Subject: 36. What do all these baker's terms like poolish, biga, chef, mean?
Poolish-- Is French for a mixture of flour and water and a little bakers yeast. The ratio of flour to water is 50 - 50 by weight.
Biga-- Italian for the same thing except the biga can be like a poolish or very firm.
The above are both yeasted.
Chef-- a dough-like starter that is either an unrefreshed levain or a piece of dough saved from the previous day's bake.
Levain-- a chef that has been refreshed with flour and water.
Biga Natural-- same as levain, but in Italian.
Mother-- this is a batter like starter of flour and water that is unrefreshed
Sour-- a mother that has been refreshed with flour and water.
Mother = chef - it only depends on the consistency (chef dough-like, mother batter-like). Most people here in the US call this just plain starter.
Sour = levain - again it depends on the consistency of the starter. (Sour batter-like, levain dough-like) - The difference between these terms and the ones above is that they represent the term that indicates that the starter is activated.
Chef, levain, biga natural, mother, and sour contain only natural yeast cultures.
All of the above are often referred to as either starters or sponges.
Chef is a piece of dough held over to start the process of making future doughs. It preserves the makeup of the leaven culture used at any particular bakery. In the old days, use of la stiff (dough consistency) chef was important because there was no refrigeration. Stiff consistency = slow fermentation compared to thin consistency. Most bakeries now use more liquid leavens, and store them in the refrigerator when necessary.
Levain is the French term for a sponge or soft dough that is being used to propagate a sourdough culture.
Sponge is a thinner (more watery than dough) dough stage that allows for vigorous fermentation. It may incorporate all the water that will eventually be in the dough, or some portion in it. When baking with commercial yeast, a sponge allows a baker to only use one-quarter the amount of yeast, which reduces yeast's off-flavor. When baking with "natural ferments"-- sourdough cultures-- the culture is often propagated in a series of sponges which are then called levains (French), barms, leavens, starters and a few other names. I personally have come to use the term "starter leaven" for a new leaven culture that is being developed, the term "storage leaven" for one that I hold over in the refrigerator, and the term "intermediate leaven" for one that I use as a stage of propagation between the storage leaven and the dough itself. In France and Germany there are specific names for the three levains that make up (with the chef) the twenty four hour cycle of the traditional small bakery.
Proof -- This term is best used to describe the time of rising of the loaves AFTER they have been shaped, although it is also used to describe the time of rising before they are shaped. Many professional bakers use the term "fermentation stage" for that time after mixing and before shaping
Yeasts:commercial -- This refers to yeasts that are propagated in nearly pure culture and (these days) usually sold in dried form. In the past 10 years manufacturers have moved beyond "natural selection" and the refinement of mutations-- they are now using genetic engineering. Yeast are available with high resistance to freezing, for example. Though most yeast packets contain some bacteria, there are not enough to produce the acid and the volatile organic compounds that give sourdough bread its flavor. Also, most people use so much commercial yeast that the bread tastes more of it than of wheat. The amount used can be reduced when bread is made with the sponge process
Yeasts:sourdough -- Bread made with natural leavens: a mixed culture of yeast and bacterial strains recovered from environmental surfaces (grain, grapes, etc.) and then propagated continuously by bakers.
Sourdough QA|Sourdough FAQs|Darrell Greenwood's Home Page
Links changed to carlsfriends.net 10/9/16