I’ve been making a TON of bread recently. In the past couple days, my oven has baked 10 pizzas, 4 focaccias, 1 pissaladiere, 8 loaves of bread, and reheating my spanakorizo from yesterday (leftovers). And I really excited to teach you today how to make the Polish poolish.
Now if you don’t know what a poolish is, why it is useful, or what makes the poolish so awesome then you, my friend, have come to the right place! I don’t want to go into all the details of the history of the poolish, why it is used so much compared to other pre-ferments, and all these general details. (I will say that I do would like to know how often the French pâte fermentée I used. I don’t know many people that use it and most of the French people I know use a polish or a biga. But I’m sure I’ll talk all about that when I write about it instead of just using it. For more info: WeekendBakery, KingArthurFlour, BobRedsMill.)
Why I Love the Poolish
First of all the poolish has 100% hydration. That means that if we have 50 rounds of water we have 50 g of flour. The Courses by definition equal amounts of water and flour. (The physicist inside me wants to point out that contrary to most sources, the poolish does NOT have equal weights of flour and water, the poolish DOES have equal masses of flour and water. Grams are a measurement of mass not weight. A bit strange that we refer to mass as weight, isn’t it?) This means that this specific preferment is incredibly easy to make, easy to maintain, easy to manipulate, and when it ferments it provides a stunning flavor. Because it is so simple, it really isn’t hard to maintain. Truth be told when I make my Neapolitan, New York, or Chicago style pizzas I use a poolish more often than the biga. (If my Italian grandmother ever heard me say that I’ve no doubt she’d scold me and withhold her inter-family-famous meatballs next time I saw her. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!)
The poolish is a sponge. Think of it as an extremely wet dough (100% hydration does make a wet dough!). Please feel free to correct me, but I believe that the poolish is a type of autolyze (it may just behave similarly to autolyzing but I’ll leave that to you). This basically means that the liquid is breaking down the flour so that it is easier for the yeast to digest. The poolish has such a high water content, that the yeast can easily break down all of those proteins in a few hours (this may be why you have to use your poolish quickly after you make it — or feed the yeast again). While breaking down the flour, the yeast (for more info read University of Illinois’ Physics Department, Scientific American, TheKitchn) ferments the proteins (wine is made in a similar fashion), strengthens the gluten network, and releases carbon dioxide. Here, because of the 100% hydration, the yeast can quickly ferment and create a ‘sourdough’ (not exactly a sourdough, but as I said it does ferment) and a strong gluten network. This network lets you and I as the bakers make a bread full of ‘holes’ (picture) or an amazing crumb (the baker’s definition of crumb may be a bit different than your initial thought).
Whatever happens, there’s one thing to be said, the poolish creates an amazing flavor.
As I’ve said, the poolish is really easy. Just grab flour, a scale, water, and yeast. So here’s to it, let’s make our poolish!
Measure out the following quantities: 50 grams of flour, 50 grams of water, and 0.1 gram of yeast (0.1% is the baker’s percentage). If you ask around, many people will suggest using 0.2% yeast but I prefer 0.1%. Remember that the flour itself naturally contains yeast and that yeast will grow if given chance. Using this percentage, we give the natural yeast a greater chance to grow.
Pour 50 grams of water into a small bowl. Add the yeast and whisk vigorously for 30 seconds. Now pour 50 grams of flour the bowl and mix. You’ll end up with a thickness akin to pancake batter.
I wouldn’t recommend using a distilled, or highly filtered water. I’ve had trouble getting a good preferment to develop (possibly because the natural bacteria in the water have been killed?). I am still experimenting though.
I’ve kept my poolish alive for a while. Every day, I add more flour and water (1:1 ratio) but I don’t add any more yeast. (It kind of makes it a sourdough, except for the fact that sourdough doesn’t have to be fed as often as other preferments.)
Hey, last thing. I know I have a lot of links in this post. Let me know if you like having them, or if you’d rather have me do all the research and write it out for you in a dissertation or a bite-sized way!
Time to make your own poolish and then a baguette, focaccia, or your favorite type of bread!