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Baguette - long bulk vs poolish

Dan_In_Sydney's picture

Baguette - long bulk vs poolish

Hi all,

First a thanks to everyone for the helpful information I have read through and the inspiration I have gained, but now I feel the need to get specific . . .

I had it in my mind to make some approximation of a (small) baguette. My first attempt (4 at various oven-friendly sizes) was acceptable but, for me, lacking a bit of flavour. To be sure, they were streets better in both flavour and structure than any baguette I could find at a supermarket or regular, non-artisan bakery and they passed the most important test (my partner,) but they fell a touch short of what I would consider properly tasty.

For context, my background and situation is as follows:

  • I am an experimenter at heart who has difficulty following a recipe that seems arbitrary when no explanation is provided - I want to break things down and not only know what differences a given change might make but why.
  • I am in (metropolitan) Sydney, Australia, where access to specialist baking flours at the best of times is underwhelming. My current flour is Laucke's Wallaby at 11.5% protein - a fairly high number for accessible flours over this way.
  • Australian flour is un-malted and I do not have any diastic malt.
  • With the exception of a 100% rye loaf or two, I never add sugar or honey or the like.
  • All my doughs are flour, water, salt and yeast - either wild in the form of my starter or using commercial yeast.
  • I don't understand when people suggest that un-malted flour won't brown properly as I seem to have the opposite problem more often than not.
  • I tend towards sourdough and have a nice (plain flour) starter which is neither strong nor weak but is resilient and somewhere over 4 years old now.
  • I like wholemeal, rye and spelt flours added in to my breads as my preferred way of eating it is plain; my partner strongly prefers hers 100% white, often with butter (Pepe Saya for those down my way,) or as a sandwich.

Anyway . . .

Creating my own very simple recipe, the basics were:

(Room temp at the moment is 13-18c during the relevant times)

  1. 70% hydration, 1.8% salt, 0.4% yeast.
  2. ~20 hours autolyse (no yeast,) comprising: ~8h at room temp, ~10h refrigerated overnight; 2h returning to room temp the next day.
  3. Mix in yeast first and then salt (each dissolved in a little water, bringing it to the 70% number) with a Kenwood 'K' beater for 5 mins or so on a low speed.
  4. Room temp for about 4.5 hours with 4 slaps and folds of varying durations and intensities as seemed good in my eyes - around 30-60 mins apart each and stored in a sealed container inbetween.
  5. In the fridge for ~16h overnight.
  6. Divided cold and roughly shaped.
  7. Rested at room temp ~2.5-3 hours.
  8. Shaped and into a couch for ~1h as the oven warmed.

Baking was in 250c on a pre-heated pizza stone with the oven's steam function for 15 mins, then on fan-forced (in my oven, that's a separate heating element around the fan) at 230c for another 10 mins without steam, using the transition to open the oven and rotate the two loaves while letting out the steam.

For the second set, I kept the temp at 250c the whole time but did an even 10 + 10 mins.

Now, to the real meat, which is using this bake as an opportunity to understand the difference between a commerical yeast-based preferment (poolish/biga) and a straight dough simply fermented longer.

A long fermentation time allows flavours to develop. Great.

To my mind, given a fixed time frame for fermentation (e.g. 24h,) the most flavour would be achieved by fermenting the entire dough and therefore a pre-ferment (poolish/biga) would be seen as a more convenient but less effective method of doing so, or one that might be preferred for other, non-flavour reasons (e.g. strength or extensibility, etc . . .).

Am I on the right track here?

If I am happy with the development, workability, time-management and resulting crust and crumb of a whole-dough ferment, what differences should I expect to see with a poolish? (Again, given a fixed time.)

To sum-up, I am looking to improve the flavour while still creating a 100% white baguette and wondering whether swapping the long (partially refrigerated) bulk for a poolish and short bulk would do that. Other options are to add in some sourdough starter after the autolyse or extend the bulk. (Or some combination.)

Here are the obligatory pictures, though they're not really relevant to the flavour, of course!

