Freezing pre-ferments


My schedule is such that it is often inconvenient for me to follow a bread-baking recipe whose instructions extend over more than one or two days. For example, I see recipes for baguettes that involve creating a pre-fermented dough, allowing it to evolve over 24 hours or more, and then proceeding to a second, final stage in which the pre-ferment is incorporated with more flour and other ingredients into a final dough for rising, shaping and baking.

Best for me would be the ability to halt the process after the pre-ferment has evolved optimally until some time in the future when it is convenient to proceed with the second stage. My questions:

  1. Is it acceptable/feasible/likely to have no adverse effect upon the quality of the final result to FREEZE the pre-ferment until I am ready to thaw and use it in the final phase? If so,

  2. After how many days of slowly evolving in the refrigerator is it optimal to freeze the pre-ferment, or does that answer depend largely on trial and error with each individual recipe? I have seen highly variable statements in different cookbooks on this subject. Most authors state they recommend “at least 24 hours” in the refrigerator to help develop flavor but several say that flavor is to be gained with as much as three days of refrigerated fermentation. No one condones leaving a pre-ferment indefinitely refrigerated. After how much time would you recommend using the refrigerated, unfrozen pre-ferment promptly or discarding it because more time will only degrade it?

Thanks to the community in advance for responding to these questions.

Freezing I’m not so sure about but if you catch a levain young (so not overly mature - aka a sweet levain) you can safely keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days I would think.

Because a levain is generally a higher % then a starter you don’t wish to allow it to go past peaking and then keep it too long before using. With a starter where typically less is used it wouldn’t compromise the structure of the dough and taste of the final loaf too much. But because a levain is quite high a percentage and if peaked and left too long (even in the fridge) the gluten will be compromised and the flavours off then one has less of a window.

So making a levain with a smaller amount of starter, refrigerated when just doubled (not peaked and beginning to fall) and used within 3 days should be fine.

Abe: Thanks for the reply. I’m hoping someone will tell me freezing the pre-ferment is feasible also–it would allow a lot more flexibility in scheduling baking and would permit more than one levain to be prepared in advance.