Pennsylvania Poolish

My return to “humble yeast breads” was a fair success!

Classic Country

I flipped back to the very first recipe in my Bread Alone bakebook: Classic Country-Style Hearth Loaf. “A Learning Loaf,” they call it. I’d been attempting sourdough because the kind of bread I enjoy has a chewy crust and a rich, hearty taste and texture. I’d rather buy my bread at the store than eat a tasteless homemade white. Bread Alone’s “learning loaf” is designed to teach you how to work a poolish into your routine. A poolish is a wet mixture of flour, water and yeast left out to ferment for 2-10 hours. It’s like a mini-sourdough starter. It’s one of the major differences between bakery bread and homemade bread – but it doesn’t have to be that way! It adds flavor and texture but not the sourness of a true starter.

So the thing about this poolish (my first) is that is traveled! I was headed down to visit my sister in Philly on Saturday morning and decided to bake despite going out of town. So I packed up my flour and a few tools, mixed up the poolish, and buckled all of us in for a two-hour drive. Yes, my little covered bowl was buckled in to the passenger seat! I wish I’d thought to take a picture. It’s a humorous metaphor for what a needy little creature rising dough can be! And just like a fussy baby, my poolish was lulled to compliance by a good spin around the block. (At least, that’s how my sis had to be put to bed!) The perk of fermenting the poolish in the car is that I had complete control over the temperature. It was a bit toasty for human-folk but my poolish enjoyed a stable 78 degrees the whole way to Philly.

Adding more flour, yeast and water later in the day I created a true dough and gave it a good kneading. Then there was a rise, a deflate, a shape, and a proofing. Again my proofing sluggishly stretched passed midnight but I managed to stay awake and was rewarded by a loaf that was – miraculously – not dense! I give it a grade “B” – hearty sandwich stock. Not quite the airy dipping loaf I’m after, but I’d call it a crowd-pleaser nonetheless. We’ll have to ask Julianna, my extraordinary yoga teacher, who recieved one of these loaves for her birthday!

Soon I must attempt another shape – these rounds are starting to be boring. And somehow figure out how those odd puckers developed on the crust!

My thanks to Barbara Kingsolver, whose wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle kept me awake during the proofing.

And also thanks to my co-worker (and expert baker) Ilene for recommending Red Star yeast; I brought my sister on a marathon trek to a Philadelphia Whole Foods in search of a second packet.

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