Using a Poolish for an Overnight Rustic Loaf

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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.

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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.






  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. I tried your poolish recipe today for the first time. I have no doubt that it’s a very good recipe but I ran into trouble and I was wondering if you could help me out. I followed the recipe exactly to a “T” and the dough was beautiful when I put it in the oven. It had risen a lot and looked like everything was a go, but when I took the lid off the dutch oven to finish the bake it had lost considerable height. As I thought back through, there is one thing I did different that you didn’t mention – I scored the raw dough ball when I put it in the oven to bake. Do you think this was the problem?

    1. I can’t imagine the scoring (unless you were really aggressive) would have that dramatic an impact. You were able to get it into the hot Dutch oven okay? That’s where a lot of people struggle and can drop it in and lose some of the gas. I know Forkish bakes seam up, so he doesn’t score it. I’ll think/research a little more.

      1. Not aggressive on the score just a few very small snips with the shears. It went in the dutch oven fine. It was a great looking dough until I pulled the lid to finish baking. All in all the bread is still good it’s just not what I intended. I’m very new to this and I’m sure I took a wrong turn somewhere. I’d just like to figure it out before I do it again. Thanks for your response and help.

        1. My only other thought was that it might have been slightly overproofed? In that case, it might look good but the gluten has started to weaken and it wouldn’t get a good oven bounce. Good luck. Keep at it!

          1. I got it right today. Last time I used a rye flour for the poolish and the bread had a lot less character when it was done. Today I used a new bag of whole wheat for the poolish – a noticeable difference in the bubbles. Maybe the rye is too old.

            The recipe is spot on. Thank you again.

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