Over the last month or so I have been chasing the elusive yeast water open crumb. I was working under the theory that one could replace a regular poolish with a combination of yeast water and flour and then bake as usual. This ran into some technical problems - namely aggressive protease action. In trying to figure out how to respond to this, I came upon the following enlightening sentence in Hamelman: "Protease is an enzyme whose function is to denature protein, and in a loose mixture like poolish, protease activity is relatively high." I think this means that protease is generated by yeast as it tries to digest (i.e. denature) the proteins in flour and that in a poolish environment at 100% hydration and with an unknown quantity of yeast in my yeast water that I was overdoing it. This time, I pulled back on the amount of yeast water and the hydration of the poolish but not on the hydration of the bread. The result was much better.
I have still not got the cuts to open as I would like, but I am quite happy with the flavor which has a lot of depth and somewhat happy with the crumb. Suggestions for improvements are most welcome.
Mix yeast water and flour night before. Leave on counter for 12 hours. Add flour and water for final dough and mix to develop dough. Autolyze 1/2 hour. Mix in salt and mix again. Ferment for 30 minutes, then stretch and fold in the bowl. After 30 minutes stretch and fold on the counter. Gather dough together and do a loose shaping. Do a third stretch and fold after 30 minutes and another shaping. Let ferment for 30 more minutes. Cut in half and preshape. Rest for 20 minutes. Shape into batards and place in couche. Proof for just over an hour. Bake for 20 minutes at 450 with steam, 25 minutes without.
A few notes about this. The dough was quite liquidy until the first counter stretch and fold when it came together pretty nicely. This was despite two 3 minute mixes in a kitchenaid at progressively increasing speeds. It was difficult to slash because it was quite sticky and the blade got caught.