The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Bad Boy With Poolish

JMonkey's picture

Bad Boy With Poolish

I realize that I seriously risk tanking my whole grain cred, here, but lately ... I've been taking a shine to poolish. It'd been a long time since I'd worked with yeasted pre-ferments, and aside from an occasional baguette here and there, I'd not make a serious white bread in quite some time.

But after the New Year, in the course of just a couple of days, I made three poolish baguettes and one poolish ciabatta.

I used Jeffrey Hamelman's masterpiece Bread as a guide. I was so pleased with the baguettes, that for the ciabatta, I modified my sourdough spreadsheet to accommodate commercial yeast breads with pre-ferments, and inserted his formulas.. Aside from scaling each recipe down (I made a half-batch of poolish baguettes, which made three demi-baguetts, and a single 1.5 pound ciabatta), the only other change I made was to add a tiny speck of yeast to each poolish. With the baguettes, since they required about 1/10 gram of yeast, I added one gram of yeast to 19 grams of water and then added two grams of the solution to the poolish.

This was a pain.

So, next time, I just eyeballed about 1/4 of 1/8 tsp of yeast. Both ways turned out fine.

The biggest takeaway for me from making both of these breads is that, so long as the bread is handled firmly but gently and the loaf is well-shaped, the crumb can still be very open without a super gloppy dough. The baguettes, for instance, are just 66 percent hydration and the ciabatta is 73 percent. Of course, the poolish probably helps, since it denatures the protein and makes it more extensible. All the same, the lesson for me stands - good handling goes a long way towards getting an open crumb.

Sourdough is still my preference, but, wow, I'd forgotten how tasty a good, simple loaf of French bread is: nutty, buttery with a strong wheaty flavor that lasts, and lasts, and lasts.

Here's the photographic results. Recipes are below.

Poolish Baguettes

I'm finally starting to the hang of shaping these buggers.

I cut these in half the next day to make garlic bread and cheese bread to go with pasta.

Ciabatta with Poolish

This is, without doubt, the prettiest ciabatta I've ever made. I didn't score it - it just opened up on its own.

And an interior shot. Not as open as some ciabattas I've seen, but open enough for me. Next time, I'll bump the hydration up to 75 or maybe 78 percent.


Poolish Baguettes (Makes 3 demi-baguettes of about 8 oz. each):
Overall formula:

  • White flour: 100%
  • Water: 66%
  • Salt: 2%
  • Instant yeast: 0.36%
  • 33% of the flour is pre-fermented as a poolish at 100% hydration with .07% yeast

  • White flour: 5.3 oz
  • Water: 5.3 oz
  • Instant yeast: Just a speck (about 1/32 of a tsp)

Final dough:
  • All of the poolish
  • White flour: 10.7 oz
  • Water: 5.3 oz
  • Salt: 1.5 tsp
  • Instant yeast: 1/2 + 1/8 tsp

The night before, dissolve the yeast into the water for the poolish, and then mix in the flour. Cover and let it ferment at room temperature for 12-16 hours. Once the poolish has bubbles breaking on top and has started to wrinkle, it's ready. It'll also smell ... really nice - sweet and nutty. Mmmm.

For the final dough, measure out the water and pour it into the poolish to loosen it up. Then pour the entire mixture into a bowl. Mix together the salt, yeast and flour, and then add it to the bowl as well. Mix it all up with a spoon and, once everything is hydrated, knead it for about 5 to 10 minutes, until it passes the windowpane test. Cover and let it ferment for two hours, giving it a stretch-and-fold at the one hour mark.

Divide the dough into three pieces, and preshape into rounds. Cover and let them rest about 20 minutes. Then shape into baguettes and cover, letting them rise for about 1 hour to 90 minutes. Score and bake on a preheated stone in a 460 degree oven with steam for about 25 minutes.

Ciabatta with Poolish (Makes one 1.5 lb loaf):
Overall formula:
  • White flour: 100%
  • Water: 73%
  • Salt: 2%
  • Instant yeast: 0.36%
  • 30% of the flour is pre-fermented as a poolish at 100% hydration with .07% yeast

This is all in grams, because I used my spreadsheet - Hamelman uses ounces.

