new possibilities.

In their book Ideas in Food, Aki and Alex lay out a fun play on pork cracklins using kimchi pureed with tapioca starch instead of the standard pork skin. This mixture is cooked into a loose paste, spread thin on acetate sheets, and dehydrated. After about 24-48 hours, the resulting sheet will shatter like glass, and puff when dropped into hot oil. This concept works because even though the sheet seems completely dry, there's still a small amount of water trapped inside (about 4%).

When the dehydrated sheet is dropped in 400°F/204°C oil, the small amount of residual water quickly turns to steam, exploding outward, causing the starch gel to puff. The original Ideas in Food recipe used tapioca starch for it's bland flavor (so the kimchi could shine through), but this technique remains universal for any type of cooked, starchy puree that can be spread thin and dehydrated.

A few days ago, looking to add a crunchy texture and interesting flavor to an new dish, this idea popped back into my head. I wondered, why can't I use brown rice with the same approach? And since brown rice is a whole grain, shouldn't I be able to extract more flavor if I inoculated the soaking water with a sourdough culture and let it ferment a few days?

In fact, the approach turned out to be extremely simple. I took a teaspoon of sourdough starter and dissolved it in about three quarts of water. Brown rice was then submerged in this water, and left at room temperature to ferment.

Two days later I boiled the brown rice like pasta, purposely overcooking it so the starch granules would burst. It resulted in a goopy, sticky, brown rice "congee" that I first pureed in a food processor and then passed through a tamis (fine sieve).

As it started to cool, I could already see the starchy puree start to set. I whisked in a little warm water to loosen the mixture into a paste-like consistency, and spread it onto sheets of acetate cut to fit my dehydrator trays. The mixture was dehydrated overnight and broken into small pieces.

A simple dunk in 400°F/204°C oil for about 20 seconds causes the thin sheet of dehydrated brown rice to puff into an airy, crunchy 'cracklin.' While the texture is awesome, the flavor is truly the best part. The fermented brown rice cracklin has a deep, whole grain flavor with hints of popcorn and toasted wheat berries. Sprinkled with a little bit of kosher salt fresh from the fryer, these things quickly become addicting.

Now the possibilities are endless.

First, if the brown rice is simply covered with water and allowed to ferment at room temperature for 3-5 days (instead of inoculating with a sourdough starter), this could turn into a healthy snack for people suffering from celiacs. In fact, the fermentation step isn't even necessary, although I would argue the end flavor is better.

Second, the brown rice can be cooked in any number of flavored liquids, and the resulting puree can easily absorb other seasoning or ingredients in the form of spices, liquids, purees, etc. The only limitation is the mixture needs to be extremely low in fat, or it won't dehydrate properly.

Finally, this can be applied to any number of high starch mixtures, not just brown rice and tapioca starch. And in fact, it has. If anyone has ever eaten a Cheeto, Bugle, or a bowl of Rice Krispies for that matter, you've experienced first hand the textures this technique can create.

Like I said...we all stand on the shoulder's of giants.


Stella's Culinary Tour De France

Stella Culinary's Tour De France

The Three Mother Preferments And How To Use Them

This article is part 2 of 2. Read part one here: What Is A Preferment?

Various Types of Preferments

Preferments can go by many different names including chef, levain, sponge, madre bianca, mother, biga and poolish. But in my opinion, there are three major approaches to preferments that will encompass all others, much like classic French sauces are mostly derivatives from the Five French Mother Sauces. To help you better understand the three major approaches to preferments, I give you the “Three Mother Preferments” (somewhere out there, a French Baker just face palmed himself, and my life is now complete). These three “mother preferments” are poolish, biga and pâte fermentée.

Poolish Preferment

Sometimes referred to as a sponge or barm (although a barm is more technically a natural levain or sourdough starter), tradition has it that the term “Poolish” comes from Polish baker’s in Vienna who developed the technique of prefermentation, later adopted by French bakers. And although I’m always eager to annoy French baker’s and chefs, there really is no solid, historical evidence of where the term “poolish” originated.

