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
- 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.
- 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!