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Solving the Ambiguous, Enigmatic Mystery of Poolish

AsburgerCook's picture

Solving the Ambiguous, Enigmatic Mystery of Poolish

I wanted a basic sandwich bread, and tried out the King Arthur "Classic White Sandwich Bread" recipe.

Not to be confused with their "White Sandwich Bread" recipe, which uses potato flakes. Gotta be careful about that "classic" word. By the way; I eventually chose this version as my go-to white bread.

I figured that "classic" would be what everyone likes and uses, and baked it up. Although it turned out perfectly, it tasted pretty bland. I was going to pitch it, but then realized: Wait! This will be an excellent test foundation for all this other stuff I've been learning about! I'd been seeing things like tangzhong, preferments, instant potatoes, and Japanese milk buns.

Although I've used the tangzhong method a few times, I read here on TFL that potato flakes produce pretty much the same result and are a lot easier. I concur. So I added about 25 grams to the Classic recipe. That made a noticeably softer bread, but still not all that great. 

I decided to try this Poolish thing and went with a 30% version at first. Well, although the bread came out looking like some sort of off-planet brick with diseased boils all over the surface, at least the inside tasted Marvelous!

My problem, therefore, became: How to use a poolish and still produce a loaf of bread that looks functional and has all the complexity of flavor?

Nobody can tell you how something tastes: It's 100% subjective, and can only be experienced. However; when a lot of people agree that something tastes good, you have a statistically higher probability of liking it yourself. Poolish adds a superb amount of flavor, for all the many reasons you can read about yourself. 

I'm Pro Poolish now, and I support this message!

Let's start with "Preferment." Originally, I figured that was like "deferment" or "easement" -- some legal term used for contract disputes. That couldn't be it, right? Then I thought it might mean a formal baking term to explain how to choose ingredients: "There are several preferences, so we'll use the Preferment Method to determine which preference yields the best results." Okay...a bit goofy, but what do I know.

At last I realized that grammar has become obsolete! Hah! The hyphen has fallen victim to cancel culture, and all but disappeared. It's like the woebegone comma that's declining: "My grandkids came bursting in, hollering, 'We're hungry! Let's eat Grandma!'" :-D Hope she made it out alive!

Hyphens are used to join words together to make a combined modifier. Or, they're used to prevent confusion. "Prefer" and "Preferment" are very confusing, and should be Pre-Ferment! I hereby petition for a return of the hyphen! All those in favor, shrug!

Pre- fermenting means you're doing something ahead of fermenting. Fine: But what's "fermenting?" That's when I found out the "first rise" I was calling it, actually is "bulk fermenting" or the fermenting stage. The "second rise" turns out to be the "proofing" stage. Ah Hah! So pre- fermenting refers to before you start the big pile of fermenting. Turns out it also goes before Autolyzing, which I'll mention later.

My next big question was: Where do you get all this flour and water? So let's stipulate that "low hydration" refers to sandwich bread that's typically 60-62%. We'll also stipulate that "Original" will refer to an ingredient/amount listed in the source recipe.

From what I gathered, you take some amount of flour (10, 20, 30% all the way up to 50%). Then you take an equal weight of water. Also take some small "pinch" of yeast, depending on how hot/cold your kitchen may be, and how long you want to wait for the pre-ferment to be done. Great! Nothing like leaving it all up to my preferences! Where's that Preferment Method when I need it!?

I decided, from what I gathered, to take 30% of the original flour and the equal weight of the flour from the original water. Spoiler alert: Not a good idea!

I made the 30% poolish-type pre-ferment (biga apparently is more sour), with a pretty small bit of instant yeast. My mini measuring spoons have a "pinch," so I used that: 1/32 of a teaspoon. I put it in a tall skinny cup, with a loose lid, and let it sit for 16 hours. Did I say 16 hours? Oh.....well, it's supposed to get to about 3 times its original height. That happened in about 5 hours. It's warm these days!

I do know enough, that I put the cup in the fridge for the next day when I'd be making this bread to slow the fermentation. But I didn't know you're supposed to let it come back to room temp. And I sure didn't know how sticky this stuff is!

Then I made the bread. I didn't know when to put in the poolish, but since it had original amounts of flour and water, just added it to the stuff in the bowl. Did it come together? Nope. Was it easy to mix like in the videos? Nope. Was it a pain in the butt? Absolutely! Did my bread rise? Nope. Did it bake? Sort of. Did it look like bread? Nope -- that's the boil-infested brick!