What we can agree on however is the poolish style preferment is the most common approach used by enthusiasts and professional bakers alike, mainly because it’s high hydration allows the yeast to propagate at a constant pace, and it’s incredibly easy to apply a preferment to any bread recipe since it contains a 1:1 ratio of flour and water (which makes final bread dough calculations intuitive, especially when converting various bread recipes that don’t utilize a preferment).

Based on the baker’s percentage, a poolish starter will have 100% hydration and .2% yeast (always based on the flour’s weight).

This means the basic formulation for a poolish preferment is:

  • 500g Flour - 100%

  • 500g Water - 100%

  • 1g Yeast* - 0.2% (either active or instant dry)

*Because cake yeast (commonly only found in professional bakeries) is less dense with yeast microbes than active or instant dry, you can up the percentage to 1% to get the same results.

Now I do realize this seems like a lot of preferment for the home baker, and it is, but using these numbers you can at least visualize the ratios through the baker’s percentage. If you want to make a smaller poolish preferment and don’t have a gram scale accurate to the 10th of a gram, then a simple, one finger pinch of yeast will do. For example, if I was making a preferment for one or two loaves of bread, it would probably look something like this:

  • 200g Flour

  • 200g Water

  • Pinch Yeast

Once mixed, a poolish style preferment will be ready to use in about 12-18 hours, assuming an ambient room temperature of 68-72°F/20-22°C and your yeast usage doesn’t exceed .2% based on the flour’s weight. Remember, the more yeast used and the hotter your room temperature, the sooner your preferment will be ready (which isn’t necessarily desirable since the whole purpose of a preferment is to slow down the fermentation process). For every 17°F/9°C your room temperature raises or drops, the yeast activity will be doubled or cut in half, taking the yeast half the time or twice the time respectively to achieve the same amount of fermentation.

For more information on incorporating a poolish style preferment into your bread doughs, please see “The Basics of Using a Preferment” at the end of this article.

Biga Preferment

This style of preferment was developed by Italian bakers, and in Italy, a Biga refers to any style of preferment that contains flour, water and yeast, no matter the percentages. However, it’s more common for a Biga to have less hydration than a poolish. For the sake of understanding various approaches to preferments, Biga’s are low hydration (stiffer) and take longer to finish fermentation as compared to a poolish containing the same percentage of yeast. This is because yeast’s movement is impeded by lower hydrations, taking them longer to propagate and consume all the starches contained within the bread dough.

This is why Biga Preferments will usually, but not always, contain more yeast based upon the flour’s rate (about 1%) than a wetter style of preferment like a poolish. At the one percent use rate, a biga preferment left at a standard room temperature will be ready to use in about 14-18 hours. The basic formulation for a biga starter is:

  • 500g Flour - 100%

  • 300g Water - 60%

  • 5g Yeast - 1%

While this is a common formulation for a biga starter, the yeast percentage and hydration rate can vary depending on the baker and the final application of the preferment. However, in the spirit of separate approaches, low hydration starters will take longer to ferment than a poolish, which is why the yeast percent is raised to 1% for the former instead of .2% for the latter.

Anecdotally speaking, this stiffer dough can stand up to longer fermentation times, especially if the yeast percent is lowered, creating more complex flavors via acetic and latic acid production, the same acids responsible for sourdough’s complex flavor and aroma.

Once a biga preferment is airy and full of life (and expanded by about double it’s original volume), it can then be incorporated into the final dough formulation by cutting into small pieces, mixed with the rest of the recipe’s liquid, and then incorporated into the remaining ingredients. This will ensure an even dispersion of yeast contained in the preferment, resulting in better bulk fermentation and proofing.

Pâte Fermentée (Chef, Old Dough)

The “old dough” or pâte fermentée style of preferment is extremely convenient if you’re baking the same bread recipe on a regular basis. This approach was championed by famed French baker Raymond Cavell who credited this method with adding complexity of flavor and increased oven spring to his world famous baguettes.

The basic concept is simple; up to 1/3 of bread dough is reserved after the bulk fermentation to levin the next batch of bread. So in the case of a classic baguette, the first time the recipe is made, flour, water, yeast, and salt will be mixed together and allowed to bulk ferment.

