The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

poolish or sponge?

benny5641's picture
benny5641

poolish or sponge?

I am a novice, and am not sure - is there a difference between a poolish and a sponge?  My daughter said my recipe of 3 cups flour;1/4 tsp. instant yeast;1 1/4 tsp. salt;1 5/8 cups water is a sponge.  I mixed it last night, let it rise for about 18 hours, folded it a couple of times, left it to rise again before baking.

She also said I should put some aside, keep it in the fridge and feed it.  How do I go about doing this, and what do I feed it?  Water and flour? How do I then go about using that in subsequent recipes?

Sorry about all the questions, but I really would like to learn to bake decent bread for my family.  Any and all suggestions are very welcome! 

sphealey's picture
sphealey

At least in the amateur baking world there is no exact definitions of these terms. I tend to follow Rose Levy Beranbaum's usage in _The Bread Bible_: a poolish is made with around 40% of the final amount of water, 1/3 of the final amount of flour, and a small amount of yeast. This is mixed and allowed to sit from 1 to 24 hours; when "ripe" it is added to the remaining ingredients as a "preferment".

A sponge is more liquid and is made with all the water in the recipe and about 60% of that weight of flour (RLB gives an example of 3 cups of flour {468 grams} to 3 cups of water {709 grams}). It also contains some of the yeast and may also contain other ingredients such as malts, seeds, etc. Again this is mixed and allowed to ferment for 1 to 24 hours, often with some of that time in the refrigerator. At the end of that period (or when you are ready to bake!) the rest of the ingredients are mixed in and off you go.

Maybe that is the difference: you add a poolish to ingredients in a larger bowl but you make a sponge in a large bowl and add the other stuff to it! Time for me to write a cookbook...

My advice would be to find some simple recipes that work for you and practice those until you are getting consistent results. The best thing for my confidence was when I started being able to make RLB's Levy's Jewish Rye consistently from week to week. Three years later I find that was a very simple bread, but at the time it was a great triumph and kept me moving forward on my bread journey. You might also want to get RLB's _The Bread Bible_ out of the library and scan through it; it gives very precise instructions that in my opinion are a great way to get started.

Good luck and let us know how you are doing.

sPh

 

benny5641's picture
benny5641

Thank you so much sphealey and Mary. I actually think I understand the difference now (I Think). I have requested The Bread Bible " from the library, and am excited to get it, so I can get started.

I think you are right Mary, I was in a little over my head. The last loaf of sourdough I made, (the second actually, the first turned out great-lucky I'm sure!) didn't rise in the oven. I must have over proofed. Anyhow, I the advice about the musical instrument hit home - I am a classically trained pianist! (I always wanted to jump ahead with my music too!) I found the recipe for Bernard Clayton's Buttermilk Whole Wheat Bread that I found on this site. Does this qualify as a straight loaf?

Again, thank you so much for your advice, I'll let you know how it turns out!

Heather

sphealey's picture
sphealey

One more thought on getting started: for me a good first step was using the breadmaker on Dough setting to make the dough and give it a first rise. Then I was able to practice folding, using the refrigerator to retard the 2nd rise, shaping, proofing (final rise), and baking without having to worry about the mixing and kneading steps. Later I went back and worked on those, but when I have a lot to do I still use the breadmaker for the dough.

sPh

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

You said:

She also said I should put some aside, keep it in the fridge and feed it. How do I go about doing this, and what do I feed it? Water and flour? How do I then go about using that in subsequent recipes?

If you are a real bread-baking beginner I would recommend that you hold-off on this type of bread (sourdough) until you are more comfortable baking "regular" bread -- which is also called "straight dough". Sourdough is an adventure in itself, and I would suggest that learning it is something to be taken up after you understand the ins and outs of getting a good result in a simpler way.

Please understand that I am not trying to slow you down or imply that you are lacking -- you refer to yourself as a novice and I am taking you at your word. It will be an easy and straightforward process for you to learn to bake straight dough, and in that process you will learn a lot about how dough should look and feel, and all the other ins and outs of bread-baking. My advice is to first learn to create a really good white loaf bread, then a whole wheat one. Then turn to sweet dough or enriched dough and make a couple of those. Brioche or challah are great adventures. Try pizza dough and pita, or maybe bagels. You will find recipes for all those on this Website.