I made maybe four loaves, trying different combinations, and dropping down to 10% poolish. Always from the original flour and water. I added it before, during, and after the other ingredients. I added it when I was mixing everything before kneading. It always was way hard to get together, and the bread was nasty looking! Adding it during kneading was worse!

Back to researching. I did a huge amount of investigating, detectivating, sleuthifying, watchicating, reading, studying, learnification, and other forms of data gathering. Here's what I found:

The main percentage of bakers do exactly what I did: They use part of the original flour, original water, and some yeast. However! A significant number of bakers make the poolish separately! And I read somewhere, that some important baker guru wrote a book that said it didn't much matter how you made the poolish, or when you added it!

Everybody and their dog had an article about how "easy it is," they said. But almost nobody was talking about Sandwich Bread! It was always about some high-hydration artisan bread or something. Not what I needed to know.

Finally, I had an epiphany! Mama Natelie, 400 years ago, didn't have digital scales, measuring cups, and had no idea about maff is hard! She just threw together bread each day, tossing in this and that. Hmm...and she Invented Poolish!!

I went back to look, and Classic White Sandwich Bread has a range of water, from 284g to 340g "depending on how humid it is." I used the lower number because it's summer and humid. 284/480 g flour = 59% hydration! Woah! But 340/480= 70.8% hydration! Double Woah!! That's A Lotah Difference, dehr, Bunkie!

I thought about it. Meanwhile, I had to make some tortillas for dinner. I tried one recipe that was awful, and went to King Arthur for their soft tortillas. Those worked brilliantly! But I learned something: The warm water promotes starch ahead of gluten, AND! start with a lower water amount, then either add or throw away whatever remains. Why? So it comes together! They don't care about "hydration." It's tortillas!

Ah Hah! 

So here's what I ended up doing, and it works. Always! I measure out the ingredients. Then I make my poolish from Outer Space! I think 20% is pretty decent, so I create, out of thin air, like a Magician...a pile of flour that's 20% of the original. It's Not from the original, just extra flour. Then I match that weight with the same amount of water...ALSO from Outer Space, not the original water!

I've learned to weigh the flour and set it aside. Then use the poolish jar to hold the same weight in water. With the water on the bottom, dump in the flour. That way, you don't get clumps of dry flour stuck to the bottom of the jar that you didn't see well enough to stir and combine.

Mix the "nip" of yeast with the water or flour, it doesn't matter. An iced tea spoon is nice to have, but a bamboo skewer works well. Or a butter knife. For mixing it into a gooey mess.

That gives me the original flour and liquids and other stuff, and then an entirely different mixture of water, flour and (what I know now is a really little "nip" of yeast.) That gets done the night before, and sits overnight. With the little tiny nip of yeast, it does take around 16 hours to triple.

When I go to make the bread, I combine all the ingredients from the original: dry, wet, sugars, eggs (if any), salt, and reserve only the butter/fat. I'll add that at the kneading stage because fat prevents gluten formation. 

This time, using the original ingredients, I'm getting the original hydration! I'll measure out the high end, but use about half the water, at first, to hand mix/stir the liquid into the dry. (Latex glove is nice what with sticky flour -- you just peel off the glove and toss it.) 

I'll combine what I can, and push it aside in a bowl. Look at the dry remainder and start drizzling in more liquid -- slowly. Bit by bit, it'll dampen the flour. Smoosh that together and stick it to the bigger ball. I'll do this repeatedly, until all the dry stuff has gotten damp.

Whatever original liquid is left goes down the drain. If I need a tiny bit more water, I get that out of the tap. The critical thing is having a damp-ish sticky ball of Glop (technical term).

Then stick it all together in a nasty-looking lump, cover it, and let it autolyze for 45-min to 1-hour. (Someone else tested variations and found no difference from using exclusively flour for autolyzing, versus all the combined ingredients.)

The Poolish From Outer Space is still sitting somewhere outside the bowl. So is the butter (softened or melted, depending on the recipe).

After the autolyze, the lump of dough has become a lot more damp, and even a little pliable. THAT's when I break it up a little, and put it into the stand-mixer bowl. I'll set it to low, with the dough hook, and start stirring it around. THAT's when I dump in the poolish! It's a really slimey, sticky, snakey pile of Glop (same technical term), and takes a bit of time to incorporate into the main dough. Not too long, but some.