After the bulk fermentation is complete, the dough is punched down, one third is reserved to levin the next batch of bread, while the rest of the dough is scaled, formed, proofed, and baked.

This old dough can be stored for about 8-12 hours at room temperature or retarded in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen for up to 6 months, removing from the freezer and allowing to thaw fully (about 12-16 hours at room temperature, (24-36 hours in the fridge depending on the dough's volume) before using it to levin a batch of bread.

The Basics of Using a Preferment

Now that you understand what a preferment is, why they’re beneficial to bread baking, and the three major approaches, let’s talk about how to actually apply this knowledge to any bread recipe.

In general, 1/4 to 1/2 of a bread recipe’s total flour will be used to create a preferment. The amount of liquid depends entirely on what approach you’re using from above (low hydration biga, high hydration poolish, or pâte fermentée).

The amount of pre-ferment used will depend on how long you want the bulk fermentation process to take, after it's incorporated into the the rest of the ingredients. In general, when half of the dough's flour comes from a preferment, you can count on a 2-4 hour bulk fermentation and a 1-2 hour proof.

Let's use our basic baguette recipe to put this into perspective:

  • 800g Flour - 100%

  • 520g Water (Warm) - 65%

  • 7g Yeast (Active Dry) - .8% Yeast

  • 16g Salt - 2% Salt

The original recipe uses the direct method, meaning the ingredients are mixed together, allowed to bulk ferment, shaped, proofed and baked (scalable recipe - video recipe).

To add extra complexity of flavor, we’ll remove half of the recipe’s flour and create a poolish style preferment, transforming our recipe into something like this:


  • 400g Flour

  • 400g Water

  • Pinch Yeast

Mix ingredients together, place in a container large enough to allow the preferment to at least double in size, and allow to ferment at room temperature (68-72°F/20-22°C) for 12-16 hours (or retard in fridge for up to 3 days).

The next day, mix the preferment with the remaining ingredients:

  • 400g Flour

  • 120g Water

  • 16g Salt

Follow the baguette recipe as normal. Remember, your bulk fermentation and proofing stages might take a little longer than normal, about 3 and 2 hours respectively, but your patience will be rewarded with a superior baguette. Obviously the fermentation can be delayed further by using less preferment, retarding the bread during bulk fermentation or proofing, or all of the above. Again, the longer the fermentation and proofing process, the more complex the bread will be, until the yeast consume all the available food, causing them to die.

To convert the above baguette recipe for use with a biga style starter:

  • 400g Flour

  • 240g Water - (400 X .6 = 240g or 60% Hydration)

  • 4g Yeast - (400 X .01 = 4g or 1%)

Mix ingredients together until they form a shaggy dough. Leave at room temperature and allow to ferment for 14-18 hours (or retard in fridge for up to 3 days).

The next day, mix with:

  • 400g Flour

  • 280g Water

  • 16g Salt

Once ingredients are kneaded together, follow the baguette recipe as normal, with the expectation of your bulk ferment and proofing stages taking a little longer.

To use the pâte fermentée method, you can simply reserve 1/3 of the baguette dough recipe, but this will also decrease the overalll yield. If you want to have the same yield every time (4 baguettes), then scale each ingredient by 1.5. For example, our above baguette recipe adds up to 1336g total dough weight. Here's how the math looks

800g X 1.5 = 1200g Flour
520g X 1.5 = 780g Water
 16g X 1.5 = 24g Salt
   7g X 1.5 = 10.5 Yeast
1336g X 1.5 = 2004g Total Dough Weight

  • 2004 X .3 = 668 (this is the amount pate fermente you must remove and save for the next batch).

  • 668 X 2 - 1336

So as you can see from the above example, scaling any bread recipe by 1.5 will allow you to remove 30% of the dough to be used as a preferment in your next batch, while resulting in the same total yield from bake to bake. Even though 1/3 is technically 33%, scaling a recipe by 1.5 and then removing .3 is easy to remember, keeps your numbers round, and the extra 3% is negligible.

The portion of the dough removed can be stored at room temperature if you plan on baking the same bread in the next 12-18 hours, in the fridge up to 3 days, or the freezer for up to 6 months.

