The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How can I consistently get a great smelling poolish?

SnowPeaks's picture
SnowPeaks

How can I consistently get a great smelling poolish?

I hope you've had a happy Thanksgiving! 

I've noticed a huge difference in how my poolish smells between tries. I found that a great smelling poolish makes a great loaf of bread. But how do I make sure that the poolish will smell great?

Here's what I have and do... 

My starter is 2 months old, 100% hydration and fed with bread flour. I store it in the fridge and feed it once a week. Sometimes it smells like acetone.

I recently reduced my starter from 100g to 50g because the bread recipe I use only calls for making a poolish using 10g of starter. My new feeding ratio is 10g starter + 20g water + 20g bread flour instead of 20g starter + 40g water + 40g bread flour. 

I bake on weekends so I normally feed my starter on Friday morning and make the poolish at night. After I make the poolish, I feed the starter again leave it at room temperature for an hour and place it back in the fridge.

Thanks in advance. 

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

From my reading your are describing a levain (starter, water, flour), not a poolish (yeast, water, flour). From my limited experience I am concluding that these definitions may vary from region to region.

I make poolishes and they are as reliable as Father Time. My levains are much more sensitive to the strength of the starter, and time and temperature variations.

I think that feeding a 100% hydration mother once a week is pushing the limits a bit. You might drop the hydration back to around 55 - 65% for such a long period of time between feedings. You also might want to consider building a refresher before you build you levain.

Determine how much starter you need to build your levain then, instead of taking the full amount from your mother, take 10 - 20% of the total levain from the mother and and "refresh" it with flour and water; enough to total the amount of starter you would use in your levain. Let this sit at room temperature for about 8 hours then use it as the starter to build your levain. This gives a tired mother a kick-start so that the activity is increased before it sees the bulk of the levain ingredients.

If you are going to build your final mix on Saturday morning, build your refresher on Friday morning. Friday evening build your levain. This generally gives the refresher about 8 - 10 hours and the levain about 12 hours.

 

Jim

 

SnowPeaks's picture
SnowPeaks

Hi Jim,

Thank you for explaining the difference. I'm sorry to reply late. I'm fairly new to sourdough bread making and I must admit that the terms confuse me. I had to read up a little.

The recipe I follow is a version of the Tartine bread and they call the preferment in the recipe a poolish. But from what I've learned I think you're right in calling it a levain. So my question becomes how can I ensure that I make a great smelling levain?

I would like to maintain a 100% hydration mother. I find it less confusing especially when I have to compute the Baker's percent. Is there a way to maintain the hydration level without pushing the limits? Perhaps by feed it more often say 2 or 3 times a week, or feeding it a bigger "meal" (1:3:3 starter:water:flour), or both?

If you are not too busy, I would very much appreciate it if you or anyone else in the forum would help me sort out how I can maintain a 100% hydration mother and make the refresher for the levain given the following recipe:

INGREDIENTS FOR THE POOLISH (LEVAIN)
25 g wheat (bread) flour
25 g whole wheat flour
10 g sourdough culture
45 g water (room temperature)

INGREDIENTS FOR THE TARTINE STYLE BREAD
MAKES 1 LOAF
the poolish from step 1
350 g wheat (bread) flour
40 g whole wheat flour
240 g water part 1
20 g water part 2
6.5 g (sea) salt

Source: http://www.weekendbakery.com/posts/our-version-of-tartine-style-bread/

Thanks in advance.

Snowpeaks

Portus's picture
Portus

... it seems your present routine could suffice, with a minor adjustment: begin with your 10g starter then simply +45g water +25g wheat (bread) flour +25g whole wheat flour, stir and leave overnight to mature.  However I would endorse Jim's suggestion that you first refresh your starter in the morning before your evening levain build.

SnowPeaks's picture
SnowPeaks

Hi Portus. Kindly clarify if you are suggesting the adjustment for the refresher, the levain, or the mother. 

Portus's picture
Portus

... I am referring only to the levain build for this recipe, not the refresher or the mother.   Apologies for any confusion! 

SnowPeaks's picture
SnowPeaks

No apologies necessary. I got confused by your use of the word adjustment because the levain recipe is exactly that :-)

Portus's picture
Portus

... baked this loaf yesterday; a really nice and easy, satisfying SD.

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

Well, to each their own :-)   When I first started baking with a sourdough culture I worked hard to develop that "fruity" smell. Over time I learned more about starters and I now work to develop more of a sour smell. First you will have to define the smell you desire.

Again, speaking from my own experience, feeding the mother often and at a 100% hydration will tend to develop the fruity smell. Enzymes in the flour convert the starches into sugars when exposed to water. When lactobacillus are happy and surrounded by sugars they tend to produce the fruity aroma. When they are stressed by low sugar availability the result is a more sour (acidic) aroma. My guess is that they feel threatened, and knowing that they can live in an acidic environment better than other sugar consumers (bacteria and yeast), they trigger a defense mechanism to try to knock-off the competition. Eventually without replenishment they will die too.

Managing sourdough is like managing a bacterial science project. If you want the same results again and again, you have to adhere to some fairly strict procedures. It's not like feeding your starter once a day is better than feeding it once a week, or that a 100% hydration is better than a 65% hydration. But if you feed your starter once a day and then decide to feed it once every 3 - 4 days, you will have a different result. That result may manifest as a different flavor structure (good or bad) or a different leavening process (good or bad).

If you can articulate what you are expecting from your starter I am sure the folks here can steer you in the right direction.

 

 

SnowPeaks's picture
SnowPeaks

Hi, Jim. The one time that  it smelled great, it was fruity and nutty and sour. It had such a deep rich aroma that I could already imagine how the bread would taste and true enough, it was amazing!

I definitely want to avoid the acetone smell. I found conflicting information on the web about it. Some say to chuck it in the bin and start over. Others say it's normal. I'd much rather keep it. It has smelled acetone-y before and got better. 

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

I get it.

Like I said before, high-hydration, rapid replenishments usually smell more fruity. Dryer compositions tend to lean towards sour. In some of my breads I make both a poolish and a levain. Each adds their own flavor components and my customers really notice the difference. Maybe you might try experimenting with both!

 

SnowPeaks's picture
SnowPeaks

Thank you so much for the tip.  I've never heard of doing both a levain and a poolish. I learn something new every time I come here. I will experiment :-)