Finally, when the poolish looks like it's blended in, I'll drizzle or dump in the fat. That adds more softness pretty quickly, and finally, that's when I move up to the kneading speed. 5-7 minutes usually does it.

I've learned that 2-4% points of additional hydration isn't noticeable. It makes the bread come together nicely, with no changes to taste. But Dry ingredients, missing the percentage of original liquid that went into the poolish? That's a problem! Dry flour barely forms gluten strands, and they're delicate. They break easily, leading to failed rise and nasty-looking bread!

This also works beautifully with low-protein whole wheat bread. I used a 20% poolish again, and it all worked perfectly. I might -- might, I say -- try using 20% of the original flour, BUT using the matching weight of water from a separate supply; not the original liquids. We'll see. I still have weird dreams about boil-infested bread!

tpassin's picture

You've been making this way more complicated than it needs to be. It sounds like you have learned to move past all that and come up with a workable way to proceed.  That's good.  I think you have picked up some misconceptions along the way, too.

First, about that poolish. The way most recipes work is this.  Say you (or the recipe) plan to use 300g of flour.  You or the recipe want to use poolish in the amount of 30%.  That means 30% of that 300g of flour.  That's 90g of poolish.  For a 100% hydration that's 45g of flour and 45g of water.  Mix them together with the yeast and let it age. Then combine that 90g of poolish with the 300g of flour and the recipe amount of water.  Normally you would also add all the other ingredients, but you could wait on the oil and butter until later, and you might not put the salt in yet (see below).

If you were going to make a similar sourdough bread and you were going to use a 100% hydration starter at the same 30% rate, then you take 90g of starter instead of 90g of poolish.  Everything else will be the same.

Yes, the flour and water in the pre(-)ferment will change the overall hydration.  Usually the hydration increases.  You can calculate the change if you want. It's usually not too large a difference.

At 100% hydration, anything will be gloppy and sticky.  Poolish, sourdough starter, glass bread dough - all sticky.

Second, about mixing.  In almost all cases, the order (liquids first or flour first) is a matter of your convenience.  The traditional way is to pile up the flour, make a well in the middle, and pour the liquid into the middle.  Then avoid those big clumps by starting to stir at the inside edge of the flour.  Gradually you work your way out until until most of the flour has been incorporated.

OTOH, I usually start with the liquids first.  That's because I want to dissolve my sourdough starter into the liquid first to reduce the size of its clumps (no need to overdo it and get rid of them all!).  Then I dump in the dry ingredients and start stirring. I mix by hand, not with a mixer, and it rarely takes more than a few minutes to wet all the flour.

The point is, it's all about your convenience and what works for you.  Yes, very dry dough will be hard to knead and hard to hydrate.  So don't - just add more of the liquid.  What works for you may be different from what works for someone else.  That's fine.  It doesn't matter much if at all for the final result. (Yes, there can be exceptions.  But they are unusual).

Third, about that autolyse. I'd rather call it a "rest" because people use the term in various ways.  The original use of the term was that you left out the salt and yeast until after the rest period.  But there are other ways, and it's not very mysterious what they can do for you.

Giving the dough a rest right after initial mixing has two benefits: it lets the dough finish hydrating the flour, and during the rest the gluten starts to set up and organize itself.  After that it's much easier, and takes much less time, to knead the dough.  Why run your mixer hard for 15 minutes when you could run it for 3 minutes, wait half an hour, and run it another 3 or 4 minutes?  For mixing and kneading by hand, the savings in effort is even more appreciated.  The length of the rest isn't very important. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, even hours if your dough is going to slow to develop.  And the longer flour sits hydrated, the more flavor it develops, even in the absence of a fermenting agent.

For wet or sticky doughs, they will be much easier to handle after an initial rest.

Salt - salt added early toughens up the gluten and reduces its extensibility. So if you know you are going to want especially extensible dough, wait until later on adding the salt.  If you are using a flour known to be overly extensible and slack, like spelt or emmer, add the salt at the start to counteract that known tendency.  Otherwise it won't matter much and you might as well add it at the beginning.

