Using preferments?


I wanted to know how to properly substitute a natural preferment into a dough recipe. I’ve read to add extra flavour to a dough one could use a preferment.

I think I’ve read enough about how to actually mix it into the dough but I need to know what the percent would be. For example, if my recipe calls for 0.09% IDY and I were to just use a natural preferment what would be the corresponding % preferment to use? Is there a formula that converts IDY values into preferment values?

I assume that the ratio between flour and water in the preferment would also have to be incorporated into the recipe. Eg. the preferment is 50% flour and 50% water and the recipe calls for 10g along with 200g of flour and 100g of water. So would the final recipe look like this:

Flour 195G
Water 95g
Preferment 10g

Also, will a preferment used in a recipe with sugar added increase fermentation?

Thanks for all of your help on this!


A pre-ferment can add flavor to a dough that has not been fermented in the cooler overnight or longer. For example, if you use the dough on the same day it is made, a pre-ferment can boost flavor, but if you are already fermenting the dough by allowing it to rest in the cooler overnight, or longer, you’re not going to pick up much of a flavor improvement. If you’re into making your own hoagie buns, or other bread items, a pre-ferment can do a lot to improve the flavor of those items.
To Make a Pre-ferment:

  1. Use 50 to 80% of the total flour in the pre-ferment.
  2. Put all of the yeast into the pre-ferment.
  3. The amount of water to add to the pre-ferment is 60% of the weight of the flour used in the pre-ferment.
  4. Adjust the temperature of the water added to the pre-ferment to give a finished/mixed temperature of 75 to 80F.
  5. Allow a fermentation time of 2.5 to 5-hours for the pre-ferment to develop its flavor.
  6. Add the pre-ferment to the mixing bowl and then add the remainder of the flour called for in your dough formula, then add the rest of the dough ingredients (salt, sugar, oil, water). Remember, your pre-ferment already contains a portion of the water. So be sure to subtract the amount of water in the pre-ferment from the total amount called for in your dough formula.
  7. Your mixing time will be shorter than normal when using a pre-ferment, be sure to just mix the dough until it comes smooth.
  8. Pre-ferments generally do not play well in the cooler, so it is not recommended that doughs made with pre-ferments be managed through the cooler (for more than just a few hours) like a normal dough would.
    Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Hi Tom,

These instructions you gave me sound like a pre-ferment made on the same day as the dough, am I correct in saying this?

I was thinking more in terms of a sour dough culture that I would make in advance. Is a sour dough culture different from a pre-ferment? I thought the two were the same.

Thanks for your help.


A sourdough is different from a pre-ferment…waayy different. A pre-ferment is also known in the industry as a “sponge”, and it is used to improve both flavor and handling properties of the dough and finished/baked product. To get more information on sourdough, go into the archives and take a look at one of my articles on sourdouugh, or do an archive search through the Think Tank.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Most of my old recipes use the preferment method. I have a pamphlet from the University of New Mexico first printed in 1912. This is nothing but basic bread , but they all start with a sponge the night before. My Sunset bread book is the same and several other references use this method. It was all I used until I started making loves that were not pan bread. I must admit that my success rate was much higher. Most of them use all of the liquid and enough flour to make a high hydration dough. This even goes for pancakes.