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White Bread with Poolish (pre-ferment)


Another bread on the journey of bread baking. One of our little commitments for this blog is to have a wide range of different breads, to be a place when anybody can pop in and start bread baking (with no previous experience). If you are a home baker and are looking to explore baking with yeast, pre-ferments and naturally levain bread you may find these posts helpful.



Natural next step on the journey are breads made with pre-ferments.


What is pre-ferment?

Pre-ferment is a portion of a dough prepared in advance (several hours before mixing bread dough). Depending on the recipe - it can be stiff or quite loose. This simple technique has few advantages:

- more time for yeast enzymes to work its magic,

- the dough is easier to work with (than straight dough or heavily yeasted dough),

- pre-ferment increases dough extensibility,

- more complexity in flavour,

- bread keeps fresh for longer.


You may opt to use Poolish or Biga as a pre-ferment. The recipe below uses Poolish.

Poolish technique was first used by Polish bakers around 1840. The technique travelled with bakers (hence the name) to France around 1920.

Poolish is a fairly wet pre-ferment - usually with 1:1 ratio (flour:water) with tiny amount of yeast added. Poolish fermentation time takes anything between 12-16 hours. Quite important to watch that time as Poolish has its peak productivity and then looses its benefits. Biga, is a second type of pre-ferment - usually thicker than Poolish (we will cover Biga in a separate post).



The recipe below uses Poolish, fairly high dough hydration (75% - proportion of water to flour) and low yeast ratio (0.4% - proportion of yeast to flour). What does it mean for the final texture and taste? Extra pre-ferment makes this bread easier to work with. You will notice that already after first or second stretch/fold the dough is fairly elastic and responsive to shaping. High hydration and pre-ferment create bread with moist, almost buttery flavour, airy texture, thick and crisp skin on the outside. The bread keeps fresh for 3 days and the dough can also be used as a pizza or focaccia base. You can opt to bake in the loaf pan or dutch oven (you will get better texture and more complex notes when baked in dutch oven). The recipe covers both.


We have tested this bread with up to 80% hydration (in the dough, water content goes up from 125ml to 150ml, pre-ferment ratios stay the same) - works well without any increase in yeast %, it does require some more advanced technique when shaping but could be an option for you if you want to test different textures and notes.


Poolish 12 hours after mixing:


Once ready, Poolish is mixed with the rest of ingredients and loose dough is formed (the only mixing and kneading needed). The dough needs to be stretched and folded 3 times in the first hour of bulk fermentation. After that, the dough requires approx. 2 hour rest (in that time should more than double in size). Once ready, it's gently transferred to the work surface (while doing that, apply some flour around perimeter of the bowl and gently release, let the dough flow out of the bowl in a relaxed way). If you do this in quick and rushed manner you may diminish all the good work done during bulk fermentation (and break gluten streaks). Once ready, flour your hands and shape loaf. If you are baking in loaf tin - fold sides of the dough, then top and bottom - same way as you would fold an envelop shape, then roll into log shape. If you are baking in dutch oven - gently stretch and fold (same way as during bulk fermentation), working all the way around the loaf, to create round shape. Make sure to preheat oven some 30-45min in advance (preheat oven together with dutch oven, bread baked in loaf tin proofs in the loaf tin - this option does not involve preheating of the tin).


Baking hints:

- Forget extensive kneading - the dough needs to be well mixed only at the beginning of the process (when poolish is mixed with the rest of ingredients). Stretching and folding in first hour of bulk fermentation will benefit the airy texture - you can use bread scraper, do it by hand (apply water on hands not flour), or silicon spatula (yes, it does work and is more flexible than bread scraper). In some books or recipes the dough is transferred back and forth to work surface during that process. In this recipe that part is done in one bowl (no change in temperature, less handling).

- Shaping - don’t be discouraged, this part takes probably few loaves and every next loaf comes out better. Hint here is to gently transfer the dough from bowl to work surface (follow recipe on how to release poolish and how to release dough after bulk fermentation), don’t knead - rather focus on folding the dough to create loaf shape. If in first few tries the loaf looks loose - it’s ok - start with loose dough (better taste, airy texture) and work on shaping and dusting next time (by purpose we are not giving cups measurements here - we recommend using scales).

- Use finger dent test to check if the loaf is fully proofed - you can read about this here or if you are unsure, follow timing as per recipe and then in next loaves you will get more practice on when to grasp the best moment to bake. This bread will give you longer window for proofing than straight dough (if you overproof it by 30min-45 min you will get larger air bubbles under the skin, rather than collapsed dough).



The portion below gives 1 loaf of bread or one smaller round bread baked in Dutch oven.

All the pictures above are loaves baked from 1 portion.


Picture below shows bread baked in dutch oven from 1.5 portion (50min bake time). The bread is more substantial, thicker. The taste is buttery, the texture is less airy.