On adding the yeast after the rest. The original use of the autolyse was, as I understand it,  in the context of professional bakeries needing to make high-quality baguettes in a relatively short time.  If you added the yeast before the autolyse, it would have extra time to start fermenting, namely the time for the autolyse. You might want to use that time to get more gluten development before beginning the fermentation. So you wait on adding the yeast.

For most of us home bakers, and especially if we are going for longer fermentation times for more flavor, there isn't really a benefit to holding back the yeast or leavening agent for a time.  It wouldn't be harmful but it wouldn't be of much help.  It's just easier to include it in the initial mix.


Abe's picture


Why should the poolish change the hydration. Isn't a poolish prefermenting part of the flour, with water, both taken from the overall recipe?


Original Recipe:

  • 500g flour
  • 300g water
  • 10g salt
  • 7g IDY 



  • 100g flour
  • 100g water
  • 1 pinch of IDY

Final Recipe:

  • 400g flour
  • 200g water
  • 10g salt
  • 7g IDY less a pinch
  • 200g poolish 

If one was to preferment 20% of the flour. 

tpassin's picture

Whu should the poolish change the hydration. Isn't a poolish prefermenting part of the flour, with water, both taken from the overall recipe?

It's mainly a matter of definition and convenience. If I'm starting with 300g flour and I'm thinking 60% hydration, right away I know I'm going to put in 180g of water.  Yes, of course I know that the starter or poolish is going to increase the hydration a little (usually); fine.  It's also going to increase the total flour beyond the 300g I planned to start with. I'm not going to worry about it.  The recipe presumably took that into account, or the differences are small.  What if I used starter with say 88% hydration in the amount of 78g?  I don't want to solve a little math problem just so I can measure out the ingredients, especially as I might end up adjusting them anyway.

After the fact I can always work it out and get what I tend to call the "overall hydration".  If I read a recipe that calls for 100% hydration of white wheat flour (e.g., glass bread), I know it's going to be very wet and slack, and I will have to use special care in working with the dough.  That won't change if the total hydration turns out to be, say, 103% instead of 100%.  Heck even changing from AP to bread flour will make the dough act as if the hydration had changed several percent.

The hydration is just a guide so you and others have an idea of what the dough was (or will be) like. Where you do want to take the extra flour and water into account is when you need to scale accurately to some weight of dough.  This is called the "yield" of the dough - the weight per unit flour.  I haven't needed to work with the yield very often, baking at home. Baking with a Pullman pan with the lid closed could be a case where you do want to know the total dough weight, since you have less flexibility in the closed system.  When I make English muffins I scale them to 78 - 80g each.  If I have some dough left over I will probably make a small muffin with it.  Not a big deal. 

Now if you are running a professional bakery you perhaps do want to make sure of details like this.  I'm not doing that.

Abe's picture

...however, I was thinking more about having a yeasted recipe you like, and works with the hydration etc, and then converting to include a poolish. After all, that is the purpose of a poolish - pre-fermenting part of the recipe as supposed to adding one onto a recipe. 

tpassin's picture

Yes, I know what you mean.  It's more challenging when there's a soaker or potatos or or a tangzhong, isn't it?  How much of that water will act as if it's part of the hydration?

I'm just about to face that situation with a 50-50 sandwich bread yeasted recipe with graham flour and AP, and it uses a tangzhong.  I'm going to make a loaf with sourdough instead of yeast.

AsburgerCook's picture

@Abe: That's exactly the problem: The recipe does NOT account for the poolish. In fact, it assumes NO poolish or pre-ferment. TomP absolutely nailed it when he said that hydration is a guidance! Hydration isn't a critical rule for a recipe: It's a reference guide that helps describe what sort of bread is involved.

When I was learning tangzhong, many of the King Arthur recipes (newer ones) included a separate step to make the slurry. They'd done the calculations, and the end result accounted for the proper water and flour. I really liked the results, and figured out how to "add" a tangzong to my other recipes. Then I learned about the potato flakes and abandoned the tangzhong process. 

Most of us here, aren't running commercial bakeries or a local bake shop. We're making one or two loaves of bread. So that "yield" rarely enters into the picture. And also, as TomP pointed out, a couple of percentage points of additional hydration really and truly don't matter. 

The overarching principle is that making bread in a couple of hours without a pre-ferment, radically reduces the real potential of how good old-fashioned bread used to taste!