  • White flour: 136 grams
  • Water: 136 grams
  • Instant yeast: Just a speck (about 1/32 of a tsp or 1/10 of a gram)

Final dough:
  • All of the poolish
  • White flour: 318 grams
  • Water: 195 grams
  • Salt: 9 grams
  • Instant yeast: A heaping 1/8 tsp or .5 grams

The night before, dissolve the yeast into the water for the poolish, and then mix in the flour. Cover and let it ferment at room temperature for 12-16 hours. Once the poolish has bubbles breaking on top and has started to wrinkle, it's ready. It'll also smell ... really nice - sweet and nutty.

For the final dough, measure out the water and pour it into the poolish to loosen it up. Then pour the entire mixture into a bowl. Mix together the salt, yeast and flour, and then add it to the bowl as well. Mix it all up with a spoon and let it sit for one hour. At one hour, give it a stretch and fold, followed by two more every 30 minutes. Then let it ferment for one more hour, for a total of 3 hours bulk fermentation.

Remove the dough onto a well floured surface, and pat it out into a rectangle, carefully degassing any truly gigantic bubbles that you noticee. Let it rest for about 90 minutes.

Tranfer to the oven, dimpling it with your fingers if you desire, onto a hot stone at 460 degrees with steam for about 35 minutes or so. Let it rest one hour before slicing.


tattooedtonka's picture

Nice to see ya making a white bread every now and again.. :-)

I have been tinkering towards your way, trying out some whole wheat and rye combinations.  Im not so happy with them though.  They come out o.k. I just really like the white breads I guess. 

Your ciabatta looks great, did the crust soften up after cooling, or was it crunchy?  Either way, your breads as always look superb.

Have a great day,


hullaf's picture

I too have tried some poolish recipes and love the ease of starting ahead but my ciabattas haven't turned out well. I need practice so I might try your recipe. Do you like Hamelman's book? I've been thinking about buying it but wonder if it is too technical? (though one can't have enough bread books.) 

I've been working with more whole grains, whole wheat and rye, with Peter Reinhart's WGB book and love it. The idea of letting the whole wheat absorb some of the liquid overnight has really helped the rise to my whole wheat loaves. 


tattooedtonka's picture

Not trying to step on JMonkeys toes in answering this, but I love this book. The thing I like most about this book is that it will not only show you the weights of the ingredients but also has the Bakers Percentage formula for the recipe printed on the side. It was really well written, the recipes are very easy to understand. Mr. Hamelman did a great job and has a great deal of wonderful recipes. And if you are interested, the beginning of the book has a break down of what happens in the making of breads, and the types of ingredients.

 Just my 2 cents..

Have a great day, TT

JMonkey's picture

No worries, TT -- anyone can jump in anytime! And Hulaf, I agree wholeheartedly with TT. Bread is a marvelous book. It's full of techniques, has lots of fantastic recipes and goes very deep into baking with sourdough rye. It is aimed at professional bakers who are using large spiral mixers to develop dozens of pounds of dough, but there's always a column for the home baker, and it's not hard to figure out.

As for the crust, it was crunchy. I think the reason I've been getting crunchy crusts lately is my oven. I recently read in an interesting New York Times article on heat and cooking that electric ovens are more than twice as efficient as gas ovens in transferring heat to food (35% to 40% for gas; 70% for electric). Plus, the electric oven in my new home is very well insulated, unlike my old gas oven, which means that the steam I make in the oven, stays in the oven instead of venting away within seconds. As a result, I'm getting nice, crunchy crusts.

maawallace's picture

Hey JMonkey,

I'm pretty sure that the transfer of heat to food had to do with on the stove top and not in the oven. It makes sense, if you think about it. On a gas stove top, you have flames coming up from a significant distance prior to touching the pan. Those flames get a lot of stuff, other than the pan, hot. An electric coil stove top touches the pan and transfer most of its heat to the pan. However, the induction pan is the most efficient in terms of heat transfer. 

