An Alternative to Sourdough

The secret to great tasting bread is flavor developed through fermentation. In sourdoughs this starts by pre-fermenting wild yeast, flour and water in a mother starter (or levain) and completes with bulk fermentation (proofing) of the final dough.

Other preferments are made by mixing regular yeast with flour and water and leaving it to ferment overnight. In artisan bakeries preferments are the base for baguettes, ciabattas, focaccia and all the other hearth style bread which are not sourdough. There are different types of preferments but the simplest is poolish, which is characterized by a 1:1 ratio of flour to water.

The following is my favorite poolish bread. It is based on a recipe in Ken Forkish’s book Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast. The ingredient list is simple, the steps numerous but relatively straightforward. It’s even simpler to watch the videos created by Forkish. I’ve included video links in my instructions below with the full playlist at the very end. Note that everything is done by hand (no KitchenAid required!) and the only pre-req’s are:

Tools: A scale, a mixing bowl, two proofing baskets (22cm or 9inch diameter), plastic bags to cover the baskets and two dutch oven to bake the bread. I use two 5Qt or 4.7L size dutch oven.

Ingredients: Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast. The recipe makes 1 Kg of dough, enough for two medium sized loaves.

Harvest Bread made with Poolish

POOLISH

  • 500g       All Purpose flour                             
  • 500g       Water                                
  • 0.4g        Yeast  (1/8tsp)

Prepare Poolish the night before baking day

Measure and mix water with yeast to dissolve.  Mix in flour with spoon until everything is integrated.  Cover and leave at room temperature until poolish is ripe with lots of bubbles, popping at surface every few seconds. This normally takes 12 to 14 hours.

FINAL DOUGH

  • 400g     All Purpose flour
  • 75g       Wholewheat flour
  • 25G      Rye Flour 
  • 280g    Water
  • 21g       Salt
  • 4g         Active Dry Yeast    

Final Dough Instructions

MIX – Weigh & measure flour and salt in a large bowl. Forkish uses a large CAMBRO® container, I use a large stock pot.

Weigh & measure the water at the stated temperature. Dissolve the yeast in the water and then pour over the dry flour.  Add the poolish and mix together.  Forkish uses a  ‘finger pincher’ method but I use a plastic dough scraper to mix and integrate the dough. You can see his pincher method in this video.

FOLDING – Allow the dough to relax for 15 minutes and then fold.   Repeat folding 3 times in the first hour after mixing.  Video link here.

BULK FERMENT – Leave the dough to bulk ferment until 2 ½ times its original volume.  This takes about 2-3 hours.  

DIVIDE – On a lightly floured table, gently release dough. Sprinkle top with flour and long the line where you’ll cut.   Use a floured plastic dough scraper or knife to cut the dough into two pieces.

SHAPE – Fold and form the dough and let it bench rest for 5 minutes before forming. For boules form a medium tight ball and place in prepared bannetons.

PROOF – Cover bannetons and let rest until proven.  Do the floured finger test.  This will be a relatively quick proof period of 1 hour.  

PREHEAT OVEN – At least 45 minutes before baking, place 2 dutch ovens with their lids on, in a 475F oven to preheat.

UNMOLD and LOAD the loaves into the preheated Dutch Ovens. Be careful as the ovens are very hot. Have a look at how Ken does it here.

BAKE – Remove preheated dutch ovens from the oven.   Remove the lid and set aside. Ken has great tip to place a pot holder on the lid to avoid accidentally touching it. Place dough into the pot’s base and quickly cover.  Repeat with the second loaf.  

Put the dutch ovens back into the hot oven and bake at 475 for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes remove the lids and bake uncovered for another 15-20 minutes.     For a less hardy crust, reduce the temperature to 460F. If you have it, use Convection Bake mode for the second stage of baking.

When finished  remove the pots and carefully tip the loaves out.   Allow the loaves to fully cool before cutting.

The full playlist for all of Ken Forkish’s videos is here and the book Flour, Water, Salt & Yeast can be purchased anywhere good books are sold. Happy Baking!

13 Comments

    1. I guess they’re called coccotte in French? Here, we have a few different brands for cast iron cookware. Lodge is a popular one, it’s unglazed which is great for bread baking. Plus it’s has a more affordable price point than LE CREUSET.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Enjoy the videos. He’s very relaxed and makes it look very straightforward. Which it is.

      If you have a regular home oven, I think the dutch oven is the best way to make artisan bread. If you’re buying one for the first time, make sure that all parts are oven proof to at least 450F i.e. no plastics or wood knobs or handles. Glazed or unglazed doesn’t matter for bread baking but the high temperatures will discolor glazed interiors. I think this is largely cosmetic. As I understand it, glazing prevents the need to season cast iron pots, otherwise food will stick when cooking and the pots will rust over time. Cast iron dutch ovens are great for cooking. They retain heat well and have a solid base for even heat distribution. My issue is with its weight & it’s why I only use them for baking bread.

      If you do try making this bread, let me know how it turns out. I’m sure it will be good!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have looked at the price of Dutch ovens and cast iron cookware. Whilst it lasts a lifetime, the weight of it in years to come and the hefty price tag does put me off. I would need to bake a lot of bread to make it worthwhile. I will think about it a bit more.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know what you mean. If you want, you can still make the bread without a dutch oven. Baking in a loaf pan can work but if you want a hearth style bread , you can bake on preheated pizza stone with lots of steam. The steam is introduced by preheating the stone along with a pan filled wt lava rocks. After loading the bread, pour water in lava rocks . After the first 20 minutes, remove the pan and finish baking for another 15 minutes.

          There’re lots of video showing this technique … along with lots of variations – with or without lava rocks; covered or uncovered with roasting pans, ice cubes instead of lava rocks, using wet towels soaked i boiling water etc. I’ve had good results using just a pizza stone, a muffin pan to hold the water, no lava rocks and no roasting pan to cover the loaf. I can’t find any videos which show my bare bones method but these links look good.
          1) Using the Turkey Roasting pan to cover the loaf: https://youtu.be/VU1YHfldTtQ
          and
          2) Baking uncovered but using 2 ways of generating lots of steam: https://youtu.be/PabONWAcGSs

          Like

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