Abe's picture

I don't see the issue here. A poolish is just a recipe, the very same one, rearranged!  And of course a recipe is a guide and the hydration isn't written in stone. So when forming the final dough, with the remaining ingredients, one can always add some water if the dough needs it. 

AsburgerCook's picture

A poolish is more like an ingredient. There's a "recipe," if you will, or set of instructions for assembling some flour, water and yeast, but the end result produces an ingredient -- the pre-ferment. 

Flour is an ingredient, as is water. If you decide to use a tangzhong, you then have a "recipe," per sé for assembling the slurry out of the "stockpile" of flour and water for that particular overall recipe -- for the bread.

The tangzhong, like the poolish (or other pre-ferments) is only related to a "recipe" in that the actual recipe itself will dictate the amounts of the ingredients. Where the problem arises is not the amounts, but the source of those sub-ingredients -- where do they come from? 

What this whole discussion is about has to do with whether or not a poolish a) changes the original recipe, b) increases or decreases the water hydration, c) comes from within the recipe itself, or externally, and d) actually has a neutral or negative impact on putting together the bread.

My contention is that how easily the overall ingredients come together is far more important, I've learned, than a "mandate" presented by a recipe. In other words, the recipe isn't etched in stone. What sort of modifications may or may not be "required" is under discussion.

Abe's picture

From the recipe itself. It is a pre-ferment. Part of the recipe is pre-fermented. That's why it's called a pre-ferment. 

I always considered a poolish to be a simple concept. It should be. 

Davey1's picture

Everything is simple - depending on how ya look at it. Enjoy!

AsburgerCook's picture

@Davey1 - Many people never ask why, and only follow recipes. Many other people are built differently, and always ask "Why?" Life is much simpler when there never are any questions. Unfortunately, some people aren't built that way.

Davey1's picture

It's bread - no more. Enjoy!

AsburgerCook's picture

I decided to combine my sense of all these comments into a single big one, down below. You're clearly passionate about baking as well, and I suspect also about teaching and helping people find solutions. Like minds. :-)

Everything you're saying here, echoes so much of what I found when I started trying to retrofit a poolish into a loaf of sandwich bread. The problem was...none of it worked. To figure out why AND continue to have the wonderful flavors of a poolish, well...that was quite the adventure! :-D

Just think of the post as a sort of "Lord of the Rings" movie -- Really, really long, but filled with lots of ups and downs adventure.

And, I should highlight, I can see that you're also a pro(-)hyphen person! We shall overcome! LOL!

AsburgerCook's picture

So regarding making this more complicated than it needs. I gave a lot of thought to doing such a long post, because I was concerned about the seeming added complexity. But I realized that all the questions and problems I ran into, experimenting, are very difficult to find answers for.

I also realized that if I claim to be a writer, then I should be able to un-pack some deeply complicated chemical reactions in such a way that people's eyes don't glaze over. I don't know if I've managed that, but I'm giving it a shot. :-)

The main problem is that answers, like tips, are much like bits of gold buried in Alaska. You go panning for that gold, sifting through mud and water and hoping you'll find something. Thats like the Internet: There are countless articles, copies of articles, and videos about Poolish. Many of them are very simplistic, and some of them are highly complex. But they left me with questions. And a lot of failed bread loaves.

I believe there are a whole lot of people -- new bakers, people trying something different, and even experienced bakers with tips -- who run into these problems also. 

I understand entirely what most people do, regarding taking the percentage of flour for the poolish from the original flour. I did that many times, and it failed every time. I had hard, dense loaves that didn't rise, with a rough shell of a crust that looked like lava.

I also understand that adding water isn't a "proper solution." However; I further understand that whenever anyone starts talking about poolish, they almost inevitably give examples using sourdough. I found only a tiny few examples about trying to put a poolish into sandwich bread. And many of those examples were people looking for help: Their bread had failed.

When I hit on the idea of making the poolish entirely outside of the original amounts of ingredients, I used a spreadsheet (for simplicity), and something like "goal-seeking," to see what would happen. 

A very common question is exactly as above: Why would a poolish change the hydration? It's because there's an undiscussed concept of "free water" and "bound water."

When we make the initial dough, we have flour and add water (generally speaking). At that point, the "rest" or autolysis allows the flour proteins to begin reorganizing into gluten strands. In doing so, the "flour" sucks in water and "binds" it into a new structure. That water is no longer available for a lot of the other processes.