I am curious about people's thinking on convection vs traditional heat in ovens, though. Thoughts?


MTK's picture

I read some stuffs from a book titled "How baking works" by Paula Figoni. In 2nd chapter, she talked about the methods of heat transfer. Unlike the stove, there're 3 different ways of heat transfer in the oven-radiation, conduction, convection. These 3 ways exsits in the heating process at the same time no matter what kind of oven you use. Maybe we shall evaluate the efficiency of the oven from these three ways of heat conduction comprehensively. Air in the oven is actually the poor conducting medium because of its low heat conductivity. However, convectioner accelerating the movement of the air and improve the exisiting convection process.  As the hot air moves more rapidly toward the cooler surfaces of the baked good and colder air moves away.   So, lower temperatures and shorter bake time is required in the convection oven. These words are quoted from the "How baking works" :"They also work more evenly, with fewer hot spots. Despite that, convection overns are not appropriate for all products. They are best for products made from heavy doughs, such as cookies and puff pastry. Cakes and uffins, bake up asymetrically if convection currents are too strong or oven temperatures too high. Sponge cakes and souffles can lose volume, and custards and cheesecakes overbake. Convection currents can work against you; as an oven door is opened for viewing its contents, convection currents between the cooler air outside and the warmer air of the oven quickly set in, cooling the air in the oven".


browndog's picture

Ciabatta is a mountain I have yet to conquer, yours is beautiful, JMonkey. 

My experience is somewhat the reverse of yours--I gradually baked less and less with whole grains til my breads were mostly white, but after seeing so many terrific whole grain loaves here, I'm starting to rediscover them. Been very happy with the results, the preferments make a world of difference.

The article on heat and cooking is very interesting, and a little startling. It looks like I have to start soaking my pasta--but I won't go electric til this (new) gas range dies, *sigh*.

Anet, my two cents about Hamelman is this: I found it forbiddingly technical and un-user friendly when I naively bought it almost a year ago. But after combining it with the resources here and books by Glezer and Lepard, it has since become one of my most reached-for books.

Floydm's picture

Those are beautiful. And I'm pleased to see poolish getting some love... Despite all my other fancy innovations, my poolish french is definitely the family's favorite.

bwraith's picture


I've been down the whole grain road lately, but you are making it very difficult not to take a detour and enjoy some yeasted white bread. Your ciabatta looks great. Poolish yeasted breads seem so natural to work with for a sourdough enthusiast. I wondered if you have some insight into rules for how to build a poolish, such as growth rates of instant yeast as a function of temperature and inoculation for a poolish. It sounds like you had some very small quantities you were working with.


JMonkey's picture

I'm definitely no expert -- Floyd has a lot more experience with poolish than I do. In fact, I had to alter plans both times with these two endeavors. In the first instance, the house was pretty cold (62 degrees), so when I awoke, the poolish was far from ready. To compensate, I set it on a heating pad at the lowest temperature, covered with a towel which ripened the poolish enough by the time I wanted to start making the final dough.

In the case of the ciabatta, I made up the poolish one day and then on what I'd thought would be my bake day, things got much busier than I'd anticipated. So, thinking about what Reinhart had written, I popped it in the fridge, and got back to it two days later. Tasted great.

This is adopted from a chart in Bread. As sub says below, he uses fresh yeast in all but the column for the home baker (where he uses tsp of instant yeast) so I've had to convert. These times assume room of between 70-75 degree F.

  • Up to eight hours ripening time: 0.23% to 0.33%
  • Up to 12 hours: 0.1% to 0.2%
  • Up to 16 hours: 0.033% to 0.09%

The amounts we're talking about here are really minuscule. If we're talking the measurements 1 cup / 4.5 oz / 125 grams flour, even at just 8 hours, that's less than 1/8 tsp of yeast, assuming 1 tsp instant yeast = 3 grams.