All in all - with little effort (and without sourdough starter) you can bake enjoyable buttery flavoured bread with crisp skin on the outside and airy texture inside.


White Bread with Poolish (pre-ferment) Recipe


Yield: 1 loaf

Time: 12-14 hours (Poolish rest) + 10min prep + 2.5 - 3 hr bulk fermentation + 10min prep + 1-1.5 hr proofing + 45min baking

Tin: medium loaf pan (12cmx22cm) or dutch oven


Ingredients:

Pre-ferment:

- 250g strong white flour

- 250ml warm water (30C)

- 1/6 teaspoon (0.5g) active dry yeast or 2g bulk active dry yeast


Dough:

- 250g strong white flour

- 2 flat teaspoons salt

- 1/2 teaspoon (1.5g) active dry yeast or 6g bulk active dry yeast

- 125ml warm (38C) water


Egg wash (for bread baked in loaf tin):

- 1 egg yolk


Method:


1. Prepare pre-ferment (poolish): Mix flour with yeast, add warm water (30-32C) and mix until smooth texture is achieved (1 minute). Cover tightly with cling film and keep at room temperature (21-22C) for 12-14 hours. After that time you should get fairly watery, spongy and bubbly mixture.


2. Prepare the dough: In your main mixing bowl mix remaining portion of flour with salt and yeast. Take the bowl with poolish and pour warm water (150ml, 38C) around the perimeter of the bowl. Pour poolish and water mixture into your main bowl with flour/yeast/salt. If you are mixing by hand - use pincer method to mix all ingredients. Using thumb and forefinger cut through the dough (form ‘pincer’), then fold and cut through the dough again. Repeat this step remembering to turn the bowl every so often. This step should take you some 5-7 minutes to fully incorporate all ingredients into the dough. You may opt to apply some warm water on your hands if the dough becomes too sticky.

If you are working using stand mixer - use pincer method and mix by hand for at least 1 minute (to make sure there is no flour residue at the bottom of the bowl), then switch on the mixer with dough hook attachment and work on low speed for 5 minutes.

The dough will be semi-sticky. Wet your hands and transfer the dough to lightly oiled (with sunflower oil or olive oil) bowl. Cover tightly with cling film (or lock tightly in plastic bag). The dough needs to be folded 3 times in the first hour.

After mixing let the dough rest for 20 minutes at room temperature. After that time the dough is ready for 1st stretch/fold (few times, 1 minute job). Cover the bowl tightly again and in 20 minutes repeat stretch&fold, again cover tightly and in 20 minutes repeat last stretch&fold. After last stretch&fold sprinkle the dough with 1 teaspoon flour, cover tightly and set aside for 2 hours of bulk fermentation. In that time the dough will more than double in size (approx 2.5 initial size).


3. Shape: When ready, sprinkle perimeter of the bowl with flour and gently release the dough onto lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour your hands and shape loaf using same stretch&fold technique used in Step 2 until loaf shape is formed. Apply some tension working with your small finger tips tightening the dough. Transfer to floured proof basket, sealed side down (or leave to proof on work surface). Sprinkle some flour on top, cover tightly and transfer to warm place for 1 hr - 1 hr 30min rest. The loaf should double in size. If you opt to bake in loaf pan: transfer the dough onto lightly floured work surface, then fold the dough into an envelop shape (close the right and left wing, then upper and lower part), then roll into fairly tight log shape and place in the loaf tin, sealed side down. Smooth the surface with wet hand before covering tightly and moving to the warm place for 1 hr - 1 hr 30min rest. In a meantime preheat dutch oven (245C) or if baking in loaf pan preheat oven to 220C.


4. Bake: Once ready, gently transfer loaf to hot dutch oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes, then take off the lid and bake for another 15 minutes until brown and well baked through (when tapped should sound hollow). Once baked, gently tilt dutch oven to remove the bread and allow to cool on the cooling rack. Let the bread rest for at least 1 hour before serving.

If baking in loaf tin: gently brush the top with egg yolk and bake for 45 minutes at 220C. If you see the bread browning too much, decrease the temperature to 200C in the last 15 minutes of baking.



Few more hints:


1. You may find it useful to read this post for Overnight White Bread. It includes step by step instruction - most of which applies to this bread too. You will find there explanation of pincer method, stretch&fold technique, the impact of temperature and some general information you may find useful.


2. Loaf tin - when baking in loaf tin remember to smooth the loaf with wet hand and even it out before proofing. As this is highly hydrated dough you may get fairly vivid fermentation (too much air) which may create large uneven bubbles in the loaf. This is not an issue if baking in dutch oven.


3. Flour - if in Step 2 (dough mixing) the dough looks too wet you may opt to add 1 Tablespoon of flour (the dough should be sticky and highly hydrated but as we baked on different flour types depending on the brand used you may need 1 Tbsp top up).


4. Water - use good quality water. If tap water is high in fluoride content (like in Ireland) the dough fermentation will suffer.




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