With a high-hydration dough, there's so much water that the amount pulled into the flour leaves enough remainder to continue. But with a low-hydration sandwich bread, the recipe usually is specifically designed NOT to use a pre-ferment of any kind. 

The Tangzhong method makes a fairly liquid slurry out of some portion of the original flour. But even with that moisture, it deeply impacts the recipe and makes it difficult to combine in sandwich bread.

There's a wonderful lady on YouTube who's a natural scientist, who examines everything you could want to know about tangzhong (pre-ferments, also, in another video). She runs the numbers and shows that below about 30%, the tangzhong really has little impact.

With a poolish, the final product is Also bound water. The flour in the poolish has absorbed all the water and not only formed the gluten, but captured the flavors created by the yeast. The "flour" has been deconstructed. So the poolish has actually "stolen" the water, AND the flour, if you made the poolish out of a percentage of original flour.

Now, you not only have insufficient water to combine the remaining flour, but you have no "extra" water anymore from the poolish: It's all bound and unavailable to wet the other ingredients.

I also understand autolysis. There's a fantastic article I read (long and technical) by a guy who's a lot like many of us OCD people here; myself included. He wondered what happens during fermentation, and ended up taking about a year off to research the entire process.

If there is sugar present, yeast will immediately jump on it and use only that to grow and produce gas. Very quickly, too! Only after it runs out of sugar will it go after the starches in flour. The complex esters and flavors of the poolish come from the starch in the flour, not the sugar.

If you "rest" the dough with included sugar, you basically get fast-rising bread. That's what a lot of people want, so we have "Let it rise about 1 hour, or to double in size." That's the sugar. If you leave out the sugar and let everything rest, you won't have enough free water to dissolve the sugar later. Like the salt, you end up with a granular dough. So you end up dissolving the sugar and salt anyway, in "new" water.

Additionally, different enzymes and metabolites form at different temperatures within the ferment, and the yeast undergoes some physical changes as well.

When there is air (oxygen and carbon dioxide) present (aerobic), the yeast will perform one way. When there's no air (anaerobic), it will perform differently. This is why there's "confusion," or "ambiguity" about autolysis. It's because some high-end bakers will use temperature controlled, environmentally managed "rising containers" to select specific enzymes and bacterias that only show up at a particular temperature.

Autolysis is a lot like aging meat, actually. You can think of that "rest," or "cold fermenting," or "autolyzing" as aging the dough. Most people understand that an aged whiskey or wine is a whole lot better than unaged. Eat some meat that's come right from the animal with no aging, and you'll see just how tough, unpleasant, and lacking taste you're getting.

I tried doing the flour-only process, with water. Once again, by "stealing" the water from the original recipe, it caused a failure to combine. I also read a long article about a woman who tested all forms of autolysis. She used only flour, or left out the salt, left out the sugar, used all the ingredients and so forth.

The ONLY ingredient that functionally impacts the initial formation is fat. It coats the raw flour and sort of waterproofs it, preventing it from pulling in water. But she found that whether you use all the ingredients or only flour, there was no discernible difference in the end product. She found no discernible difference with or without the salt during the "rest."

At a scientific and technical level, we can learn that salt creates harder, or stiffer protein strands. That's wonderful, as an answer on a baking exam. But in the real world, the degree of hardness from, say, 1-1/4 teaspoons of salt in 400 grams of flour is so minute, it becomes irrelevant.

A "rest" has no meaning. People say, "Let the dough ball rest 20-30 minutes. I don't know why, but the recipe I copied and pasted has that in it, so you should do it. Stop asking so many questions! I just want people to click on my site!" 

Understanding WHY we're "resting" that dough is far more important than I ever would have imagined. Only after I'd made 5 failed loaves from the same recipe, did I have to stop and, like the ferment guy, take some time to delve deeply into what was going wrong.

I'm going to make another, companion post about low-hydration sandwich bread, and autolysis is going to play an important part of that post. 

Using my goal-seeking, I found that since the water in the poolish is "bound," the end result in hydration was only an increase of perhaps 1-3% percentage points. Not even noticeable, other than to make a more pleasant moistness to the crumb.