So, heck, I just threw measurement out the window and added a speck, though in the future, when my house is in the low 60s overnight, I think I'll go with 1/8 tsp or maybe half that to ensure that it doesn't take too long.
subfuscpersona's picture

I've gotten a lot out of Hamelman's book, but it's clear that the "home baker" part was an afterthought.

For example, in Part II (which covers breads made with commercial yeast) the baker's percentage is based on fresh yeast. If you use instant dry yeast (which many home bakers do) then you must adjust the percentage of yeast by multiplying it by .33. If you like to skim recipes, examining the baker's percentage to get an idea of proportions, your conclusions will be off if you don't do the math first.

Furthermore, I often find that the Home version makes too much bread. I have a small oven (and a small freezer) so I don't want to make a large quantity. If you don't want to make the amount of dough in the Home recipe, you have additional calculations to perform.

When I make Hamelman's Baguettes with Poolish, I like to end up with 36 oz of dough, not 54 oz. This gives me two baguettes, each about one pound (allowing for weight loss during baking). So I need to calculate the conversion factor (which is the total amount of dough you want to make divided by the total amount of dough the recipe makes - in this case, .67) and then multiply the weight of each ingredient by the conversion factor to get the amounts I need to use.

Conversion Table for Baguettes With Poolish
FINAL DOUGHRecipe Quantity
Desired Quantity
bread flour21.4014.29
water10.60 7.08
instant dry yeast 0.13 0.09
salt 0.60 0.40


I sure wish Hamelman's editors had made this book a bit more accessible to the home baker.

======== PS ============

Part II of this book (bread with yeasted preferments) is still available online in Adobe Acrobat format at

JMonkey's picture

Yes, I agree that it's definitely not a book for beginning bakers, and that the home baker additions seem like an afterthought. But if they've boned up pretty well with The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I think readers will be ready for Bread and can make the appropriate conversions.

Like Browndog, I find myself reaching for it more and more ... even though I rarely make white breads. The techniques and formulas have taught me a lot about baking in general, which I can then apply to my whole grain breads.

naschol's picture

I had been doing whole grain breads exclusively, but had recently slipped back into sourdough white bread (with a touch of whole wheat).  Because there are blood sugar elevations in our household, that's as far as I'm willing to go.  I'm thinking though, that most any of the poolish breads could be made with sourdough starter, instead, and elimination of the yeast.  The flavor would be different, of course, but the texture and moisture could be similar, right?



hullaf's picture

So, it seems to me that I will get Hamelman's book -- partially because you'all have tweaked my interest and it's a long winter ahead and I tend to hibernate and read a lot. And I could be a side 'experiment' to try out this non-beginner's bread book and see if I can decipher the lingo.  I've been baking in ernest for the last four years since moving to a rural area. (Grocery store is only half an hour away but the gas prices . . .)

Though my mother and grandmother made bread all the time, watching them counts for something, yes? Anet

DavidAplin's picture

sorry no caps i'm down to a single hand. nice looking breads, perceptive comments. over and over i think what i have only recently become aware of the need to stay focused on every aspect of bread making, eg; what good is a finely tweaked formula if less attention is paid on handling? what good is any of the above if no attention is paid on water temp. or final dough temp. and so on and so forth. the results always speak for them selves, the bread usually turns out ok, until you start to pay attention to every variable, especially the ones you can really control, when you reach that point then you begin to see consistent, good results, then later, consistent excellent results, and maybe if you are a die hard committed bread baker...consistent outstanding results. i'm working on it but i am still at that point some between good and excellent with a tilt toward just good. maybe someday.


redivyfarm's picture

JMonkey, I can't believe anyone would want to improve on that crumb! As usual, I'm totally humbled by the awesome results you post. One question- what type of flour did you use? I keep reading that the secret of wonderful French baguettes is their somewhat weak or low protein flour. I just baked Ancienne for the second time and although my crumb is somewhat more open than it was the first time around with the BBA formula, it does not compare to yours. I'll post it in a blog and welcome comment. As for the taste of the long fermentation baguettes, I so agree. The taste of the grain and of the sugars is intense. Nice work, you!

