Preferments play an instrumental role in bringing aromatic flavors from dough fermentation into the finished product. Bread bakers know this, and yet misconceptions still exist about the variables that different types of preferments can introduce into the process.

Speaking at the International Artisan Bakery Expo, baking expert Melina Kelson informed attendees about the three types of yeasted preferments, in efforts to demystify the increasingly common practice of using starters to influence the final dough. Bread bakers can get tripped up by the nomenclature. Kelson sought to explain preferments in a manner in which all can understand the roles each starter plays. The three types of yeasted preferments are known as pâte fermentée, poolish and biga.

“We are taking a portion of our dough and giving it a head start,” she explains. “This is where all the fun and magic happen.”

Prior to her current job at Princi Kitchen as operations manager, Kelson worked as an assistant professor of Baking and Pastry Arts at the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago.

Pâte fermentée

The main quality of pâte fermentée is elasticity. It builds strength in your dough and makes it more elastic, as well as adding buttery tones. The desired hydration is 60-65%. “This is the easiest preferment to produce and usually involves reserving a piece of scrap dough,” Kelson says.

Adding a piece of scrap dough (no more than 25% of your total weight) is going to enhance your next dough. “I like to match it with doughs where I have more dead weight,” she says.

A word of caution: Scrap dough can last up to three days in refrigeration, but “I don’t like to keep it around more than a day and a half,” Kelson says.


A typical poolish has 100% hydration and is fermented at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours. It is developed with a tiny percentage of yeast — “0.1% fresh yeast is a great way to go,” Kelson recommends.

This high hydration preferment helps create a very extensible dough with a lot of aromatic flavors. The more water you have, she explains, the more enzymatic changes you have. “This is one of my favorites because I do a lot of hand mixing. A poolish gives your dough extensibility and a sweet, nutty flavor.”


A biga is a stiff preferment with only 50-60% hydration. It does not contain salt. The main quality that a biga brings to your dough is structure.

“It gives you a lot of strength in your dough,” Kelson says. “It is a more common choice for something like a pan loaf or a sweet profile dough when you are not developing acidity. It’s a good choice for weak flour or enriched bread.”

These explanations serve as a starting point for bakers to achieve desired characteristics. As with any dough, Kelson adds, “just like Google Maps, you’re still going to run into construction areas.”