This posting was my "unpacking" the numerous points, questions and answers that get "taken for granted" by experienced bakers. Since I'm both previously somewhat experienced, but now having to re-learn it all, I'm coming into problems like a new baker. But I also have enough experience to know where to look for the solutions. They're splattered all over the Internet, and never all in one place.

Most new bakers don't have the time (I'm retired), the patience (I'm old), the persistence (I'm a little OCD), or the resources (good memory) to actually figure out what's going wrong. Remember always: This is about sandwich bread, not ciabatta, baguettes (actually batards), or sourdough.

I have, fresh in my mind, what it was like to encounter an article or video that Finally explained what was going wrong (over and over and over again). I would get an inspiration from a tip that was unrelated to what someone was baking, or I'd just dream up another experiment. 

My hope is to have a whole lot of very small events taking place, laid out on the table and explained. But explained in the context of trying to make a loaf of sandwich bread to eat. Store bread is horrible now, and far too expensive! I'd like to make the prospect of baking daily or weekly bread for the family not only exciting, but not so cloaked in "special language."

Accessible: That the word :-D

tpassin's picture

But she found that whether you use all the ingredients or only flour, there was no discernible difference in the end product. She found no discernible difference with or without the salt during the "rest."

I don't know who "se" is or what she said she found.  But in my own experience, omitting the salt from the initial mix and adding it later results in a more extensible dough.  If you are talking about a wet sandwich bread with enrichments, butter, and the like you might not notice because often that kind of dough tends to be wet, heavy, and sludgy.  And since you will use a loaf pan, its texture hardly matters because if necessary you can always scrape it into a pan even f you can't shape a nice log first (I've done this myself).

For other kinds of breads, such as lean, free-standing loaves or baguettes, The effect of holding back the salt can make a lot of difference.

AsburgerCook's picture


This is what derailed me originally: The great majority of content out "there" on the Web has to do with artisan breads, pizza dough, sourdough bread, and other "lean" breads. When I say "content," I mean people explaining the chemistry of what's actually happening.

My problem, and apparently also enough other people to make a group, is that I tested a poolish and loved it! Everyone says or writes how typical loaf-pan breads are bland and don't have much character. Since I didn't know what that meant, I tested (attempted) a poolish. That seemed the most appropriate.

The result was such a tremendous improvement in taste, I was immediately converted. But, the bread looked awful! It was too heavy, wouldn't slice, and other than the inside crumb, inedible.

Sandwich breads, generally in the 60-62% range simply don't easily work with a poolish. But I want it to! LOL! This post is about what I learned in those attempts. 

As you rightly point out; leaving out the salt does improve to some degree, the extensibility of the dough. And as you say, when making a sandwich bread:

talking about a wet sandwich bread with enrichments, butter, and the like you might not notice...

  Yup. :-) Sandwich breads very often include those enrichments. So in- or excluding the salt doesn't make that much of a difference.

Moe C's picture
Moe C

AC, you said about the video lady and tangzhong, "She runs the numbers and shows that below about 30%, the tangzhong really has little impact." I have trouble with that. Do you have a link? As I mentioned elsewhere, my scientific baker reference is Seraphine Lishe

She normally uses 20% tangzhong (yudane, actually, at about a 1:1.5 ratio) and has shown studies where using over 40% tangzhong has detrimental effects (Tom, how did you come up with 50%?) She also is using both tangzhong and poolish these days in sandwich bread recipes.

tpassin's picture

(Tom, how did you come up with 50%?)

Moe, if you meant me, I don't remember writing that and I don't know why I would have.  If I posted something like that, I'd have to read it again to remember what I had in mind.

With a tangzhong or yudane, I find I don't like to use too much because the water would end up being too large a fraction of the total planned water in the recipe.  I prefer having that water combining with the un-degraded flour to make more and better gluten. This thought is not scientific in that I don't know for sure that the gelled flour cannot contribute to the gluten in the dough. Also, let's note that I haven't used the technique all that often and I definitely can't be considered as expert in it.

With that said, just this week I've made a couple of yeasted loaf pan sandwich loaves that use 50% graham flour and some powdered buttermilk, a little sugar, a little butter.  The tangzhong contained 27g flour and 135g water.  The bread is delicious and is keeping well, whether or not the tangzhong really contributed much or not.


Moe C's picture
Moe C

Sorry, Tom, I misunderstood. It was that very same graham bread..."I'm just about to face that situation with a 50-50 tangzhong sandwich bread yeasted recipe with graham flour and AP".

