To celebrate my fixed oven, I baked bread.
After messing for a while with baking my focaccia dough into shaped loaves (with mediocre results), I decided to go back to messing around with Jason's recipe since I've had pretty good luck with it before. This time, however, I decide to convert it to using a poolish. Pre-ferments have been one of the mysteries about bread baking that I still don't understand. Everyone swears by them, but they are often comparing apples to oranges. They are comparing doing 1 rise and a proof to doing a pre-ferment, plus 1 rise and a proof. Obviously, pre-ferment wins. But here is the mystery I am trying to solve. Is doing a pre-ferment, plus 1 rise, plus a proof somehow better than Julia Child's method of doing 2 long rises and a proof? Jason says no. As much as I'd like to trust him, I wanted to see for myself. So I converted his bread to a poolish version using Rose Beranbaum's instructions. Here is what I ended up with.
454 g flour (16 oz) + 2 oz to knead (57g)
3.2 g yeast (1 tsp)
4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
1 3/4 c water (413 g)
274 g flour
1 tsp yeast
4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
233 g water
According to Jason's recipe, you make a dough with all of the ingredients in the "Total" section up front. I ended up with the same total ingredients in the end, but first I mixed the poolish ingredients together and had them rise at room temp over night (about 11 hours). Then I added the "Remainder" ingredients to poolish (mixing dry things separately first). I kneaded by hand adding 2 oz of flour. This was a complete soup. Now that I am remembering better, Jason adds on the order of 4 oz when kneading (actually, I even found my notes on it on this very blog after finishing kneading. If only I read my own blog, life would be so much easier). Also working with poolish made it harder to knead since those ingredients were very hydrated already. But I survived. I let the dough rise for 3 hours, then shaped and proofed for 1 hour, slashed, brushed with water, and baked in a dutch over using Cook's Illustrated almost no-knead instructions. Since this recipe has a bit more flour than Cook's, I cut off a small piece of dough before shaping and froze it in case I decide to add it to some future batch.
I thought this was my most successful bread so far. Crust was fabulous (crackly, perfectly brown, but not burnt), but that was all thanks to using a dutch oven. The crumb was the chewiest I've achieved so far. I would like it even chewier, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. The flavor was good. I'd like more acidity, and thought that poolish would get me that, but it wasn't noticable. The holes were uneven. Toward the top of the bread, they were huge, towards the bottom very small. The picture shows this bread in the better light than it really was. This was one of the few pieces left after class, so I didn't have many picture options. It happens to have a pretty even crumb, but most of the bread had a way bigger variation in the hole size.
Generally I was elated. Then I gave Jason a piece...
Anton Ego from Ratatouille is nothing compared to Jason. Sure, Jason might be the most easy going guy when it comes to normal life things, but when it comes to bread, watch out. He took a bite... smelled the crumb... poked it all over with his finger... and said: "a bit wet. maybe too much water. maybe should bake a bit longer. the crumb is a bit uneven. see these dense spots, that's probably the result of flour getting trapped during shaping." But he didn't want to be too hard on me and added enthusiastically, "It's really not bad!"
That was pretty high praise coming from Jason. While students gobble up my bread and ask where I got it, Jason always knows when I got lazy and pulled the KitchenAid out or when I needed more steam in the oven. He tastes bread the way some people taste wine and it's thanks to his insightful comments that I am finally baking what I consider to be decent bread.
"What do you think of poolish?" I asked. "Isn't it chewier and with slightly improved flavor?" "Nope," said Jason, "it's the same as mixing it all together." I wanted to argue, but had no evidence. Last time I made Jason's bread was over a year ago, so I can't really say for sure that poolish did anything. I really wanted to make two batches so that we could taste them side by side, but between shopping and preparing for the class, I only managed to do one. I'll try to bake another loaf next week, Jason's way.
* Measuring 0.07g of yeast is a bit tricky. I used a tea scale that Jason got recently. It's very handy for measuring tiny amounts and if I remember correctly only costs $20. That's a great deal, since most scales of this accuracy cost over $100. The down side is that it is only calibrated for very small amounts, but I can live with that. I rarely need 552.02 grams of anything :) Why do you need so little yeast? That's because poolish needs to rise very slowly at room temperature. Ideally, 12-15 hours, which requires really tiny amounts of yeast. If you are doing a shorter poolish, you'll need more yeast. To learn how all this works, you need to learn about baker's percentages. The Bread Bible is a great book for that. If you don't have an accurate scale, I bet you can approximate 0.07g with a small pinch.