Described is a method of processing biomass to separate it into a liquid fraction enriched in solubilized C5-sugar-containing oligomers and C-5 sugar monomers and a solid fraction enriched in substantially insoluble cellulose and C6-sugar-containing oligomers. The method includes the steps of reacting biomass with a solvent system comprising water, at least one lactone, or at least one furan, or at least one cyclic ether, and at least one acid, for a time and at a temperature to yield the liquid and solid fractions. The liquid and solid fractions may then be separated. Gamma-valeroloactone is a preferred lactone for use in the solvent system. Tetrahydrofuran is a preferred furan species for use in the solvent system.