Many thanks all, in anticipation/hope.


phaz's picture

Whenever i hear something like more flavor, the question of what flavor is one i must always ask. Preferment or not, i always look at the level of fermentation. Ie - how long is it left to ferment. A perfect bread, while totally subjective, is in every dough, you just have to find it - so play around, experiment and see what happens. As you learn you'll get closer to that ideal. Enjoy! 

Dan_In_Sydney's picture

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

While what you say is correct, I want to know what result a given step will have when other components are left the same (or, adjusted accordingly).

In this example, I am taking a finite time from mix to dividing/pre-shaping of 24 hours and wanting to know how best to use that time to impart maximum flavour.

Yes, flavour is subjective but, in the context of a 100% white baguette with no 'sourdough' component and without changing the flour, what changes will occur if I, say, make a 22 hours polish that I then add to the remaining flour/water, resting only for an hour or two to allow it to rise again or if I make a 16 hour poolish before mixing the final dough and leaving for 8 hours - assuming yeast levels have been adjusted accordingly?

In the end, I am not after a recipe that works because I tried it and it did and I keep doing it; I want to find out why a recipe works and which steps are responsible for which characteristics of the dough.

I read and hear that baking is a science and I see throughout this forum hydrations given to fractions of a percentage and temparatures specified down to the degree.

I know from experience and basic common sense that there are multiple ways I could carve up that 24 hours of flavour-enhancing fermentation and still create a structurally-sound loaf of bread; what I don't understand is what the difference will be in flavour by doing so and, even if an experiment showed me that I preferred one over the other, I would still want to know why that change in process resulting in the change in flavour.

What I am really after is a toolkit comprising interactions and techniques and ingredients that I can freely combine and recombine as needs and wants dictate and/or allow.

For example, if I find myself with 48 hours for fermentation, will adding a 24 hour poolish improve the dough more than simply fermenting the straight dough 24 hours longer?

Thanks again for your reply.


Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Beautiful baguettes!

I'm not so experienced with yeast baking and various preferments, but I'm sure just adding some starter, even if not as the main source of leavening, will greatly enhance the flavour.

Dan_In_Sydney's picture

Thanks Ilya - I was actually fairly surprised when they came out as well as they did, though of course yeast baking is that much easier than sourdough!

I think you may be right and I am leaning towards that approach as well.

What kind of percentage would you suggest? I am thinking about 10% of flour so 50g (100% hydration starter) for 500g flour (total dough weight ~900g).

Without further adjustments, that would bump the hydration to 71.5% and I could easily adjust, of course but so small a difference is no more than one might see from the temperature and humidity levels varying anyway, I feel.

My process is about 3 hours at RT followed by a long cold bulk in the fridge before another 3-4 hours proofing at RT after dividing. If I add the starter cold, from the fridge, I wouldn't think it would have sufficient time to increase the speed of fermentation enough to affect rise time, though I might put it into the fridge a half hour earlier to account for any increase in speed.

Does that sound like a decent plan?

Thanks again for the reply and kind words.

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

Sounds good to me, give it a try and see if you like the result. I'm sure it'll add some flavour.

Dan_In_Sydney's picture

For this batch, I followed roughly the same process with the following changes:

  • Added 30-35gm rye flour (about 7% of total flour)
  • Added 50gm of (100% hydration) mature starter straight from the fridge.
  • Longer room temp ferment (+3-4 hrs) with shorter, overnight ferment (-2 hours)

For the starter, it had been in the fridge for a few days so I took it out the morning before the mix, gave it a little feed without removing any - just to wake it up, then did a discard and feed a few fours later. By night time, it was roughly around its peak so I put it in the fridge, ready for the next day. (So it would be 'mature' but cold for the mix so that the commercial yeast could get a head start and hopefully prevent the sourdough starter from contributing as much to the leavening and just adding flavour.

Anyway, the results were, in form, not quite as good as last time due to boring factors (below) but the taste was better - certainly more depth there and I felt there was a little more chew in the crumb, which both my partner and I enjoy.

Here is the obligatory shot, sliced lengthwise, though I had already sliced into it to get some in the oven to have with cheese.

