Tuesday, February 13, 2007

First Proof - Rye Poolish

Last night, before I went to bed, I started a basic poolish using whole rye flour and water, maybe a little less than a cup each. Of course, I did all my reading afterwards, but I now know both what a poolish is and how I should have done it differently. Allow me to share the first now.

A poolish is a type of yeast starter, I suppose one could think of it as a sourdough starter (although it's more watery), which is used to preferment some dough to use as a leavener. Rye flour naturally has a very high wild yeast content, so one needn't add the extra yeast which is required for a wheat starter (in fact, for flavor, rye flour is often added to a wheat starter).

So, I started my poolish, put it in the oven to ferment, and went to bed, hoping to bake a rye loaf when I got up. Although it had activated, I found that the poolish was not active enough to leaven a loaf (which was the same problem I'd encountered last week when I tried to make a similar loaf of bread before deciding to embark on this breadmaking tutorial). I added some more yeast (Fleischmann's, I think) about midmorning and then went to class. When I came back, I defered to Peter's expert advice (the guy's been making bread since he was seven!) and he told me that, in fact, the starter was ready now, although I wouldn't have known it. That was due to a combination of the huge growth I'd gotten last week and my forgetting where the original fill level was for the poolish.* So, I started to make bread.

I poured the poolish into a mixing bowl, poured about another half cup or so of rye flour in, as well as maybe two cups of whole wheat flour, mixed in some more water, and started needing on a well-floured counter. Sorry I can't tell you how much flour I used, but I'm trying to learn to do this by touch. I'd decided with the bagels that the dough was too dry; I erred on the side of caution and got pretty much the same result, although the dough was slightly limp tonight. Also, since it was at least a quarter rye, and probably more, the gluten didn't develop nearly as much as in a wheat dough. I think I'm starting to get a handle on this whole rye thing (haha) and I need to make more slits in loaves made with rye to ensure that they don't split the sides because of the generally short stretching ability of the gluten strands.

I placed the ball of dough, which was quite small, in the oven to rise for an hour. Although it had risen some, I decided to add some more yeast, as much to find out what happens when yeast is added after the first rise as to aid in the crumb development. I think I put in another teaspoon (in addition to the teaspoon I'd added before going to class) and kneaded it in. I then let the bread rise for another hour in the oven. When I took the bread out, I formed it into a small loaf by flattening it out into a rectangle and the rolling it up (I've heard this creates tension in the surface gluten both inside and out), set the oven to 370F, put a kettle on to boil, and then let the bread rest until the oven was preheated. When the kettle was done, I poured boiling water into a pan I'd placed on the lower rack of the oven (my 8" omelet pan) and when the oven was heated a few minutes later, I put in the bread. The water is supposed to aid in the formation of a crust and, given my results, it does.

I left the bread in for an hour or so (I think 50 minutes, to be exact). I'd read that crust formation can be better aided still by turning off the oven and leaving the loaf in for half an hour to an hour, so I tried that, as well. Does this loaf have a crust or what! It's a small loaf, with a strong rye flavor, again, which I'm getting sick of, and a rather loose crumb which is itself made up of rather dense crumbs. It is delicious and I'm going to look forward to eating lunch tomorrow with my little loaf.

A few observations:

It is a small loaf, too small for all the work that went into it. The crust is too thick for its size, as well. The flavor is good, although I'm not sure I can taste the fermentation (maybe a product of the additional yeast and short fermentation time. The slits in top were not large enough and baked through almost immediately, not allowing much additional rise to be absorbed (perhaps the knife didn't actually cut the surface gluten, merely compressed it).

Maybe more to follow later.

An idea just occurred to me, spurred on by a delicious Gouda I ate in Nottingham months ago: I should add cumin to a bread sometime. I love cumin and it might flavor (and color) the bread very nicely, much like caraway in American rye.

*After reading on starters while the bread was rising and baking, I learned that a starter, even a poolish, should be allowed to ferment for at least three days in all cases. I have heard that a poolish can be started in as little as five hours, but I now realize that the finished starter in those cases won't have fermented, merely it will have started to produce enough carbon dioxide to leaven a loaf.

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