If you don’t want to mess around or maintain a sourdough starter but still yearn for better tasting home-baked bread, you might consider using a starter or pre-ferment to quickly improve your home loaves with little additional effort beyond some advanced planning.
Any preferment is a simple mixture of flour, water, and yeast. After mixing it is allowed to ferment for a period of time, and then is added to bread dough when mixing in the reamining ingredients. You might hear starters called bigas, poolish, preferment, or sponge – they all do the same job and only differ by the amount of liquid.
Poolish is a French term (it’s pronounced pool-eesh) for a pre-ferment that is made with yeast. A poolish is a wet sponge made with a one partflour to one part water.
Why use a Poolish?
Typically prepared the day before (at least eight hours) a poolish is a very easy way to improve the flavor and texture of the bread versus one made with just a straight dough. As an added bonus, breads made with a poolish also tend to last longer compared to bread made from straight doughs, where everything is combined at once.
One other quick flavor boost you can use in addition to the poolish is to make the poolish with a different type of flour from the rest of the dough. You could use spelt, rye or whole wheat flour to add extra, or different, flavors to the bread.
Why does it work?
From one of my favorite bread books, Flour, Salt, Water, Yeast, Ken Forkish says “[…the pre-ferment] allows for the development of alcohol and bacterial fermentation, which add flavor, acidity, and leavening to the dough.”
Bread made with a preferment will taste more complex and also have an improved crumb, a deeper-colored crust, and an extended shelf life. Not a bad return for just starting a 6-16 hours earlier.
According to Forkish, poolish is best “suited to making bread with a creamy, slightly nutty character and a crisp, thin crust.” Like baguettes or rustic boules.
- 150g (approx 1 C.) whole wheat flour
- 150g (approx 2/3 C.) water (room temp is fine)
- 1 small pinch yeast (approx 1/8 tsp)
- - let the poolish ferment on the counter at room temperature for at least 16 hours
- 280g or 1 1/4C. water (~100-110F)
- 2g or 1/2 tsp yeast
- All of the poolish
- 350g (2 1/4 C.) flour (your choice)
- 50g (1/3 C.) whole wheat flour
- 10g (1.5 tsp) Kosher salt
- The night before, mix the poolish
- When the poolish is ready (it should be bubbly and smell yeast-y, if in doubt try the float test), combine with the remaining water and yeast, mix to combine
- Add in the remaining flour and salt, mix to combine into a shaggy wet dough forms and no dry flour remains
- Cover with plastic or a tea towel and let rest for 30 minutes
- Stretch and fold the dough (check out the video link in then notes for an example from Forkish)
- Let rest another 30 minutes, then stretch and fold again
- Let rest for 60 minutes
- Remove dough from bowl onto lightly floured work surface
- Go around and stretch and pull the sides to the middle to shape into a ball
- Place in well floured proofing basket or bowl for another 30-60 minutes
- Preheat oven, with Dutch oven inside if using, to 500 degrees
- Move final proofed loaf into the Dutch oven (I like to use a parchment sling)
- Bake covered for 20 minutes then remove Dutch oven lid and bake another 20-30 minutes until dark brown
- Cool completely
This video from Forkish gives a good example of stretching and folding the dough.
Part of bullet 5 says ‘(check out the video link in then notes for an example from Forkish)’, can you tell me where the notes for the video link are located please? Thanks.
Sorry about that. Updated with the note and link to Forkish’s video. His bread book is great and very detailed with photos. Highly recommend.
I’ve made it three times – works like charm. Thank you for sharing the recipe and technique:
So cool, I’ve been making poolish with AP flour and today decided to use whole wheat. Wanted to check and your recipe is a mirror of the one I use except with the whole wheat poolish! Excited to try this out.
can I use sourdough starter in place of yeast in this poolish?
I have not tried it but I believe it should work. Let me know if you try it. Just started up a new starter and might also try.
Thank you for your speedy response.
I found this on You Tube about sourdough and Poolish, I’m going to give it a try.