And here is the result - this is actually an untoasted slice, in the process of assisting me with said cheese:

For shaping, I was a bit rushed as I had a lot to prepare and had slept in so was baking later than I had hoped. The scoring was an insult to baguettes and boulangiers everywhere - I forgot to score the first two loaves when I put them in so scored them a few minutes into the bake. HOWEVER, as they were already in the (HOT) oven and I couldn't really pull them out, the scoring was at an far more square angle, rather than a proper line.

For the third baguette, I DELIBERATELY didn't score them until they had already started to bake as I found, with the previous two, that they scored better that way. So, I was ready and determined to try to achieve a proper score. But I burnt my hand as I did it and failed anyway. It hurt the taste not one bit, of course.

The results of those failures - let us say they are baguette inspired.

phaz's picture

Quick reply as i got a few hundred golf balls to hit,, being a science guy (the answer to everything is in the science), learn the fundamentals. Always get a firm grasp of the fundamentals. Something sorely missed in so many places, unfortunately here to. And there's your toolkit. Once you have that and a process that does something for ya already, you'll have a direction to go as to what a change will do. Then ya experiment with your materials and environment. Anyway gotta go. Enjoy! 

mariana's picture

Hi Dan, 

your conditions are so unique, I mean your room temperature is 10C lower than what is normally considered room temperature in bread baking, that it is difficult to even imagine what flavors you get from cold fermentation (at around 15C+ 2C and supercold retardation (in the fridge at 2-4C). 

So your first line of attack would be to prolong your fermentation time at room temperature to get to at least normal amount of fermentation. Between 20C and 30C yeast gassing power doubles or halves with each 6C difference, and your fermentation of straight dough instead of being around 28C is around 15C, should be like 1/4 or 1/6th of normal speed for yeast alone, and I have no idea about other fermentation flavors that simultaneously accumulate in the dough with the by-products of yeast fermentation involved in other chemical reactions, etc. All reaction rates inside bread dough or preferment slow down at low temperatures but differently, depending on the reaction. 

So, yes baking science exists, but even so, each experimental bread, each new formula takes hundreds of test bakes to iron out the wrinkles due to specific conditions in your kitchen, your ingredients, your flavor preferences and your work conditions. 

The same could be said about preferments. No preferments, except maybe stiff biga that matures at around 16C for a couple of days, could be created in your kitchen right now with such low room temp.

Regular poolishes are warm and regardless of how much yeast you use in them they are done as soon as they begin to sag and recede (contract in volume). So a lot of yeast or a little yeast, long time or short time, a poolish is a poolish, it gives you the same outcome, IF you ferment it at prescribed temp, not at 15C, and stop as soon as you see it receding. In your temperature range, I have no idea what liquid preferment would be like and how long it would take to mature and how its flavors would differ from what is expected from a classic poolish. 

Normally, poolish is not used for more flavor, it is used to weaken flour and to improve keeping properties of bread. If you preferment less than 50% of flour in your poolish, you will not get more flavor compared to straight dough. If you preferment more than 50% flour in your preferment, then yes, you would improve flavor. 

Again, I agree with phaz that to rely on bread science you would benefit from studying bread science, literally, consulting textbooks and bread science reference books. Very good chapters on fermentation (straight dough systems and sponge+dough systems), test baking, and bread design could be found in books like Advanced Bread and Pastry (Michel Suas, 2009), Baking Science and Technology (Pyler & Gorton, 2008) and Modernist Bread. 

Dan_In_Sydney's picture

Thanks for the response Marina.

I must admit that I would thrive a little better if it were a few degrees warmer right now, too.

I have an autolysed dough just out of the fridge this morning so once it comes back to room temperature (such as it is!) I will endeavour to leave it for most of the day on the bench before refrigerating overnight with the final proof tomorrow morning.

This time I added a little rye flour (~7%) - with the thought, sliding around in my head somewhere, that that might provide a little more food for the yeast, both directly but more over with its naturally higher amylase content to free up a bit more sugar in the remaining flour (which, being Australian, is unmalted but also a little lower in natural amylase anyway, I believe).

