Poolish has become our favorite starter in the bakery. We enjoy using it because it gives our bread a moist, open-holed crumb, a chewy texture, and a sweet, pleasant flavor of fermentation without any sourness.
Don’t be discouraged by the process of making a starter. Poolish is very easy to make and adds so much character to breads like French baguettes and rustic Italian bread. It’s made from the tiniest bit of yeast we can measure, combined with equal weights of water and flour. The mixing takes about 3 minutes, and the rest of the work is done by the yeast which slowly ferments with the flour and water. The poolish should be mixed 6-24 hours before you plan to make your bread. When used in your dough, the final result will be sophisticated bread that makes you look like a professional baker.
Adapted from "Amy's Bread, Revised and Updated" by Amy Scherber, Toy Kim Dupree, and Aimee Herring.
In a clear 2-quart plastic or glass container with high sides, add the yeast and the very warm water and whisk together until the yeast has dissolved. Allow the mixture to stand for 3 minutes. Add the cool water and the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or your hand for 1 minute, until a smooth, somewhat elastic batter has formed. The starter will be thick and stretchy. (It gets softer and thinner after it has risen.)
Scrape the starter from the sides of the container and cover it with plastic film. Mark the height of the starter and the time on a piece of tape on the side of the container so you can see how much it rises. Make sure it has room to triple in volume.
Let it rise at room temperature for 6-8 hours until ready to use. Or let it rise one hour at room temperature, then chill it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 3-4 hours to warm up and become active before using it. When it is ready, it will have tripled in volume, and lots of bubbles and small folds will appear on top of the surface of the starter. The starter should be used in the next 2-4 hours before it begins to deflate. If you use the starter while it’s still cold from the refrigerator, be sure to compensate for the cold temperature by using warm water (85-90 degrees) in your dough, instead of the cool water specified in the recipe.