Chocolate Currant (Faux) Sourdough, Made with Poolish

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I’ve been obsessed with Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s “How to Make Bread” ever since I first browsed it while I was dining solo at Michelin-starred Aniar in Galway, Ireland. I’ve made a few recipes from it now, and I will say that as an experienced cook/baker, breadmaking is a very humbling experience.

In general, the fewer the ingredients, the less forgiving a recipe is – and how much more spartan could a recipe get when you’re making a sourdough bread composed entirely of yeast harvested from the air and milled flour? Not that this chocolate currant bread is nearly anywhere as minimal as a medieval loaf might be, but I still find the idea of a sourdough bread, steeped in history and reminiscent of a simpler time past, incredibly romantic.

But also incredibly frustrating to make. I’ve spared you the dense, gummy, overly-sour failures of sourdough breads I’ve made, and this chocolate currant bread is actually a slight adaptation of the sourdough recipe that Emmanuel has in his book. At the moment, I’ve given up on harvesting and maintaining my own sourdough culture, and have been using poolish in place of a sourdough starter.

What is a poolish, you might ask? A poolish is a pre-ferment made ahead of time before you bake your loaf. Some amount of yeast, (usually) equal amounts of flour and water are mixed to form a doughy paste that’s left to rest for anywhere between 8 and 16 hours in advance of your loaf. This poolish imparts a complexity in flavor absent in bread made from “straight dough” (which is made by mixing everything up in a single episode) by allowing the yeast more time to create delicious byproducts of fermentation like organic acids and esters.

For this chocolate currant sourdough bread, I simply replaced the recommended sourdough starter (at 100% hydration, which means equal parts flour and water) with a poolish following this formula to determine the amount of yeast needed relative to the flour in the poolish (source: Weekend Bakery):

Poolish up to 8 hours in advance – 0.23% – 0.33%
Poolish up to 12 hours in advance – 0.1% – 0.2%
Poolish up to 16 hours in advance – 0.03% – 0.08%

Use the lower percentage for a warmer kitchen, and the higher percentage for a cooler kitchen (e.g. if you were baking in the winter).

Example: if you wanted to make a poolish up to 8 hours in advance in the winter, this is what you should do to substitute for a 170g of sourdough starter at 100% hydration: Mix 85g of water, 85g of flour, and 0.2805g of yeast (0.33% x 85g) in a bowl, cover the bowl with cling wrap, and let it rest for 8 hours.

You might ask – how am I going to measure 0.2805g of yeast? Well, you can invest in a precision scale that goes up to 0.001g, which I have the good fortune of owning – or you can just grab a pinch of yeast and monitor how it goes. I highly recommend reading the Weekend Bakery’s post for more information on how a poolish should look like.

Anyway, enough of my geeking out (even though there’s way more where that came from!). This is my second attempt at making this chocolate currant sourdough recipe with a poolish preferment, and even though I can see the myriad of ways my technique could be improved, the flavors remain unparalleled. The loaf has an abundance of Zante currants that turn juicy when warm, and you are surprised by the gooey milk chocolate chip that punctuates the loaf every now and then, but not so often you feel like you’re having cake or dessert. The bread is definitely good enough to eat on its own, but who would decline a smear of Nutella?

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Chocolate Currant Sourdough (made with poolish)
Adapted from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread
Makes one large loaf (approx 950g)

For the poolish
85g bread flour
85g water
Yeast, per percentages outlined above

For the bread
200g/1 1/2 cups Zante currants
80g/2/3 cup milk/semi-sweet chocolate chips (I chopped a Trader Joe’s milk chocolate Pound Plus bar)
330g/ 2 2/3 bread flour
8g/1 1/2 tsp salt
20g/2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
250g/250ml/1 cup lukewarm water

Equipment needed
long proofing basket (if not, a colander with a linen towel could substitute)
baking sheet lined with parchment paper

  1. Mix all poolish ingredients into a large bowl 8-16 hours ahead of time, before you will make your loaf. This bowl should be large enough to include all the bread ingredients. Cover bowl with cling wrap and let rest at room temperature.
  2. When ready to make the bread, mix currants and chocolate and set aside.
  3. In a (smaller) mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt and cocoa powder together – this is the dry mixture.
  4. Add the water to your poolish, and mix until combined. This is the wet mixture.
  5. Add the dry mixture to your wet mixture and mix until it comes together.
  6. Cover the dough with the bowl that had the dry mixture in it and let rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Knead the dough by pulling a portion of the dough from the side and pressing it into the center. Repeat this motion all around the perimeter of the dough 8 times and the dough should start to resist.
  8. Let rest for another ten minutes.
  9. Repeat step 7 and 8 twice, then step 7 again. (i.e. Mix, knead, rest, knead, rest, knead, rest, knead.) Cover the dough with the bowl again and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  10. Punch down dough with your first to release the air.
  11. Transfer ball of dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide the dough into two equal portions, rolling each into a ball.
  12. Dust the proofing basket with flour, and lay the two balls side by side so they are touching snugly.
  13. Let the dough rise until about double the size (for me it takes about 8 hours, but may be as few as 3 depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen).
  14. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 475F/240C. Place a roasting pan at the bottom of the pan to preheat. Set aside a cup of water.
  15. When the dough is doubled, flip it out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle flour on it and slash crosses on each ball.
  16. Place the bread into the oven, and pour the reserved cup of water into the roasting pan. Close the oven door, and lower the oven temperature to 425F/220C.
  17. Bake for 30 minutes or until brown. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom when it is ready.
  18. Let cool on a wire rack.