The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Poolish baguettes question

FRGus723's picture

Poolish baguettes question

Hi Floyd,


Great site, I love it.  I have a question for ya or anyone else.  Seeing as I have a full time job and a daughter to take care of when I get home I run into problems with having enough time to finish breads requiring lots of fermentation/rise time.  So last night I made the Poolish for the baguettes and let it sit for 4 hours before refirgerating it last night.  Is there a good breaking point in the rest of that recipe in BBA to refrigerate and continue tomorrow.  In other words, can I get home, add the rest of the flour and ingredients and let the dough rise for 2 hours and THEN refrigerate again.  Then to finish the next day, pull it out an hour ealry, let it sit for 2 hours and then bake.


I am just wondering if there is a right or wrong time to stop in a bread recipe where refrigeration will actually maybe help the flavor.  Being new to the artisan world of bread baking I have no idea if stopping half way through a recipe will create an undesirable effect.




lisah's picture

Hi Erik,

I've been baking bread for a few decades now and just had a great experience attending the Artisan Bread Baking course at Johnson & Wales last weekend, so this is all very fresh in my mind on how to help you.

I think if you do what you are thinking with a poolish, your dough will be too sour when baked.  That's my opinion, others may disagree.

However, in my opinion some of the best bread is rested overnight in the refridgerator and baked the next day.  In your case, you would get up early and make the dough, put it in the refrigerator for the day and bake it when you get home at night.

Use a straight dough recipe vs. one with a poolish.  For example:

3 cups flour (about 16.5 oz) (either use King Arthur all purpose or Gold Medal Bread)

1 tsp instant yeast

1 tsp kosher salt

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water (tap water cool)

Mix enough of the flour into the water to make a very soft dough.  Let it sit for 1/2 hour to autolyse.  This will really help make a good dough for you.

Then add the remainder of the ingredients and knead until the dough is smooth and you can pull a nice extensible windowpane (about 4 minutes on 2nd speed, or by hand 5-6 minutes).  Shape it into a ball with a tight skin.

Now cover your dough in an olive oiled container for about 40 minutes, skin side up.

Take the dough out, skin side down, and on a very slightly floured surface, pull the outside to the inside, doing this all the way around the dough.

Turn over, return to the oiled container and and cover for another 40 minutes.

Repeat the above step again.  Then after another 40 minutes take the dough out, break it into the number of pieces you want (4 bagettes, 2 boules or torpedos) shape it into the shapes you want.  I recommend you use a banneton (willow basket) as it fits well into the refrigerator.

You can now refrigerate your dough through the day until you get home and are ready to bake.

Great thing is you can bake it immediately from the refrigerator.  Do not wait for it to rise.  Just turn it out onto a silpat, slash the tops, steam your oven (480) and place the silpat on a stone. Steam the oven again 2 more times.

This will make a very nice bread for you, and you can do nearly everything in the a.m. before baking that night.  You can hold back half the dough, and keep it in the refrigerator for at least 3 days and it will also then make a very nice pizza dough too.

P.S.  I like to bake my boules in a La Cloche.  No need to steam the oven.  I put it on the middle rack.  I bake then at 425 for 40 minutes and take the top off for the last 5 minutes.  The loaves come out fabulous.  You can bake one behind the other by keeping the second one in the refrigerator until you are done baking the first one.

Hope this is helpful.

FRGus723's picture

I already made the poolish last night since the BBA said it would be OK for up to 3 days in the fridge.  Do you think it will still be OK?  If not it's not like it took any time or was a lot of ingredients if I need to pitch it.

If it is still good, then I get up early, mix the rest of the ingredients and poolish and let it sit for 40 minutes, then form loaves and then refrigerate? 

I know a Silpat is silicon I just didn't think I could put that directly onto my stone.

I don't own a La Cloche but it seems like something I could purchase down the road.  The other snag I have is not having a couche for the baguettes.  I read a bunch of posts yesterday about people going to the fabric store and buying either raw untreated unbleached canvas or linen/muslin but when I went to Jo-Ann fabrics they only had untreated unbleached muslin that was very thin (think cheesecloth) which I figured would not work and then she had Natural unbleached canvas that was thick enough for a couche but she said it was treated with Scotch Guard.  She tried to sell me on just washing the canvas and that would remove it but I think I'll pass.  

What can I use instead?  I guess originally my thought was since it is not a critical piece I could get away with spending $1 for a yard of the stuff vs $13 online.  Hindsight think I'll just spend the $13.  Another question, having never seen a couche in real life can i get by with one for both baguettes and boules or are you better off having one for each shape.  When they get full of flour do they get stiff and start to hold that shape?

Anyway, thanks again for the quick response.


