If you want to step up your bread baking game beyond the no knead variety, but don’t have the time or confidence to cultivate a sourdough starter quite yet you might consider trying baking a loaf with an overnight poolish.
A poolish is a mixture of flour and water and a small amount of yeast. You let the pre-ferment or poolish sit overnight and then add it to the rest of the ingredients in the morning.
This small, simple step can add big flavor to your bread. It only takes a few minutes the night prior and will definitely pay off with big flavor in the final loaf.
My favorite pre-ferment/poolish recipe is the Harvest Bread from Ken Forkish’s excellent Flour Water Salt Yeast. This is a great intermediate bread and pizza baking book. The recipes remain approachable and simple but each chapter adds some new wrinkle or complexity to the baking process. The techniques are well described and well documented with pictures. I’ve yet to try one that didn’t work out. Or, at least come close.
This overnight multigrain bread is delicious, easy to make, and versatile. It can handle a mix of whole grains or additional add-ins and the second dough ball works very well for a Friday focaccia. It’s great for breakfast toast, as lunch sandwich bread, or sopping up a hearty soup or stew dinner.
Mix the poolish ingredients the night before and leave out overnight (12-14 hours).
Mix the final dough. Add the dry ingredients to the poolish, then the water and fully incorporate all the ingredients. Final mix temperature should be close to 75 degrees.
This dough will need two folds during the first hour.
When the dough has approximately doubled in size (2 to 3 hours later), it's ready to divide and shape.
Gently ease the dough out of the container and divide in half.
Shape each dough into a ball (there should be tension but it shouldn't be tight) and place in a floured proofing basket or other prepped vessel. Cover and let rise an additional hour. Use the finger-dent test to determine when it's fully proofed.
While dough is doing its final proof, preheat the oven with a Dutch oven inside at 475 degrees for at least 45 minutes.
If you are baking both loaves, but only have one Dutch oven, put the second loaf into the refrigerator about 20 minutes before baking the first loaf. If you are baking the second loaf another day, it can do its second rise in the refrigerator. Just make sure the loaf is covered so it doesn't dry out.
Invert the proofed loaf onto a piece of parchment. Use the parchment as a sling to carefully place inside the hot Dutch oven.
Bake loaf for 30 minutes with the lid of the Dutch oven on then uncover and bake an additional 15-20 minutes until loaf is a dark brown.
Cool loaf on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.