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I'm in the process of trying a new pizza dough recipe that calls for a poolish (equal weights flour and water, with a small amount of dry yeast, left at room temperature overnight), as well as dry yeast added during mixing.

I've seen this before in many bread recipes, and I always wonder: what is the purpose of the poolish here? Based on my simplistic understanding of the science, after such a short time, I assume the yeast in the poolish is predominantly the same variety as the dry yeast that I put into it, so I don't expect it to be developing sourdough-ish strains. And the proportion of the poolish is small (about 10% of the mass of the dough) so I wouldn't expect it to affect the texture by much.

Is there an advantage to adding the poolish? Can someone explain the science?

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  • The purpose? It adds flavour. Nothing more to it.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 21 at 21:20

1 Answer 1

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The answer is: Flavour.

The purpose of yeast in bread isn't just to make it rise, it also provides a flavour to the bread. While a poolish does indeed give you lots of great yeasts for rising, the flavours developed by the yeast metabolizing compounds in the poolish contribute to the the final flavour of the bread.

These flavours can only be achieved by long incubation of the yeast with their food substrates (in this case flour and water). Short incubations, such as are commonly found in breads where you add the yeast with the flour and immediately start the bread-making process will not develop these same flavour profiles.

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  • That sounds sensible, though this particular recipe calls for a 48-hour rise in the refrigerator after mixing. Would this long rise also generate the same metabolic byproducts, which would make the poolish superfluous?
    – leremjs
    Jan 17 at 1:42
  • @leremjs Yes and no. It could make the poolish superfluous in some manner, but it should result in similar flavours to if you baked the poolish alone (if you could). The poolish only contributes to some of the flavour when they are used with additional yeasts. Which temperature you use for an incubation can result in quite different flavours. The fridge also limits the growth of non-yeast components (e.g. bacteria), but these shouldn't be too much of a problem in bread doughs anyway.
    – bob1
    Jan 17 at 1:48
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    I totally agree with this answer. I've experimented with the same recipe using a poolish and long rise and just a long rise. I did find there was a difference in flavor, enough to notice but the long rise only was still a good result. So you won't get the same result @leremjs, although you won't necessarily get a bad result by dropping the poolish.
    – GdD
    Jan 18 at 9:31
  • @leremjs I'd say that the 48-hour rise makes the additional yeast superfluous.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jan 20 at 19:49

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