With this Newsletter I wish to recommend next year’s courses programme, which has now been flying on the website for a month. Please make a visit and see what attracts you.
In 2014 the one-day course format continues to prevail, with a sprinkling of two and three-day courses as the year gets underway. The newest one-day course is Baking for Breakfast [This course has expired. If you like it, ask me to schedule a new one] – surely attractive to those who have their house full of guests in the weekends. There is also a one-day Continental that aims for variety rather than being a junior version of the two-day Continental.
Sourdough remains popular, and is covered in the programmes of several courses. Many household bakers like to take the step up to sourdough when they consider themselves proficient at baking with conventional yeast.
Regarding fees, there are no changes. A small reduction occurs when a person opts to take Basic and Basic II, or British and British II, on consecutive days of a weekend. They will be charged the normal two-day fee (£330), rather than £350 for twice the single day fee.
Now it is time for some baker talk. When speaking generally with any class I am surprised and heartened how often the students know what I mean if I happen to mention “poolish” or “biga”. They are the French and Italian names for what we British bakers call “sponge”. Nothing to do with cake, a sponge is a pre-ferment, usually without salt, that will enhance the dough to be made many hours later with the pre-ferment as part of it. In the poolish or biga the baker encourages a level of yeast activity that will create a worthwhile body of organic acids and other by-products of the fermentation process. In their turn they will affect the dough, giving flavour, aroma, attractive structure, and better keeping qualities to the final bread.
Sponges are always fermented with factory-made yeast and thus are not to be confused with the sourdough process, in which a wild yeast culture is nurtured and stored in the “leaven”.
The British craftsman baker (who nearly became extinct in the 1960’s – ’80’s) has always been keen on sponges, choosing to make sponge as a stiff medium for traditional loaf breads. Today, however, poolish and biga seem very popular, sweeping away any loyalty to the British tradition. They are alike, and inter-changeable really, but the term “poolish” should be used when the wet, batter-like material is composed of equal amounts of flour and water. They can be yeasted to sit for anything from 3 to 16 hours to reach maturity. Maturity, or ripeness, means a bubbly surface that is still rising, not starting to sink back. For the small quantities prepared by home bakers, a long-term poolish that is designed to sit for at least 12 hours will only need a tiny blob of fresh yeast the size of a green pea, or a sprinkle of dried yeast barely an eighth of a teaspoon. These measures are suitable provided it is not left in a cold place. In bakeries, with their large quantities and steady ambient warmth, a typical poolish to sit for 12 – 16 hours will only need a miniscule amount of yeast, probably only 0.1% to its flour weight, which equates to one gram of fresh yeast to one kilo of flour. Such tiny quantities are all that is needed because after about 6 hours yeast begins to reproduce and multiply.
While engaged in writing my book I have enjoyed pursuing the rather tangled explanations for the origin of the word “poolish”. A few years ago a French born student told me that it was a dialect word for mare, female horse, which I took to be a little far from baking. I shall finish with a small excerpt from my draft for the book:
Seeking the origin of both word and method as French is misleading. As expected, the word pays tribute to the Polish bakers who first developed that type of wet sponge in the 1840’s when factory-made compressed yeast was exhilaratingly new. From there it went to Austria, where the celebrated Viennese bakers made refined white bread by the new poolish (Polish) method, and even developed special ovens with upwardly sloping floors and steam injection to create an unforgettable crust on their delicate and tasty bread. Their style was to dominate the white wheaten bread world, being known as Vienna bread. The next stop was Paris, where Vienna bread became more popular than sourdough, remaining fashionable until the 1920’s, and was lauded as the most tasty and exquisite way to make the baguette.
When the book comes out you will get some old-fashioned recipes for Vienna bread. Until then, happy baking,