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.