Part of me does want to change just one thing at a time but, in reality, I can't really control the temperature (no proover and my oven's prooving function is a little too warm) and having to maneuver baking around life and work and absent-mindedness means timing is seldom consistent either so it seems a fools errand to be so strict in other areas.

I was thinking that our current weather is perfect for a biga and that that might be a good way to go as my regular flour is ~11.5% protein so doesn't really need the extensibility improvements that a poolish might bring, despite it being a more traditionally French method.

With both Italian and French heritage, I feel unconcerned mixing the two. Some may complain of inauthenticity but then those who are likely to do that are the same type who would claim that no baguette made outside of France can compare to a 'real' French baguette anyway so nuts to them!

We shall see and, so long as it is not a complete failure, I will post a pic or two.


wally's picture

Hi Dan. Nice looking Demi-baguettes. While Mariana is correct that poolish was not originally developed for its flavor attributes - Polish bakers developed it before commercial yeast was widely available as a means to use less yeast by pre-fermenting up to 40% of the total dough with just a small amount of yeast - nowadays it is used primarily for its contribution to flavor. Unlike either sourdough/levain or biga, poolish imparts a unique nuttiness to dough. This is why it is so widely used in production of baguettes. I have tried overnight (24 hr) fermentation with straight dough baguettes, and while the outcome is good, I don’t get the nuttiness of a poolish baguette. 

Keep experimenting!


Dan_In_Sydney's picture

Thanks Wally.

It's an interesting topic for me because I find myself deeply concerned with why a poolish provides more (or a substantially different) flavour than a long-fermented straight dough.

I can kind of imagine a mechanism where, by using only a (relatively) small amount of the flour, you are able to really push the fermentation of that portion far beyond what would be possible with the full dough - i.e. you can take a poolish right to the point of degradation but if you do that for the entire (straight) dough, you're not really going to get bread at the end.

Is that the idea?

wally's picture


Unfortunately the science is beyond me. I do know that the protease in poolish is a dough improver and also adds to its extensibility. How it contributes to flavor I don’t know. My experience as a baker is that it yields a nuttiness that neither biga nor sourdough replicates. And I recall from a class with Jeffrey Hamelman and James MacGuire years ago that they identified this nutty flavor with poolish. As to overfermenting straight dough, you are correct. Beyond a certain point you get gluten degredation that can’t be compensated for. Same as with using an overripe poolish.

But keep up with the experimenting, especially when you’re producing such lovely demis!


Dan_In_Sydney's picture


I am on another two batches at the moment - one a seeded (inspiration from Alan/Alfanso) and the other just me trying to hone in on my 'perfect' SD baguette recipe. Next lot will be poolish.

My impression was that a pooish allowed development of flavour and extensibility (due to the enzyme action mentioned) ina more logistically practical manner, so that you can manage space more effectively, rather than having the full quantity of dough for each day's bake requiring length fermentation. (Something which would only become more pertinent with multiple bakes per day, as occurs with baguettes in France or - say - barbari in Iran.)

As an professional IT worker, it is part of my nature to want to understand things like this. If an vendor's instructions tells me I need to select these three options but not the other four, I want to know why those three options. What happens if I only use two? Why do the other four exist? Which combinations are possible?

In my head and my heart, I see myself as equal parts thinker and dreamer but I am frustrated on both counts as, deep in my soul, I know I posses neither the creativity for art nor the discipline for science and find my rigour derailed by whimsy and my spontenaety stifled by sheer pig-headedness.

In the middle ground of the two lies a realm of odd mysticism in which I think endeavours like baking natural come to rest so perhaps my blend of research, trial and error and 'why not!?' might be as much a blessing as a curse here.

Oddly philosophical for 9am but I am running on less sleep than is medically recommended so I'll give myself a pass for the moment.

taurus430's picture

qNice baguettes. For years I’ve been baking no knead, straight yeast dough and also using a sourdough starter. Since I started up making baguettes again, I wanted to try the poolish route. I don’t know if it’s for me, since my other 2 methods I can shape in the early morning, whereas with a poolish, dough still has to be mixed. I want to say, the baguettes did come out great, maybe even better than in the past.