I have found a number of bread recipes that call to prepare first a preferment - a very simple dough with half the flour, water, sometimes sugar, and the yeast to be used. This is left to rise for an hour or two and afterwards it is mixed with a dough made with the rest of the ingredients including fats, additional sugars, and eggs. This second dough is then left to rise again and later split into the loafs and baked.

What is the purpose of the preferment and why is sponge made with such basic ingredients?

  • 3
    Hi LopSae, the term "first rise" has an entirely different meaning in bread baking. It denotes the rise after the complete dough has been mixed and kneaded, but before it has been degassed and divided. What you describe is properly called a "preferment" or a sponge. I edited your question to avoid ambiguity. For the actual first rise, see cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/9014/….
    – rumtscho
    Jan 14, 2013 at 13:37
  • 3
    Other terms of interest that you may see that mean the same thing are: biga, poolish, chef, levain, sponge, pâte fermentée (source breadsecrets.com/prefermentation.html)
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Jan 14, 2013 at 13:41
  • It's true that the term first rise wasn't propperly used here. Bue preferments are made for a longer time, with the aim of adding more taste to the dough, and (usually) with a small portion of the yeast: most of it will be added to the final dough. It doesn't seem to be the case of this dough: it has a small fermentation time, all of the yeast, and the final dough has sugar, fats and eggs enrichening it. I don't think this is exactly a preferment.
    – J.A.I.L.
    Jan 15, 2013 at 10:27
  • @J.A.I.L. a sponge falls under the preferment category, even if it is risen for a very short time. Yes, it is a quick fermentation - but it does happen.
    – rumtscho
    Jan 15, 2013 at 18:11

2 Answers 2


In addition to allowing fermentation to begin before the addition of fermentation inhibiting other ingredients, as @J.A.I.L. said in his answer, according to Bread Secrets, after explaining the benefits to flavor of a long, slow fermentation:

A quick, warm fermentation will allow time for the yeast to produce enough carbon dioxide to raise the dough, but not enough time for the enzymes to work or for the development of the other flavour compounds. If we ferment our dough for too long, however, the gluten becomes too weak to hold the shape of the loaf. So artisan bakers generally use a preferment (pre-ferment, not prefer-ment!) as part of their dough. This allows the bread to gain flavour from the longer fermentation, but still maintain a strong gluten network for a good rise.


Fats and sugars above certain levels inhibit the grown of yeasts. if you add them since the begining to an enriched dough like this, it will start growing very slowly, and take a long time to rise.

By adding just the food for the yeasts (that is: flour and maybe a bit of sugar to feed the yeasts) you allow them to grow in number and when the population is large enough to deal with them, you can add the rest of the ingredients.

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