Changes since the last go-round

Okay Elizabeth. It's time to make a sponge. 

Specifically, a poolish, which is a french technique stolen from polish immigrants - french bakers couldn't pronounce the word polish. So.. Anyway the concept is simple. You pre-ferment some of the flour, keeping it pretty wet. In this case, half of the flour. That's a pretty big percentage, in the land of poolishes. 

This recipe is intended to give you roughly the same bread you have been eating - with a dough you can treat the same way (put it in the fridge once its fermented, proof for an hour and bake, etc...) but with superior depth of flavor. It should taste nutty and buttery. It's a great dough for shaping baguettes and even ciabatta (ask me about how, if you're interested). 

Also the timeline is flipped and a little altered. This is a good friday night/saturday morning bread. I added a timeline to the formula for easier reference. I recommend a shorter time between folds on this dough, since the rising time is so short. 

This one is worth reading through in its entirety, even though much of it is the same. There's some new language about how to get flavor out of dough that should be instructive.

As with last time, I've tried to highlight the important changes in italics. 

Speaking of which.... 

Since you last did combat with the poolish, I've adjusted two things, both having to do with water. 

1: I pulled the water quantity downwards for you in order to make the final dough easier to handle. 

2: I've moved the autolyse to the morning in order to combat the problems of mixing a very wet poolish with a very dry autolyse (which would have been exacerbated by the removal of some of the water). This means you have to have a little more care adding your salt. 

Also I added some links to photos of poolishes - one that looks ripe, one that is beginning to tip over into over-ripe. 



100 Flour
     of which 50 pre-fermented
70 Water
     of which 50 in the pre-ferment
2 Salt
.05 Yeast

PM Pre-Ferment
AM Autolyse and Mix the final dough. 
2-3 Hour Bulk Fermentation
1 Hour Proof

Thinking in "parts", this formula is 100 parts flour, 70 parts water, 2 parts salt, and a tiny part yeast. 50 parts of flour and 50 parts of water are pre-fermented. 


1,000 g flour
700 g water
20 g salt
.5 g yeast (1/8 t - a generous index finger/thumb pinch)

I recommend you start with white flour. King Arthur All Purpose is good.

Use all white flour. It'll be satisfying. We'll work on whole grains later. 


SCALE & Autolyse

Scale out 500 g flour into each big bowl.

Scale out salt into small bowl. Set aside.

Into one bowl, add 500g water and the pinch of yeast. Mix by hand, with a wooden spoon, or, best, a dough whisk. Cover loosely and let rest until morning. 

The Pre-Ferment is where this loaf is going to pull away from and be better than your previous loaves. By using less yeast, but breeding it ahead of time by giving it food, you're drawing out a larger bacterial culture - which always accompanies fermentation, and also provides flavor. 

You're allowing one set of yeast and bacteria to get old and flavorful, but letting it pass its point of best rising action. Then you're adding more food (wheat) to it so that a new generation of yeast will still be vigorously producing gas when you bake it - and the bacterial culture will be stronger than if you were to have just used more yeast. 

Mise en Place:

Gather your tools:

  • TWO big bowls
  • one little bowl
  • flour
  • a biggish pitcher of water (room temperature)
  • salt (sea salt is best, but anything not too coarse is fine)
  • yeast
  • kitchen scale (5kg or even 10kg capacity is nice to have. Don't get anything that isn't accurate to 1g.)
  • bench scraper
  • dough whisk, if you want it. 
  • flexible dough scraper, if you want it.

For later...

  • a banneton
  • a 5 quart (ish) dutch oven
  • dusting flour (1/2 rice flour and 1/2 white is best, but any will do)




Every 15-20 minutes after that, return to your bowl and repeat the folding process. 3 or 4 times is great. 5 is overkill. The basic game is to let the dough relax and then hit it again. 

Here is Ken Forkish folding dough. It's not any more complicated than it seems. Grab, stretch gently, press gently. Rotate and repeat. Flip it over.

You're developing the gluten strength of the dough, preparing it to trap the gas emitted by the yeast. 

Because this recipe has a short bulk rise, be a little gentler with your folds - the gas trapped in your dough is ultimately volume, so try not to squish it out more than you must. 

Your flexible dough scraper is good for making sure you don't end up with huge amounts of dough getting crusty on the sides of the bowl.

Cover loosely and let rest for 2-3 hours, until a little bubbly and maybe doubled in size, though less is fine. 





Autolyse, mix & ferment

In the morning, your poolish should be bubbly and well risen. If you stuff your face in it, it should smell warm and rich, with a little sharpness. A tiny bubble should pop once every eight seconds or so. Here is a photo of ripe poolish. If it starts to collapse, like in this photo (see how the bubbles on the sides tell you it's sinking?), it's a little past its prime. Which is fine. If it seriously collapses, you may be in trouble. 

Add the remaining 200g water to your poolish. Add the remaining 500g flour. Mix by hand, with a spoon, or a dough whisk until incorporated. 

This is when you move from pre fermentation to bulk fermentation - when the bulk of the dough is getting fermented. 

Wait a half hour before adding salt. During this time, the starches are... you know what I won't bore you with a discussion of how starches, sugars, glutamine and glutenin and the lack of salt are dealing wiht one another. We'll get there one day. Just don't add the salt for a half hour. 

When you do add the salt, sprinkle it evenly over the dough surface, sprinkle or spray it with a little water (just to dampen it), and mix it in thoroughly, by pinching through the dough like a lobster would, rotating the bowl. Then rotate the bowl the other way, pinching crosswise through your first pinches. I do about 16 total. 

Now, grab one piece of the wet mass and fold it over. Rotate and repeat until you've loosely folded the wet, shaggy mass all over. I do about 5 folds. Next, repeat the process with the salt. 

