Baking is science, but for most of us it’s also a bit of an art. The play of time, temperature, humidity, not even considering the ingredients themselves, all have to be considered when you’re baking bread. That’s why when I bake I tend to focus. Working with one formula over and over again, but not until I perfect it, because that’s impossible! I bake them over and over to get to know the bread, what it needs. The best way to get good, consistent loaves is to know how to feel when the loaf or the temperature or any part of the bake requires adjustment. e.g. the humidity is really high today, so backing off those last two grams might make sense, or that even if it normally takes 3 hours to rise, it’s warm today, which means the flour was warm and the air was warm, and you either have to be ready at 2.5 hours or you cool down the flour or use cold water.
Which is all an intro to this bread, which is based on the formula in the Ken Forkish book Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. It was my first attempt at Poolish when I made it months ago. I talked a bit in a previous post about how much I like the process of eaking out as much flavor as possible from commercial yeast. Pre-ferments are a common way to do this, that is, taking a portion of the flour and water in full formula, adding a small amount of yeast, and then letting that rise first, before combining everything together for the normal bulk rise. The advantages can be tasted, and even felt. Pre-ferments help the dough last longer, allow for more flavor development, and affect the texture of the crumb. It’s a way to space out baking, and an easy way to get a ton of flavor out of commercial yeast. I’ll talk about other preferments eventually because I am going to experiment with a few new to me over the next few months, but for today we’ll focus on the poolish.The poolish is equal parts water and flour, and it’s a big gloopy mess. But it gives such a buttery quality to the bread that I’ve become very attached to it.
So on to the loaf. This was a pretty normal bake for me, just a regular Saturday run. I started the poolish around 8 pm on Friday night and let it go for about 13 hours. The temp was about 69 when I went to bed and maybe 71 when I got up the next morning. Mixed the poolish with the flour salt and yeast, water at about 100 degrees. I folded three times. I think after baking this one more that I am happier with two folds after the mix, and the pictures seem to support me. THis bake is actually from December, and it was a week or two afterwards that I made a nice little breakthrough with dough handling. It’s easy to ignore or downplay the instructions to fold with some vigor and quickly, but I’ve noticed my breads turning out better when I follow them. It takes some courage and some practice to work with high hydration doughs, but wetting my hands and working my way around the whole mass before lifting, slapping back down, turning the tub and repeating three times has helped my breads’ spring quite a lot. It sounds so self-help-y but really and truly, you are in charge here. You need to understand what the bread wants, but ultimately you are the baker, and the more aggressive and quick folding has helped give me the all ove irregular holes all of us who bake strive for.
Bulk ferment for about 3 hours, and then I shaped into a boule and a loaf. My shaping is my weakest point still, by far. It’s in part tools (we don’t have a great surface for this work so I end up using a large cookie sheet on our table) and in part that I haven’t been as confident as I should be in handling the doughs. Anyway, proofed for about an hour and a half. Midway through the oven went to 460, with two dutch ovens inside.
I want to make another post about my oven issues, because figuring out how to manage heat and avoid scorched bottoms has been a real struggle. I’ll leave that for another day though. I ended up overproofing these. I was distracted and should have checked sooner. It wasn’t a disaster, but as you can see in the pictures, the color is beautiful, but the spring could have been nicer. The boule I attempted to make into a fendu loaf, but I’m always too hesitant to really punch down the center, and end up smooshing things together in the transfer.
I forgot to take a crumb shot, rookie mistake! But these loaves were delicious. There have been times in the past when I end up having to throw away parts of loaves, but these two I remember disappearing entirely. Always a nice feeling!
For my bread post I plan to end with any lessons learned. From this bake in particular I remember focusing on two things:
Proofing! It’s important to really pay attention. Check after 45 to 50 minutes to keep up on whether things are proceeding too quickly.
Shaping! I’m much more confident with my folds and dough handling while mixing, but I need to be less afraid of shaping. I’m getting better at this thanks to the last few months, but this is the place I’m most excited about improving.