You will at that point know what a dough should look like, feel like, and smell like. If a particular batch isn't right you will have a sense of how to fix it. Then it's time for sourdough.

To learn about sourdough, out of all the references on the Web I would recommend Lesson 5 on this Website and also a Website called Sourdough Home, maintained by a gentleman named Mike Avery, who is a frequent contributor on The Fresh Loaf. Mike's advice on sourdough is always right on, and also reasonable, strightforward, and easy to follow.

http://www.sourdoughhome.com/index.html

Your sourdough baking will use all the skills you learned earlier and advance them even further.

I also recommend (as have others on this site) thatyou pick a good bread book and stick with it. Look for book reviews under a separate header on The Fresh Loaf.

Just as a comparison -- do you play the piano or any other musical instrument? If so, you must remember about learning the basics before going on to play complicated music. Same thing here -- otherwise it's way too much to learn all at once.

And enjoy the journey -- that's the most important thing.

Mary

sphealey's picture
sphealey

One thing you can do if you are making breads that are similar from one day to the next:  after the first rise, cut off 1/2 - 1 oz or so.  Put it in a juice glass with some flour on the bottom and cover with plastic wrap; stick in fridge.  Take out the next day (or up to a week later), let warm up, and add it to the next dough.  Repeat (I kept one cycle going for 32 weeks).  This adds a bit of extra flavour to the bread.

sPh

benny5641's picture
benny5641

My husband and I just had a great laugh when I realized my wrong terminology!  Sounded like I was making a judgment on the loaf's lifestyle! 

 

 

 

 

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Hi, Heather:

Here are a few quotes from Jeffery Hamelman's book "Bread":

Straight dough: A style of mixing also known as "direct method", in which all the dough ingredients are mixed at once and no pre-ferments are used. I will add that this does no necessarily mean that all the ingredients are dumped in a bowl at once, just that no pre-fermenting is done.

So what's pre-fermenting? Remember you asked us the difference between a poolish and a sponge, and SPHealey gave you a good definition? Sponges and poolishes are pre-ferments, as are bigas and levains, and also just using "old dough". Hamelman defines a pre-ferment as A portion of a dough's overall ingredients that are mixed together and allowed to ferment before being added to the final dough mix.

In a way a separate sourdough starter isn't a pre-ferment, because the sourdough starter is a separate culture that is fed and maintained and can be used in a variety of recipes. It's not a part of the recipe's ingredients, in that sense.

In a way, it's all a matter of definition. Some people might argue that autolyze is a preferment. P MCCool's version of the Clayton recipe you mention uses autolyze, which, according to Hamelman is a method for mixing certain wheat breads and sourdough breads . . . in which the flour and water . . . are mixed very lightly, after which the dough rests before the remaining ingredients added and final mixing begins. Sometimes other ingredients are sometimes added -- salt and yeast come to mind.

It's really all a continuum, in a way. You can autolaze for 20 minutes with just the water and flour. You can mix some of the ingredients into a wet or dry mixture and call it a poolish or a sponge, depending on other factors. You can mix a bigs, which is pretty stiff. All of these are made from ingredients subtracted from the original recipe. They sit and soak for 20 minutes to an hour or they can ferment for up to 24 hours.

Now -- as to the Clayton recipe as given on The Fresh Loaf. I'd call it a straight loaf, in spite of the autolaze. It's the kind of thing I was talking about, yes. I'd even encourage you to continue to play with sponges, poolishes, and bigas. I would caution you to let the sourdough, which is what your daughter appeared to be aiming at, go until you learn the basics.

Not that sourdough is that much of a mystery. A lot of people make it into one, but it's not necessary. But it's kind of like taking up the piano and the harp at the same time. You are playing music with both, and there are even similarities as to how the instrument produces the sound (plucked strings). But trying to learn both at the same time is going to make you "master of none".

