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Poolish Play Part 1: Anticipation

I think I’ve mentioned my enormous crush on Richard Bertinet. He’s the breadmaking bomb. Everything about his attitude, his relaxed savoir-faire and his kneading technique oils my breadboard. He is incredible. His kneading technique alone has been one of the greatest things I’ve learned to improve my bread. If you’re unfamiliar with Monsieur Bertinet, I suggest you get on the Googles and educate yourself. Dude’s awesome. Easily a Level 48 Bread Mage.

So if anyone was going to persuade me to get experimenting with sourdoughs again, it was gonna be Bertinet. I kicked off a starter a couple of years ago, and didn’t have a heck of a lot of luck with it.  Don’t get me wrong, Pongo rocks; I’ve passed on samples to friends and seen wonderful works from him — but I wasn’t having a lot of luck. Using the starter felt like a lot of work for not very spectacular results. Now I’m starting to grok bread a bit more, I think I know why. Pongo might make a reappearance in the future, but for now, I decided to go with one of Bertinet’s recipes, from Crust, his gorgeously-laid out bread book (sequel, I believe, to Dough).

It was the baguettes that did it. Oooooh, baguettes; so beautiful. So crunchy, golden and sexy, especially in Bertinet’s hands. These are baguettes based on a poolish, which is a flour/water/yeast slow ferment. You start of with an equal mix (by weight) of flour and water, plus a little yeast, left overnight in the fridge. Bertinet calls for a blend of rye and white flour, but I didn’t have any rye. Seems to have worked out okay:

Bubble bubble...

The next day, once your poolish has become foamy and lush, you add work the rest of the dough ingredients in — flour, yeast, salt, water. I love the simplicity of it.

...toil and trouble...

Kneaded into a thick, silky, springy ball, I left it to rise for 90 minutes. Now, for comparison, when I make a regular sandwich bread loaf, I usually give it about 20 minutes’ rise, then fold, then another 40 minutes’ rise, then shape, then about 30 minutes later, into the oven. These sourdough baguettes had 90 minutes, then divided into small bits and rested for 15 minutes, then shaped and left for another 90 minutes before baking.

...rise the dough...

But who’s complaining? The dough was beautiful to handle and rose magnificently:

...and let it double!

Ready to be worked. The recipe in Bertinet’s book makes 10 baguettes plus a loaf: not full-on, Yoplait-commercial, stick-them-in-the-basket-of-your-bike-and-wear-a-stripey-jumper baguettes, but not miniscule ones, either.

This dough, if I may take a moment, is wonderful. It is smooth and silky, sturdy and slightly elastic. It feels wonderful to work with. But what of its yield? Find out in the next exciting installment of Poolish Play!

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