I'm assuming here that your kitchen is a livable temperature. If it's very cold or hot in your kitchen, your time scales will elongate or contract, respectively. Because yeast breeds faster when it's warmer. 

2-3 hours later


Now you're going to shape your loaf. 

At this point your dough ball should have round edges, not sloping edges, but it will have flattened out somewhat into a mounded disc. 

If the top of your dough is sticky, dust it with a little dusting flour. You want it mostly dry but a little tacky. 

Flip the dough, dry side down, wet side up, onto the dry section of your work surface. Think of your circular dough now as a square. Take hold of two corners of it and fold that edge over just past the middle, pressing down just enough to make the wet dough stick to itself. Repeat with the three other sides, until you have a little roundish cubish thing. Flip it over, smooth side up. Repeat the gentle scraping and rotating you did in the last step.

Pro Tip:
**To prevent your dough sticking to your bench knife, dust around the edges of the round ball of dough. The knife will scrape it under the dough as you go. Feel the tension of the dough. A light hand on top of the dough can help make sure that the dough has the right tack on your work surface. If the skin of your dough starts to rip, stop. You went too far. **

Here is a video of a confident man with no head shaping a loaf. His technique is good, but I part ways with him at 0:45. I don't do the edge-pinching thing that makes it look like an alien spider baby. Instead I do the bench-scraper rounding thing. But the spider baby is what they do at Tartine, which is arguably the best bakery in the country, so... try it if you want. It's a little harder to master. 

Put some dusting flour in your banneton. Nice even coat.

If you bake regularly, it is well worth having a container of dedicated dusting flour which is 1/2 white flour and 1/2 rice flour. Put some dusting flour around the edges of your loaf on the bench. Use the bench scraper to work it under. Lift the loaf and set it in the basket, smooth side up, sloppy side down. 

Cover it a little less loosely. A plastic lettuce bag works very well.  

Clean the kitchen and then start heating your oven.  


Now you're going to cut off a hunk of dough to make into a loaf. 

Your dough should be risen significantly, a little shiny, and may have some subtle bubbles under the skin of the dough. It'll smell a little sweet. 

Tip the dough on to the unfloured counter. Dust the top with a little flour. Your flexible dough scraper is good for clearing out your bowl. 

Cut off a hunk of dough with your bench knife. This is your loaf. Make it about half the size of the loaf you want. A large grapefruit size is a good place to start.  Put the rest back in the big bowl and refrigerate it. (We'll circle back to this dough.)

Scrape along the bottom of your dough hunk to loosely organize it into a ball, rotating, scraping, rotating, scraping. Be gentle with the dough. Use a litte flour on your hand to keep it from sticking to you.

Here is a hypnotic video of a man shaping a bunch of dough like this. Watch , learn, be hypnotized. But STOP watching it at 4:55. Because after that, I strongly disagree with his rough handling techniques. 

Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, uncovered, preferably on the side of your working surface, not the center. (The bottom of the dough will make it wet, which will complicate your life in the next step.)

If you're making multiple loaves, it's okay if the bleed together a bit. Cut them apart with your bench scraper if they don't pull apart on their own. 

and now...



Put your dutch oven in your oven. Preheat to 500. 

When you are ready to bake, uncover your loaf and dust the smooth face-up surface with flour. Dust your work surface with flour. Have your bench knife handy.

Flip your banneton over onto the work surface. If it sticks, gently peel it out with one hand. Either you need to use more dusting flour next time, or you let it proof too long and it got sticky and loose.

Slide the dough into your hands and drop it carefully into your hot hot hot dutch oven, smooth side down, ragged side up. Cover immediately and put back in the oven.  Turn down to 475. 

I couldn't find a good video of that process. Just be careful and gentle, working quickly. If you want to mist the surface of the dough with water right before covering, that's extra credit. 

Bake about 20 minutes. Take the cover off. Bake until it's deep red and brown, about 25 more minutes. 

You put it ragged side up because that way the loaf splits open along the edges of where you folded the dough. It's a lot easier than trying to score the loaf with a razor blade inside a hot dutch oven. If you don't have a ragged edge or a score, it'll split weirdly along the bottom edge of the loaf. 

The covered oven keeps the moisture evaporating out of the dough in the air, which keeps the skin moist and allows it to expand, giving you better rise and better crust texture. If you don't use a dutch oven, there's all sorts of crazy shit you gotta learn about putting steam in your oven. Good luck googling that - I prefer the boiling-water-over-lava-rock technique. 


Your loaf is now doing all its own work. This is called the proof. 

You can do two things now. Bake it in an hour, or put it in the fridge and bake it later.

For the one-hour timeline, set it on top of the oven. Wait a half an hour and then preheat your oven, leaving it right where it is. 

For the many-hours timeline, stick it in the fridge. It'll be good in there for about 12 hours. After that it starts to get wet, sticky, and not good for baking. 

Either way, you want the dough, at the end of its proof, to spring back slowly and incompletely when you push your finger one knuckle-depth into the dough.

Dough relaxes as it rises. So: too early and it'll rise unevenly and not have great flavor. Too late and it'll collapse into a wet brick of dough.

Here is a video of a finger ominously poking dough. That dough looks good to me. If you are in doubt, err on the side of too springy.  

old dough

The dough that is in your fridge will keep for a week. Pull it out and you're back at the dividing and shaping stage. Only your dough is cold, so it will need a little longer in each stage. 

The dough gets better every day for about 4 days, then it starts to decline. 


The interior of the loaf is still cooking for a surprisingly long time after it comes out. Let it cool on a rack or tipped on its side at least until it's just warm to the touch before slicing, about an hour.