The Bread Bible is a great start. I don't have it, but Howard (who writes under the handle Holds99) recommends it, as do many others. If you stick with it, you will be fine. Also, the author has her own Website, wheree you can ask questions that we can't answer about a specific one of her recipes.

http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/

I've mentioned Hamelman, but he is maybe a litle "dry" for a beginner. Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice is good. But I think you will do just fine with The Bread Bible. Do try to preview several books if you decide to purchase one -- maybe you can get some others on inter-library loan.

Keep in touch -- the folks here are anxious to help and don't mind questions a bit. No-body knows it all, this list is really a pooling of knowledge that benefits everyone. And I will say again, keep it fun!

Mary

sphealey's picture
sphealey

I would second Mary's advice to try several books.  Personally I like RLB's _The Bread Bible_ (not to be confused with Hensperger's _Bread Bible_ which is also a good book but very different).  But Rose always starts her books with tons of very thorough background information and her recipes are very very precise.  In fact when my son was struggling with his first high school chem lab report I suggested he model it on an RLB recipe.  That works for me but may not be the best style for everyone; some prefer the more intuitive approach of _Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book_ for example, or the more culinary-school style of Reinhart.  So look at a few books at the library or bookstore before you invest.

sPh

bounseeball's picture
bounseeball

Ahhhhh...it sounds like the no-kneed bread.  My first bread too!  This is an easy bread you can make for your family...and it can taste great too.  I have a hard time moving on from this bread because my friends/co-workers/and family won't let me not make it!  LOL..  I suggest buying some other flours to mix in.  I subsitute 1/2 cup of Amaranth flour for the bread flour (you can use oat flour, rye flour...any kind you like) and it makes an incredible nutty flavored bread.  Use a loaf pan if you like, but I just shape a boule and use my baking stone.  I like the crust much better on the boule. 

Oh, and I love the BBA as my second bread book.  Just don't try to start with Nancy Silveton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery.  Oy vey, I almost walked away from bread making.  I am saving it though...one day it will all make sense. 

Cheers and good luck! 

 

benny5641's picture
benny5641

Hi all, thanks again for all the help, advice, and encouragement. I still feel sometimes as though I've been dropped in a foreign country without knowing how to speak or understand the language, but I am having fun, and learning alot! (Though I do feel it's two steps forward, one step back sometimes!)

I made the Clayton recipe- one loaf didn't rise the second time, and the other one did!! I think I folded it improperly? Maybe I should have left it to proof longer, even though the other one was all ready to pop in the oven? I really didn't know what I was doing at that point. The second loaf had a beautiful crumb, and sliced up really nicely the next morning. My boys loved it for toast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It really was a pretty loaf of bread-if I do say so myself. The only thing I noticed was it had quite a large air pocket in the middle/top of the loaf, and when you toasted it, it (the top crust) in that area would break off really easily/ Any more suggestions?

I also still have the original starter I began with in the fridge. I have been feeding it, although I'm not sure if I'm doing it properly. It's pretty thick, but smells fine, (I think), and is definitely still living. My question is this: Do I just use some in my next recipe in place of the yeast called for? If so, how much do I use? Then I just replace that amount with equal amounts flour and water? Can I use any flour, or should it always be the same one?

I just got a call this morning from mylocal library branch, letting my know that the copy of The Bread Bible I requested has arrived. I plan on picking it up this afternoon, or tomorrow morning. I'm hoping I'll be able to get more answers from it as well.

Thanks again-What a great bunch of people this site seems to attract!!

Heather

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

As long as you have a starter already, look at the Mike Avery's website Sourdough Home for a recipe. He has an excellent beginner's recipe there.

If you need help interpreting the recipe, Mike is very open to questions, or you can ask here.

Additionally, Mike's site will answer all your questions about feeding and maintaining a starter. It's a one-stop sourdough resource. There is almost TOO MUCH sourdough advice on The Fresh Loaf for a beginner; it's confusing until you get into the process. Then it all begins to have meaning and you can use the advice that suits you best.

Mary