The Fresh Loaf

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Help a newbie troubleshoot?

Brandontf8o8's picture

Help a newbie troubleshoot?

Hello all,

Not sure if there's a subforum for this (if not maybe one can be created?) but need some help figuring out what went wrong with a dough I made yesterday.  

Poolish - 24 hr ferment

500g - white flour

500g - water

1/8tsp - yeast

Final mix - 3 hr bulk fermentation

450g - white flour

50g - whole wheat flour

250g - water

21g - salt

3g - yeast

Following method found in "Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast" by Ken Forkish.

I've made the recipe several times and have had great results so far, however, yesterday's batch came out of bulk fermentation lacking any strength.  Dough resembled a super high hydration dough fresh off of autolyse and had a similar consistency.  Tried to knead the dough but wasn't able to develope any strength or tension and ended up scrapping it and starting over. Any thoughts?  Sorry I didn't think to get a pic at the time.

Any help or insight would be greatly appreciated.

idaveindy's picture

My first guess would be you might have  used a different brand or type of flour than before, and it requires less water.  

Did you try adding some flour ?



Brandontf8o8's picture

Brands of flour were the same, only difference was I used an unbleached version of the AP flour versus the bleached version I had used previously.

I did not try to add more flour at this point.  I was under the impression that you shouldn't add more flour after the bulk fermentation.  Is this a possible fix should I run into this again?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

of the poolish?  The ambient temps as well.  24 hrs is a very long poolish.  Is there a chance the salt was forgotten? Did you taste the dough?

Brandontf8o8's picture

Ah!  Temperatures is something I keep reminding myself to take note of but I haven't gotten the reflex down yet.  I know the final dough mix was around 79 degrees, however, the temp of the poolish or ambient temps I'm not sure.  If I had to guess, during fermentation, ambient temps was around 75-80.  

I did wonder if the poolish fermentation had something to do with it.  The recipe calls for 12-15 hr fermentation, but I had seen several places online citing anywhere from 4-24 hrs to form a poolish.  Figured I'd experiment with the time factor and see if we could develope more flavor.  As it stands this is my main suspect as to what was going on.

I did add the salt, of that I am sure.  Would not adding the salt have caused a similar issue?  If so, do you happen to know why?

And finally I did not taste the dough.  Never occured to me to try it raw, but I do it all the while cooking so not sure why I've never tried this.  Will keep in mind to try the next time I make a batch. 

Benito's picture

Think of temperature as an ingredient.  Hotter temperature is like adding more yeast and lower temperature is like less yeast.  It is very important to note temperatures and state temperatures when trying to get help.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

it out.  There are reasons one should not eat raw dough, anyway... yes, I suspect the poolish went too long too warm and there are several ways to correct it next time.  Salt will help control fermentation.  Forgetting it in the dough will give similar results to what you noticed.  If you like 24 hours, then I would suggest adding all the salt to the poolish to control it.  Reducing the temp could also help, like popping the poolish into the fridge after the first few hours (no salt.) Another approach would be to reduce the yeast to just a teeny tiny pinch.  Find out what works for you.

The range of poolish hours varies with temperatures and the amount of yeast and type of flour.  But you do have to experience a too long poolish fermentation to know what It's like.  Lol.  The aromas can get pretty beery potent and the poolish gets stringy and sticky flat as it overproofs.  I don't think it can be saved after it turns into such an enzymic bomb.  As a general rule it is better to underproof a poolish than to overproof one.

mariana's picture

Hi Brandon, 

when you experiment, try to vary only one thing at a time. Otherwise, you don't know what affected your results. It this case, you changed several things at once: the kind of flour you used, length of fermentation and, probably and most likely, the temperature of fermentation if temp varies in your place during nighttime and daytime hours. 

I am not familiar with Ken Folrkish's bread, I heard about it but never got to read the book or test his recipes, so I don't know how you deviated from his process. Generally speaking, poolish is a very mild preferment which ferments for about 2-7hrs, occasionally up to 16 hrs. Because it is liquid, its purpose is to weaken flour somewhat. It is used for strong flours to make them softer, more pliable and extensible which helps with baking loaves with high volume while avoiding intense kneading. Stiff sponges are designed to strengthen dough and are more fragrant. 

So read about poolishes and rules for them. At least in two textbooks they are described well: in Jeffrey Hamelman and in Michel Suas. For example, the section dedicated to poolish in Suas: 

Hamelman's poolish is cold, it ferments at 20-22C, it's a relatively newish kind of poolish. Whereas Suas ferments his poolish at 27-29C which is the traditional European way. In that interval, between 20-30C, yeast doubles gas production with every 6C difference meaning that at 20C fermentation is 2 times slower than at 26C. 3C difference in temp equals 50% difference in the speed of ripening of your poolish. Things change more dramatically outside 20-30C range. 

Hamelman writes that it takes 0.08% yeast for poolish to ripen in 16 hrs at 80F, but the same poolish might need 0.25% yeast at 65F.  The difference between fermentation at 18C (65F) and 27C (80F) is only 9 degrees C, but the speed of fermentation changes 3x, requires 3x more or less yeast! 

So watch your dough temperature to make sure it doesn't deviate from the recipe or when you do your experiments.

Generally speaking, having a thermometer is more important in bread baking than having a scale. Temperature controls fermentation, gluten formation or destruction and dough rheology. We can get away with measuring quantities with cups and spoons, they are quite precise, but there is no substitute for dough thermometer because we can't accurately judge three to six degrees difference in temperature by touch. Get used to that. 

Most importantly, learn how to judge when poolish is ready and not past its prime. If it looks like this, discard:

 This poolish is not suitable for breadmaking and you can't repair it. 

You can ferment your poolish longer, but then you would have to punch it down when it's at peak volume (to protect its gluten), and let it rise again, and again, and again. It can rise to the same height up to 4-5 times in a row. And maybe use some vitamin C and sugar, to help it rise again and again. If there is no sugar, it won't rise, and if gluten became too weak from long fermentation, it would rise but not as high. You can also prolong fermentation of your poolish by punching it down and refrigerating it for up to 24 hrs. Just don't let it fall on its own. 

Overripe poolish will destroy your dough as you discovered. It's a very old kind of preferment and it has its own limitations. Traditionally, it is quite warm, but some bakers make it quite cold which changes its nature, its flavor and significantly affects its staying power, for how long it can actually ferment and still preserve the integrity of gluten. 

In your case your poolish was overyeasted and overfermented in a warm place, so its gluten was destroyed. When the damage to the gluten is there but it is minimal, you can correct it by adding more salt to your dough, like rising it from 21g per 1 kg flour to 25g. Salt repairs gluten. 

It was a good experiment. You learned how to reduce strength of your flour by doing what you did to the extreme. 


Brandontf8o8's picture

Thanks Mariana.  Lots of information here.  Even more to learn :). 

Quick question for everyone.  I live on the windward & rainy side of my island in hawaii where daily temperatures vary quite a bit (20° swings on some days up and down). With temperature being so important to the entire process and a lack of climate control at home, would it be better to monitor the rise of the dough more so than target times?  

Benito's picture

Definitely, watching the dough is always more important than watching the clock.  It is a good lesson that we all learn along the way.

Brandontf8o8's picture

Awesome.  Thanks again everyone.