Why do 3 hour Sponge for a Yeast Loaf?

I first thought of this question last summer when I was passed on a recipe for pita breads that required making a 2 hour sponge first, it asked you to mix flour, water and yeast leave for 2 hours before adding the rest of the ingredients.  I wondered why you had to do it, but stored it at the back of my mind.   That was until I came across Dan Lepard’s Soft Baps recipe which asks for a 3 hour sponge.  Now I was really intrigued.  Why do this extra step in making a yeast bread?  

I’ve been searching for a really soft bread recipe for allergy daughter for months now…she adores soft crumb to the point she’ll prefer shop bought bread to homemade bread…I know…what can I say? 

With all seriousness it’s hard to get really soft crumb loaf and make it allergy friendly for her but managed it brilliantly with this recipe.  I turned the baps into a loaf trying to cut on time and convenience and discovered this bread made good toast for allergy daughter.  This bread had now become her breakfast loaf and at this point I decided to make two batches side by side, one using the 3 hour sponge and the other my lazy way of throwing it all in method.

In this post you have photos from more than one batch of side by side trials.  Some of the photos are of batches I neglected the sponge and dough for 7 hours because kids got in the way and was surprised to see both loaves still baked well no problems,  though I suspect this was only because it was winter and not during a hot summer’s day.

In the photo below I have to the left the loaf made with the 3 hour sponge and to the right the all-in-one method.

I left them to prove both for the same amount of time, 3 hours, finishing the doughs and left them in the tin for 30-40 mins for second rise until the dough came above the brim of the tin.  Baked without steam.

What Was the Difference Between the Two?

As soon as I cut into the loaves to slice it it became really clear the difference; texture.  I gave the different slices for people to tell me if they detected any flavour difference and no one did, but the texture was obvious.  The 3 hour sponge has a chewier texture the all-in-one a much softer crumb.

Fantastic for making a choice, when making the bread for the likes of me who wants texture in a bread I can use the 3 hour sponge method but when making it for soft crumb obsessed allergy daughter the throw-it-all-in is the way to go.


In the photos below you have the 3 hours sponge method, mixing flour, water and yeast.

Below it’s the throw it all in and leave it for the same amount of time, 3 hours.

Photographed after just over an hour, they both rising well.

This batch below is the all-in-one loaf having neglected it for 7 hours…lot’s of airy pockets and very stringy.

Still produced a good loaf.

The batch of photos below are from my last trial of doing side by side this Saturday, and it’s the second batch I neglected for 7 hours, the colour of the bread is because I had to take the photos using the kitchen lights since my daylight had gone.

Left slice is the 3 hour sponge.  Right is the all-in-one loaf.

Below all-in-one method loaf.

Below 3 hour sponge loaf.

I normally like to bake my loaves dusted with flour, think they look prettier than without.


I Answered One Question but I’m Left with a Different One

This is what happens with bread, it brings up more questions.

Why does the all-in-one loaf rise more than the 3 hour sponge loaf?

It doesn’t matter if I leave it for the required 3 hours or if I neglect them for 7 hours, the result is the same.

I’ve been thinking about this all weekend.  From doing my Bronze Pasta post my memory recalls the roles Gliadins and Glutenins play in the dough which McGee talks about, I cut and paste from that post when I first understood how gluten worked:

When you’re adding the rest of the ingredients to the 3 hour sponge you’re having to work them into the dough to get the sponge to absorb the extra liquid and fat and the rest of the flour, so I figure the work the proteins have done in the 3 hour sponge plus the working again of mixing the rest of the ingredients, does it just tire out the proteins too much?