Artisan Bread Basics - Starter Doughs Part 1

Updated: Apr 5

When we talk about fermentation, we’re talking about cultivating yeast and bacteria (friendly, edible bacteria, like the ones found in yoghurt or cheese) over time. The processes which occur within a dough involving yeast and bacteria are what cause bread to rise, providing its structure and flavour. But we’ll talk more about this later.

A starter dough (also known as a pre-ferment or Mother Dough) is used to kickstart the fermentation process within a new batch of dough, and it’s a must for artisanal bread baking, because it adds complexity and depth to the bread’s final flavour, strengthens its gluten matrix and helps give your crust a beautiful colour.

There are many different pre-ferments or starter doughs, and each of them gives bread a different character, from the French poolish, to the Italian biga, to the San Franciscan Sourdough. While it may seem daunting to some, making your own starter dough at home is often very simple. All you’re doing is nurturing yeast over time – usually for about a week, sometimes just overnight. Yeast is a living thing, and like all of us it needs warmth and snacks to keep thriving. To create your own starter dough, you need a few basic ingredients, a bit of time and care, and a lot of love!

Let’s get you started on starters with this rustic poolish recipe. It’s an overnight affair.

Rustic Poolish:

Allows for 2 loaves in a ½ batch and 4 with the full batch.

½ batch:

400ml cold water

270g bread flour

130g unsifted wholewheat flour

3g instant yeast

Full batch:

600ml cold water

405g bread flour

195g unsifted wholewheat flour

5g instant yeast

Accurately measure out your ingredients. Place the water in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix together, using a flat beater, to form a smooth, batter-like dough. Place in a clean food container. Cover with a damp cloth or clingwrap and refrigerate overnight. Scale off as required for your bake.


For our Ciabatta recipe check out this post https://www.lecreuset.co.za/blog/how-to-bake-perfect-artisanal-bread

Give it a go, let us know how it went!