Poolish is a simple technique that can make some of the best pizza possible and it’s actually really easy!
Poolish can sound complicated but it really isn’t. The best way to learn is to get stuck in and try it! You will learn from experience!
Hopefully this article will help you to understand what poolish is and encourage you to try it because it really does make great pizza! If you want to get stuck in, feel free to skip to the step by step recipe here.
Poolish is a type of preferment which is used in many different doughs. It is traditionally used for making baguettes. However, it can also be used to make great pizza dough.
A preferment is simply when water, flour, and yeast are mixed together and left to prove BEFORE being added to the main dough. After about 8-12 hours when the preferment has proved, the rest of the ingredients are added to form the final dough.
However, the dough doesn’t need any more yeast adding, as the preferment acts like a sourdough starter, and proves the dough.
Preferments have different ratios of water and flour but Poolish is perhaps the simplest. Poolish has a ratio of 1:1 water and flour. In other words, it has equal amounts of water and flour. We also call this 100% hydration.
This means poolish is really easy to make, and it also means your recipe is easy to work out. A 100% hydrated dough also creates an excellent environment for the yeast to work its magic.
NOTE: You may also hear the use of preferment referred to as the indirect method as the yeast is not added straight to the dough itself. In this context, a dough that is conventionally proved by yeast is known as the direct method.
Poolish works in a very similar way to sourdough but it in fact poolish ISN’T a sourdough. Sourdough uses wild yeast which is harvested from the flour itself. With a poolish, we add yeast to it.
For Neapolitan pizza, poolish would generally be the preferred option over sourdough. Sourdough is not traditional in pizza as it creates a strong and somewhat sour flavour which can overpower the toppings.
For beginners, I would highly recommend trying poolish. You may also find that you prefer it to sourdough!
Poolish generally produces a sweeter dough with only a hint of sourness, which tends to work very well with pizza. Poolish was actually initially invented to replicate sourdough. So whilst the two do have similarities, they are also very different.
As with sourdough, varying the amount of poolish you use in your pizza dough recipe will vary the prove time (length of fermentation).
However, unlike sourdough, you can also adjust the amount of yeast in your poolish to adjust the prove time. Also, poolish doesn’t need feeding like sourdough does. We simply make the poolish, leave it to prove, and add the other ingredients.
For this reason, poolish is very convenient and reliable when compared to sourdough. It is also much easier to make and poolish requires no feeding or management at all! And if that isn’t a bonus then I don’t know what is!
The most popular theory suggests that poolish was a technique used by Polish bakers in the 19th century. When the technique found its way to France, it was known as poolish.
Poolish became a very popular technique amongst French bakers. It allowed them to produce sourdough-like bread with more consistency and without as much sourness. In fact, it was widely adopted for the making of baguettes.
To this day, many artisan bakers use poolish for their breads, particularly baguettes. The technique has also become widely adopted in artisan pizza making, with many pizzerias in Naples adopting the method.
Poolish can make exceptional Neapolitan pizza when used properly. It is also very versatile and works with practically every type of flour you want to use for your pizza dough.
The purpose of poolish in pizza is to improve the flavour and texture of the dough.
The 100% hydration (1:1 ratio of water to flour/equal amounts) of the poolish creates an ideal environment for the yeast. This allows the yeast to become very active, producing many subtle but complex flavours in the dough.
As soon as you uncover an active poolish the fragrance hits you! It’s an incredible smell that’s a delicious combination of sweet, sour, beery, and yeasty!
Once added to the final dough, the poolish also helps to produce a wonderfully light and airy dough, thanks to the development of the yeast.
A poolish helps to develop the characteristics of a longer proved dough in a shorter time.
In general, the longer the prove, the better the flavour and texture of the pizza dough. This is because over time, the yeast is allowed to produce an increasing number of flavours and aromas in the dough.
Surprisingly, a poolish dough that has proved for 24 hours can achieve a similar texture and flavour to a normal dough that has taken 48-72 hours to prove.
The first advantage to this is time and convenience. In a shorter amount of time, we can achieve a very similar quality of dough just by using a poolish. What’s more, a poolish is really quick and easy to make!
The other advantage to this relates to the qualities of the flour we use. Most 00 flours are not strong enough to withstand proves of 48-72 hours. Once they start reaching these times, the dough loses its strength and the quality of the pizza reduces.
However, the majority of 00 flours can withstand proves of up to 24 hours. By using a poolish, we can make a 24 hour dough that tastes just as good as 48-72 hour dough without losing any of the doughs other qualities! Particularly the pizza dough’s strength and stretchiness.
It’s like magic! It also smells incredible!
The poolish will be ready to use when it has about doubled in size, just like a regular dough. It will also be completely covered in small bubbles and is very lively. You will get to know when it’s ready through experience.
However, there is a great tip you can try when you’re starting out:
Rather than making your poolish in a bowl, you can make it in a large glass. Once in the glass, place a rubber band or similar around the level on the glass. This will allow you to see how much the poolish grows (see below).
You can see from the image above just how much the poolish has grown, about double. The highest point that the poolish reaches is known as the peak. Ideally you want to use the poolish just before its peak.
In the image above we can tell the poolish has just passed its peak if we look at the edges of the surface, where it is starting to fall back down slightly. Ideally we should’ve used the poolish an hour or so ago but it is still perfectly fine to use.
We can make a note of how long it took to peak and then we will know when it’s ready next time we make one.
In this section, I will go into a little more depth on how we can control our poolish but if you want to skip straight to the easy recipe, please click the button below.
There are 2 main variables that you can control with your poolish. These are:
Both quantity of yeast and quantity of poolish will control prove times. But they will also have an affect on the flavour and texture of the final dough. Experimenting with these variables is something that I recommend you do to figure out what makes the best pizza for you.
However, there are some rules of thumb which will help you initially:
Bonus Tip: In my experience, using a 50% poolish recipe (50% of total flour coming from poolish) will ensure that your pizza dough will take roughly the same amount of time to prove as the poolish did itself. E.g. if your poolish takes 10 hours to prove, your pizza dough will then also take about 10 hours. This is really handy to know and makes timings a lot easier.
This may all sound a little complicated, but don’t worry I’ve got an easy to follow step by step recipe below.
Makes: 4 pizzas
The great thing about this recipe is that I have designed it to fit around a normal daily routine.
You can make the poolish (takes less than 5 minutes) before you go to bed at night and it will be ready when you get up in the morning (about 10 hours).
You can then make the pizza dough and it will be ready in the evening (about 7pm depending on your routine). This is a great recipe to try out on a weekend.
300g 00 flour
0.6g dried yeast
330g 00 flour
Note: I have assumed a room temperature of around 20C/70F. If your room is quite a bit colder than this, swap the amount of yeast for 0.9g. If your room is quite a bit warmer than this, swap the amount of yeast for 0.3g.
Using poolish in your pizza dough recipe is quite an easy technique and I would recommend it to anyone that’s comfortable with a standard pizza dough (direct dough). It makes incredible Neapolitan pizza dough. Once you have normal pizza dough down to a tee, I would highly recommend at least giving this a go.
Also, for those people looking for Sourdough recipes, I would recommend trying poolish first. Not only is it easier than sourdough, but in my opinion the flavour works better for pizza.
So have fun making poolish, and lets get mixing!
I’m Tom Rothwell and I’m super passionate about all kinds of homemade pizza! In the last few years I've been on a quest to find the perfect pizza. Now I'm sharing what I've found out with the world!
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