Two poolish preferments

Poolish (Preferment)

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Poolish is a liquid preferment with equal parts flour and water, creating a 100% hydration mix. Originating in Poland, it gained popularity for producing bread with a milder, less acidic taste compared to sourdough. Poolish enhances dough with improved flavor, texture, and fermentation qualities. In this post, we will explore poolish, its impact on dough, and how to make it

Poolish – Introduction

Poolish is a liquid preferment that contains equal amounts of flour and water, for example, 100g of flour and 100g of water (100% hydration).

Poolish is one of the first types of preferments made with baker’s yeast. As its name suggests, poolish was originally “invented” by Polish bakers in the late 19th century and later adopted in Austria and France. Breads baked with poolish had a less acidic taste compared to sourdough breads of that time and quickly gained popularity. The “poolish method” became widely used by bakers as baker’s yeast became more common and readily available.

Technically, poolish can be seen as something between sourdough and a direct dough made with baker’s yeast. Interestingly, even today in Paris, you can find bakeries with two signs on the front: one reading “Pain Viennois,” meaning bread from Vienna (made with baker’s yeast), and the other reading “Pain Français,” meaning bread from France (made with sourdough).

Poolish is fermented at room temperature for 6-14 hours. As a liquid preferment, poolish is less “forgiving” than biga and requires more precision and attention to timing.

An under-fermented poolish will not provide the desired acidity to the final dough.

In an over-fermented poolish, there will be excessive gluten breakdown, resulting in a weak and sticky dough and affecting the final product.
It is highly recommended to avoid over-fermentation with poolish, as it can have significant effects on the final dough, depending on the amount of poolish used and its condition.

A fully ripe poolish will at least double in volume, forming a “dome” with small air bubbles on the surface. It will have a mild, slightly alcoholic smell, similar to yogurt.

A poolish that is past its peak will collapse in the center, leaving poolish “smear marks” on the sides of the container.

Making a poolish is simple – just mix water, salt, and yeast and let it ferment. Adding it to the final dough is also straightforward – simply add the poolish to the other dough ingredients and continue mixing as usual.

A poolish will impart a mildly acidic and subtly yogurty flavor to the final dough.

The internal crumb structure of a baguette made with poolish
The crumb structure of a baguette made with poolish

How to Make Poolish: General Guidelines

For detailed information on how to make a preferment in general, please refer to the post linked at the bottom of this page.

Mixing the Poolish

Prepare an equal amount of water and flour (e.g., 50g of water and 50g of flour) and a container that is deep enough to hold at least twice the volume of the water and flour combined (the poolish will at least double in volume). It is highly recommended to use a transparent container so that you can monitor the fermentation progress of the poolish.

Add the water to the container, then add the yeast and mix until the yeast is incorporated. Next, add the flour. Be careful not to use cold water; instead, use water at room temperature (e.g., tap water). Cold water can harm the yeast cells.

Mix everything together (using a spoon, dough whisk, or small silicone spatula) until there is no dry flour left in the container and a smooth and uniform batter is achieved. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the container thoroughly to ensure no dry flour remains unabsorbed.

Cover the container with a lid or cling wrap to prevent the poolish from drying out. There is no need to poke holes in the cling wrap or provide air circulation in the container, as this is unnecessary and serves no purpose.

At this point, I highly recommend marking the “starting” position of the poolish with a rubber band or marker so that you can visually track how much the volume increases during fermentation.

That’s it. The poolish is now ready, and all that remains is to let it ferment.

A properly mixed poolish
This is what a properly mixed poolish looks like. It is recommended to use a rubber band to mark its starting point

Fermenting the Poolish

Allow the poolish to ferment at room temperature for 8-12 hours (or according to your needs – just make sure to adjust the amount of yeast to the fermentation time and temperature using PizzaBlab’s dough calculator). The poolish will be ready for use as soon as it has doubled in volume, and a “dome” with many small bubbles has formed on its surface (the rubber band can help you gauge the volume).

A ripe poolish will have a mildly sour and delicate smell, similar to yogurt.

In an over-fermented poolish, you will clearly see a significant collapse inside, with residual marks on the sides of the container that are higher than the current level of the poolish (see picture below). It will also have a very sour/alcoholic smell.

If you notice that your poolish has collapsed significantly, it is best not to use it as it may do more harm than good. If this happens, check what went wrong – either you used too much yeast, let the poolish ferment for too long, or the fermentation temperature was too high. As mentioned, for maximum accuracy, it is recommended to use PizzaBlab’s dough calculator.

In general, once the poolish is ready to use, you can store it in the fridge for a few additional hours to extend its usability window a bit – but not beyond that.

A picture of a ripe poolish preferment
This is what a ripe, ready-to-use poolish looks like – precisely at the peak of its fermentation
A picture of an overfermented poolish preferment
This is what an over-fermented poolish looks like. Note the significant collapse in the center and the “smear marks” on the sides of the container, which indicate that the poolish has reached its peak and is now collapsing. In this case, it is advisable not to use it

Incorporating the Poolish Into the Final Dough

Transfer the ripe poolish into a bowl where you will mix the final dough. Then, add the remaining water from the recipe and briefly mix the poolish with the water – this will help incorporate the poolish with the rest of the flour more easily. Don’t worry if the water appears cloudy/opaque at this point, that’s just the starch “separating” from the poolish – it will recombine with the dough during mixing. Mixing the poolish with the water for 10~ seconds will be sufficient.

Once the poolish is incorporated into the water, add the remaining ingredients from the recipe – the salt, yeast, and the rest of the flour. Continue kneading/mixing as you normally would.