The final baguette recipe would be:

  • 668g Pâte Fermentée (Old Dough)

  • 800g Flour

  • 520g Water

  • 16g Salt

  • Yeast - Optional, depending on how fast you want the bread to rise, or how avtive your old dough looks. If it's a little past it's prime or you want a faster, more dependable rise, add 7g of yeast.

You might also be interested in the following:

Podcast Episodes

Videos - Visit Our Bread Baking Video Index


What Is A Preferment?


Preferments leverage one simple fact; longer and slower bulk fermentation and proofing stages make for better bread. This is accomplished by taking a portion of a bread recipe’s flour and liquid, “spiking” with a very small amount of yeast, and allowing this mixture to ferment at room temperature over the course of 12-18 hours, and sometimes as long as a few days if retarded under refrigeration.

Using a preferment would fall under the classification of the “in-direct method,” because there’s an intermediate step between the mixing of ingredients and bulk fermentation. Just like we discussed in Episode 20, “The Classifications of Bread,” the in-direct method slows down fermentation by the utilizing preferments or retarding doughs during the bulk fermentation process, resulting in a more complex, flavorful bread.

This is opposed to most modern bread recipes formulated for many cooks who tend to prize convenience over flavor. Most recipes use large amounts of yeast which allow you to bulk ferment the bread dough in two hours and proof in less than one. And while these recipes will still produce fresh baked bread that will fill your house with beautiful aromas and have a quality that easily rivals the soulless, pre-sliced, baked-batters found at your local supermarket, it will be no where near the quality which can be achieved through delayed fermentation.

“But Jacob, it takes so long to bake bread using a pre-ferment!”

No, not really. In fact, the actual time you spend mixing the dough  doesn’t change. The only thing that changes is the passive time required to do a pre-ferment, meaning having the foresight to mix a portion of the flour and water a day or two in advanced before baking bread.

What the argument really comes down to is planning ahead. In fact, I’ve gotten many negative YouTube comments on my bread baking videos, all which say pretty much the same thing: “This takes too much time, it’s too involved, that’s what supermarkets are for, etc.”

If that’s your mind set, than I’d venture to guess you’re in the majority, simply based on the complete saturation of “quick, easy, simple, 30 minutes or less,” recipe books and TV shows. And please don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with quick and easy recipes, but the approach isn’t universal to all forms of the culinary arts.

There is no quick and easy approach to charcuterie, the fermentation of grapes into world class wine, and the baking of great bread. But then the people who pursue these subjects aren’t worried about quick and easy, because our reward comes to us during the process, with the finished product being the tangible expression of the journey, which true cooks cherish above the destination.

If you’re not willing to plan ahead, then preferments and baking great bread aren’t for. But if you’re willing to be patient and draw the process out over the course of a couple of days, the use of a preferment or “natural levain” (i.e. sourdough starter), will instantly elevate the quality of your breads.

Why Use a Preferment?

Because fermentation is extended, the yeast and natural enzymes present in flour have time to take action on the starches and proteins in the dough, releasing a larger amount of food supply for the yeast to ingest and turn into energy. This has a couple of distinct benefits:


  • It tastes better. The general rule of thumb is the longer the bread is allowed to ferment, the more complex and delicious the finished flavors will be. This does have a law of diminishing returns however; any preferment older than 3 days that hasn’t been refreshed with fresh flour and water is likely to have a weak and dying yeast population which can give your bread off flavors and poor rising ability.

  • Preferments add extensibility to bread doughs, making them easier to form, and resulting in a superior oven spring. In fact, preferments have been shown to increase the oven spring of baguettes by as much as 10%, which results in an airier, lighter crumb.

  • Delayed fermentation will also slightly drop to the pH of bread, extending it’s shelf live without the necessity of “dough conditioners” or preservatives.

Are you convinced you need a preferment in you're baking arsenal? Then get started by reading our guide "The Three Mother Preferments and How To Use Them." We also cover this topic extensively in The Stella Culinary School Podcast Episode 21| Sourdough Starters and Preferments.

You might also be interested in the following:

Podcast Episodes

Videos - Visit Our Bread Baking Video Index


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