AnnieT's picture

Erik, why don't you buy parchment paper, cut a piece for each baguette and use rolled towels for support? Then you can drop the loaf and the parchment onto your heated stone. Before you buy a cloche try using Susan's method - rinse a stainless steel bowl in hot water and place over the boule on the hot stone. Take the bowl off after 20 minutes to finish browning. I have a huge bowl which will even cover a batard and I think people are using roasters too. Good luck, A.

lisah's picture

Everything makes a difference in baking bread.  But the good thing is you don't need everything to make good bread.  It just won't be as good.  But good is still good and you'll feel very accomplished with your successes as you grow in your technique and skill.

I would skip the poolish.  Again, the concept is the overnight (12 hour) fermendation.  Bread tastes better when the flavors are more developed.  They become more complex in structure.  But, they can go too far and become overly sour.

Since you'll already be leaving your dough to rise for 10-12 hours, you don't want a poolish too.  It will result in a very sour dough. You could take the poolish out and feed it every day for a week and you'll have a nice sour dough starter, if you don't want it to go to waste.

For a couche - a piece of muslin, linen napkins, canvas, etc. will work.  Linen napkins aren't ideal, but would do the trick for now.  Don't use dish towels or any type of fabric that is knitted.  You can get a couche from King Arthur online, but maybe a local housewares store would have linen napkins you could use.  Nice white heavy ones will work.  It needs to be a heavyweight fabric.  As for one for each type of bread, no, you can use the same one for both.   There is a commercial cooking supply house in my area that sells them too.  Check out your phone book for a cooking supply store.  They are usually open to the public, but most people don't realize that.  I love going to those types of stores as it gives me access to commercial supplies that I can't find anywhere else.

I've seen the La Cloche on eBay for less than you can buy it for new.  Mine was about $80 and I've seen them for $20 on ebay.  I think it is the best investment I've ever made for my bread baking.  The second best investment is my Kitchenaid mixer and the third my bread bowl ($150) that we bought in a reputable antique store.  I love my willow baskets too and wouldn't want to be without them.

For now though, without the La Cloche, use the Silpat on your stone and add steam.

A few other tricks for you are:

Put an iron pan on the lower rack of your oven below the rack that your stone is on.

Use a squirt bottle (like the one that holds ketchup at a diner) and fill it with water.  Use the squirt bottle to shoot water onto the iron pan (i.e. lodge fry pan) in the oven just before you put the bread in and again 2 more times in the first 3 minutes of baking.  Other people say to use a spray bottle to make the mist.  I like the squirt bottle much better.  I get much more steam and I can really control the flow and location of where I shoot the water to make steam.  I can also do it from more of a distance and I don't get the steam in my face that way.  I also shoot a squirt at the walls of my oven and I get tons of steam.  Just be very careful to stay away from getting a stream of water on the element.

Your crusts will come out very good as a result of the above.

I was surprised too at the Silpat idea.  This is what the Chef said he uses at home.  Low and behold it really worked.  And, far better than parchment paper on the stone.  When the Silpat came out of the oven from the stone, it looked very brown.  I washed it in the dishwasher and it is still very brown, but otherwise, it feels and functions just fine.  I noticed the bottom of my bread turned out much better too. 


FRGus723's picture

Thank you all for the comments.



I do have parchment, I just thought the idea of the couche was to remove "surface" moisture to produce a crunchier crust.  If it is just for shape then I can rig something up, thanks for the suggestion. 



I do have a fine cast iron pan that woudl lvoe to voulnteer for this job as well as a few squirt bottles.  I know I read you should keep the stone on the lowest level of the oven and I do not have any room underneath for a cast iron pan.  Do you get the same efeects by having it above the stone or am I better moving the stone up one level and using the pan underneath?

On to the Silpat.  I keep seeing so much conflicting data regarding pizza dna breads with regards to baking stones.  The purpose being to draw out moisture, any barrier seems to negate this.  Does it just not really make that much of a difference when using either Silpat or parchment?  Is it just so hot that it forms a crust anyway?


Thanks for all your advice again, much appreciated


lisah's picture


I would not use the parchment idea.  The fabric is to draw out the moisture and the the parcment will too, but then it will tear when you try to lift it.  Your dough should be on the wet side to get big irregular holes.  The parchment then won't draw out enough moisture or in the same way from the skin of the dough.

As for the Silpat on the stone versus using the stone directly, well I've done both.  And the Silpat was great. And, since the advice came from a master bread baker from Johnson & Wales culinary university, I felt it was worth the try.  I was so happy with the results.  Also I felt the bottom browned better than on parchment placed on a stone, or on a stone directly.

But actually, the goal is to get it onto the stone easily and that is hard to do with a baguette from the couche to a peel to a stone.  Trust me on the Silpat.  It works.

I used to keep my stone on the bottom rack near where the electric heating element is.  Everthing burned on the bottom and didn't bake right on the top.  So someone at the class suggested moving it up one level (then I thought to myself Duh! I should have thought of that).  I did that and put the extra rack on the bottom level with the iron pan on it.  It made such a big difference.  The point of having the pan on the bottom is for the steam to rise up.  I usually just make boules and use my La Cloche, so baking baguettes was new to me.  The results were the same as in class, using the steam injected deck ovens they have there.  You should be fine this way. 

