When I was in Culinary school, I learned the right way to do everything...the right way to shape baguettes, the right way to mix a dough, the right way to treat starters.... For the most part, I still do everything right but the longer I bake, the more I push the envelope. For instance, most bakers take the temperature of their surroundings everyday. There is a complex equation for finding the proper liquid temperature to add to a dough in order to get the "desired dough temperature." [WT= FF(DDT)-TTF] It involves finding the room temperature, the flour temperature, the temperature of the starters, and the friction factor which has to do with the length of time and force with which the dough is mixed. The DDT is what will give you the best possible outcome for any given product. Everyone's DDT is different. I may be shooting for 80 degrees while another bakery is going for 75 degrees. My DDT changes with every season. I am currently trying to get my dough to come off the mixer at 95+ degrees. This is difficult given my temperature constraints. The thermal death point of yeast is around 140 degrees which isn't really that hot. Also, my big, thick steel mixing bowl is freezing cold every morning making it difficult to get a warm dough outcome. When I was a student, I always laughed at the other students who had their thermometers resting in the flour bags. Isn't it obvious that the flour temperature should be the same as the room temperature? Well, not so in my new world. My flour is stored in a basement, two flights of stairs below the bakery (I'll get to the joys of lugging 50 pound bags up these steps another time). The basement flour is always cooler than the room temperature in the bakery. [insert photo of me sticking my foot in my mouth here]
What does all of this mean in the real world? It means that I come in somewhere between midnight and 2am, take my coat off and make a couple decisions. First, I turn on my oven and decide if it's cold enough that I have to turn on the convection oven too. If the answer is yes, I determine whether the ambient temperature is such that I need to turn on both convection ovens. Last winter there were days I had to turn on the gas burners in order to get the room up to a livable temperature. After generating some heat, I fill a couple buckets with my desired water temperature. I don't use a thermometer, I use my instinct. I stick my hand under the running water and use my patented Goldilocks method...too hot, too cold, just right.
I have to say that it is very important to take temperatures if you're just begining to bake bread. I have a couple things going for me. I've been baking bread for a long time and I've been baking the same breads in the same setting for a long time. I know my dough! I know that yesterday the French dough moved (rose) a little slow so today I will use slightly warmer water and maybe I'll sit the dough tub in front of the convection oven for a little while. I know that the cheese bread is always a rapid riser so I put it in the coolest part of the bakery after it is shaped so it won't rise too fast. I know that the seeded dough moves so fast in the summer that I have to cut the yeast in half if I want to avoid a disaster. If I was mixing a new dough in a new setting, I would take the temperature to have a starting point.
Where does 2-Day Poolish come in to play? Well, as I said, I push the envelope. Sometimes I am successful. Certain sourdoughs are made the day before they are baked. This helps me to jam pack the oven for every second it is open from the time it comes up to temperature. I have found that I can refrigerate my sour starters if I need to skip a feeding. The poolish is much like the dough because it contains a small amount of yeast. In the summer I mix poolish with ice cold water and I reduce the yeast. I literally put ice in the water. In the winter, I mix with room temperature water and I up the yeast a little. The bakery was closed on Christmas Day. Normally I would bring my poolish tub home and mix the goo 18 hours before I need it. I really didn't want to think about the bakery on Christmas day so I decided to try 2-Day poolish. I mixed a tub right before I left the bakery on Christmas Eve. I used cold water and a tiny amount of yeast to balance the long fermentation time.
I arrived at the bakery on the 26th hoping to find a nice bubbly tub of poolish. When I took the lid off the bucket, I found an over-fermented yuck. It was clear from the water marks on the sides of the tub that the poolish had risen to it's maximum ability and then it fell. Normally, I can stretch and hold the poolish in my hands to put it on the scale. Not this stuff. I had to scoop it out with a pitcher and pour it onto the scale.
How did this affect my dough? My French dough is typically like a big fluffy pillow but with the 2-day poolish it was what bakers call 'slack.' It was more clay-like and it lacked life. Yes, it made nice baguettes and I'm sure the day to day consumers were not aware of my blunder but I was. My ciabatta was more like a flip-flop than a slipper. Again, it wasn't bad, it just wasn't that good either. I'm sure it was better than I dough with no starter at all but that's about it.
If any of my fellow bakers out there want to try to push the envelope to see what you get, don't do it with the poolish. 2-Day poolish is a failure!, another one to chalk up on the experience board. On the flip side, 2-Day croissants seem to be a success!