JMonkey's picture

... was Giusto's Baker's Choice, which has between 11-11.5% protein. It's what they sell in the bulk bin at my local foods co-op and, for lean artisan loaves, that's pretty much perfect. If you can find it, King Arthur Flour's Select Organic All-Purpose Flour is great, too, at 11.3% protein, which is slightly lower than their regular AP flour (11.7% protein).

The real trick, though, I've found is not just the flour, but the handling. For example, if you'll look at these two baguettes, you'll see at the bottom of each there's a much less open crumb. That's where I'd not bunched up the couche enough, and so they rose into each other like buns, so I had to cut them apart with my bench knife. Rough handling gives you an even, less open crumb. You've got to be firm with the outer skin of the loaf so that there's enough surface tension, while being very gentle with the interior, so that you don't disturb the bubbles inside. It's tricky, but after a while, you get the hang of it.

fleur-de-liz's picture


Which baguette recipe did you prefer -- Hamelman's or Acme's from Glezer's book?

You've been doing nice work!



JMonkey's picture

Hard to say, actually. They were both tasty. On balance, though, given how much easier it was to make the poolish baguettes, I'd say it's my preferred recipe.

Acme might have bit a bit more flavorful, but I made them a couple of weeks apart, so it's hard to say.

fleur-de-liz's picture

It does seem that the poolish baguettes are easier and fewer steps.

I've been baking mostly sourdough breads with a preference for breads with some whole grains.  I have yet to bake baguettes.  I think there is something a bit daunting about the baguette, kind of the ultimate test of one's skill level.   You have inspired me to give it a try!

mse1152's picture


Every time I bring up TFL, those beautiful holes in your baguettes just knock me out.  That's four dollar bread right there.


zolablue's picture

JMonkey, that is very impressive bread!  Wow, just beautiful.  For those of us that love sourdough and its challenges I do think we forget the sheer deliciousness of a nice yeasted loaf.


I often make Leader's French bread which is a straight recipe you can make start to finish (meaning baked) in about 4 hours.  For those who may cringe at the thought of not allowing the long slow flavor developer it is really a great choice for those times you have not planned ahead but still want fresh, crunchy baquettes for dinner.  I do have problems with the crumb being very open unless I add more water but Leader never explains if these are to be open and I've never seen photos of the crumb from anyone else who's baked them.


I baked Leader's rosetta rolls just a couple days ago and was just amazed at their nutty flavor.  Of course, on my first try I didn't get any hollows in the center but that yeast dough retards overnight and it made some mighty tasty bread.  Also, the next day I reheated some and they were almost like a wonderful hard roll, very crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside.  Yum!


Finally, I have to agree wholeheastedly on the electric oven versus gas oven for baking bread.  When I first started baking bread a little over a year ago I was told by many so-called experts that gas was considered far superior for baking bread (but perhaps that can't translate to the home gas oven).  Not so in my experience.  I have a European range with a gas oven and an electric oven so I've been able to compare side-by-side and there is no question the bread baked in my electric oven comes out far superior even in color which never quite develops the same at all in the gas oven.  Having said that nothing can roast a chicken like my gas oven!


Again, just gorgeous bread and I appreciate your notes on handling.

Thegreenbaker's picture

I didnt even realise that the pictureon the front page that said "poolish Bagguettes" were poolish bagguettes. lol. I'd always look, I even clicked on it when it was first featured. but, do you think I even thought to visit this post while I began to make mine last night?


The dough is fermenting in the fridge....I HAD planned to go out but those plans fell though, so its about to come out and begin its second fermentation.


I hope mine looks something like yours jmonkey. They are gorgeous.......good work!


wally's picture

Both breads are impressive, but the open crumb you accomplished with the poolish baguette is outstanding.  Poolish imparts a nuttiness that you cannot get with a straight baguette dough, and so, despite its capricious nature if you aren't careful, poolish baguettes are my favorite.

Nice job!


coffeetester's picture

I cant use this recipe and bake a round instead of Baguettes. I want to use my Dutch Oven to bake it.