Another process I use, depending on what I'm baking, is to heat your oven higher than the planned baking temperature.  For example fire it up to 500, but bake at 480-425.

I'm also not sure about the metal bowl over the dough idea.  The idea with a La Cloche is the concept of steam and stone.  That's what makes a great crust.  But I honestly have not tried it so I could be very wrong and pleasantly surprised just I have been with all the new things I learned at Johnson & Wales this past weekend, like a Silpat on a stone.  I'm going to try the metal bowl idea and see where it takes me.  It's always fun to experiment.  The bread kitchen is a lab.

Good luck!

Monica's picture

You can buy natural linen fabric for a couche at an art supply store.  They have several grades of "thickness" and all would be good.  It is untreated, ready for the artist, or baker!  

Floydm's picture

Hi Erik,

Thank you for the kind words, and welcome to the site.

As you can see from the comments, there are any number of ways you could do this. In your shoes, I think I would do basically what you suggested: use the poolish, mix the dough together tonight, leave it out on the counter for an hour or two and then chill it, then tomorrow divide it, shape it, let it rise, and bake it. I don't have any particular knowledge that this is the best way of doing it, but I find it easier to chill the dough in bulk form rather than once it is shaped: it takes up less room in the fridge and I don't have to worry about anyone accidentally deflating the loaf while trying to get to something else. I also find that shaping the dough in the morning helps take the chill off it: inevitably if I bake a round that was shaped and chilled I end up with an under-baked center.

Flavor-wise, I've never had a poolish make my loaf sour. Old dough preferments, yes, but poolish has always made my loaf seem sweeter. But even if it did I wouldn't mind, since being raised in the Bay Area I *love* super sour sourdoughs. So you may just need to experiment to figure out what tastes best to you.

Good luck!

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Erik. 

As you can see, there are lots of solutions and diverse opinions. Retarding your dough at different stages will have consequences, but whether they are good or bad only you can judge, according to your own taste.  

There are also disagreements regarding "facts." Floyd likes to retard his dough before shaping. I think it is Reinhart who says "Never retard unshaped dough" because the yeast won't have enough oomph to raise the loaves. (Floyd's experience obviously contradicts this.)  

It's interesting that Julia Child, whose very detailed instructions for French breads in "Julia Child's Kitchen" gave many of us "old folks" (including Peter Reinhart, by the way) our first introduction to the use of poolish (which Julia spelled "poolisch") said you could stick your dough in the fridge any old time you needed to and pick up where you left off later, allowing the dough to warm to room temperature before proceding.  

My experience has been that, if all your other techniques are good, at what point you use cold fermentation and for how long changes the flavor of the bread and the color and character of the crust, but doesn't result in "bad" bread. The only time I didn't like a result was when I kept a firm rye starter refrigerated for 3 days before making the final dough for a 100% rye bread. It was too sour even for me.

So, my advice is to chill out (pun intended) and fit your bread making to your schedule. If you find you don't like the results, ask for more help. I'm confident we can help you problem solve.


FRGus723's picture

Thanks Dave. 

Being a very accomplished chef I often tell people new to cooking to just enjoy cooking.  Follow the recipe and you can't screw too much up.  Take liberties where you feel like taking them i.e. more garlic than is called for or less salt etc. 

What has always intimidated me about baking is how precise it is,  which I found sort of took the fun out of it for me.  What I am now learning about baking is that minute changes can have great effects, some good, some bad.  And that mastering baking then becomes the challenge, not just the ability to slam 4 ingredients together and get a tolerable loaf.  Anyone can make an omelette, but can anyone master the omelette.  Now I see the light with regard to baking.

Thank you all again for all the advice.  I will take bits a pieces from each of you and post my results later. 

dmsnyder's picture

Yeah. Sometimes fooling around reflectively is the best way to learn. It works for kids, but most of us unfortunately loose the capacity to learn from play.

I've been watching my 23 month old grandaughter learn to jump. Practice, practice, practice. Now, she's teaching her stuffed animals to jump! Sounds a lot like TFL! :-)

BTW, I have yet to "master the omelette" (or the baguette, for that matter).


FRGus723's picture

Funny I have a 1 year old who is just learning to walk and although it is a cliche, you have to walk before you run.

So I used the poolish but instead of making baguettes which only called for 7 oz of the poolish of which I had about 26 oz I decided to go with a focacia.  it is al ready to go in the oven when I get home.  It was mentioned before that if the bread is ready then no need to bring it to room temp before baking.  Does that effect flavor at all with regard to baking?

I just need to douse it one more time with herb oil and we are gonna have an Italian feast tonight with some fresh focacia, homemade pasta, buffalo meatballs and homemade susage...can't wait. 

Eli's picture


 I purchased 2 yards of unbleached Duck cloth. About 8.00 dollars. I placed it in a plastic bag and about three cups of flour. Tossed it around and let it sit until I was ready to use it and then put it back. It hasn't stuck and seems to work great!

Good luck!!