Glad you mentioned the 1:5 flour/water ratio for tangzhong. As you figured, it's a bad idea.

tpassin's picture

Oh, I see.  No, the tangzhong was not 50%, no way. Sorry I wasn't more clear. I've just edited that earlier post to clarify it.

Thanks for the link.  I haven't been very clear on how much water to use, so I'm looking forward to watching it.  I've been using about 2:1 water:flour for a yudane.

Yudane is interesting because you end up with flour in all different stages of gelling and degradation.  When you pour the boiling water over the flour, the first bits of flour hit by the water may experience the boiling temperature but the water will be cooling rapidly and the drier bits will be shielded from the heat until they get stirred.  As you keep stirring, the temperature will go down.  So it's like an uncontrolled way to get the gelled flour in a tangzhong.  Easier, though.

Moe C's picture
Moe C

I wonder how much leeway there is in water temperature for yudane. According to bakerpedia, amylose starts to "solubilize" at 158F, and amylopectin at 194F. Other sources said white flour gelatinizes between 140-158F. Depending on how fast the boiled water cools, there's a pretty good chance all the flour could be converted.

tpassin's picture

I haven't thought so because the result is so varied, not homogeneous like a tangzhong.

tpassin's picture

I watched the link, and it's starting to come back to me what I was thinking about with the graham flour sandwich bread I've mentioned twice already.

I have seen a different video by the same young woman some time ago. I didn't retain many details but the notion that these details of how you make the yudane/tangzhong including the ratio of water to flour isn't important did stay in my head.

For this particular bread, I wanted the tangzhong to be relatively thin so it would be easier to incorporate into the dough.  I didn't want to use too much of the total water for the gel, so that set an upper limit.  The water ratio to get a thinish yudane limited the amount of flour.  Now I see it ended up too small. I'll adjust for next time.

AsburgerCook's picture

Hi Moe,

Here's the video. I agree, the normal amount would be the 20%, but even that is more than the 10% I kept running into as I began to learn. The operative points I paid attention to begin at 9:13 minutes.

The Ultimate Guide to Tangzhong | The Science of Tangzhong or Yudane (

She also has an excellent video making the case against cold ferments, in favor of pre-ferments. I believe this is the one where she uses Yeast Water, in passing:

The Case for Preferments | Preferments vs. Long Fermentation (


JonJ's picture

This is a very interesting YouTube channel and I've found the Tangzhong and Yudane videos useful in the past for questioning what I think about the ratios to use. 

However... I found the preferment video scientifically stilted and odd. Why pick only a few odd papers rather than referring to a review paper, or even better yet it is quite inconceivable that there isn't a modern paper on the benefits of preferments. It is not my field, to be fair but something seems to be off, even though I do agree with the broad sentiment that preferments are beneficial.

And a slight niggle too, perhaps it is simply a foreign pronunciation, but someone familiar with biochemistry should say protease and not pro tease. Maybe there are people who say that though!

AsburgerCook's picture

:-D "There oughta be a law!" LOL! Yes, there ought to be a lot of things! 

The reason for the Never-Ending Story of these posts is because there ISN'T any other information! Not that I found, and apparently, not what this lady found either. If you can find something, post it! I'll bet a lot of people would jump on it.

(And yes, cut her some slack on pronouncing English words. Can you speak Mandarin?)

Maybe it's being censored, or removed as "disinformation." Maybe the science of poolish is in its infancy and poolish has only been discovered in the past 10 years. Or!...maybe there aren't enough people really interested enough in the science of poolish to apply for a research grant.

For thousands of years, primitive people used willow bark to help with headaches. Nobody knows how they knew about the bark -- maybe it was trial and error, or an accident. Some people say that shamans can somehow communicate with plants, and the plants tell them how to be used.

It was only in the 1800s that enough chemistry was developed (from alchemy) that Mr. Bayer figured out how to isolate the acetylsalicylic acid from the bark. He dried it out into a powder and sold it as "Aspirin." 

And yet, with aspirin being commercially available for nearly 200 years, medical science and researchers STILL don't understand how it works!

I would say that poolish probably doesn't have the return on investment that aspirin did. :-D Think of The Fresh Loaf as a laboratory - lab-Oratory - and we're all pushing things around, to see if they do something. :-D