I’ve been thinking of writing a detailed post about Pullman loaf and dough mixing for a long time: however, I keep delaying as there are just too many things to say and I hesitate if it’s worth the time writing a lengthy post while no one might be even interested in reading. Since the pandemic, more people, including myself, have started baking bread due to spending more time at home. My baking friends and I have discussed more about the problems we encounter while making bread. How long does it take for the dough to proof? How do you make a loaf with four perfect square corners? How do you properly mix the dough so it forms a thin membrane? How to make your bread stay soft longer? All these questions that I often get asked have facilitated me to put my thoughts into action. Bread making could be as simple as dumping all ingredients into the bread machine bucket, pressing a button, and then getting your freshly baked loaf after a couple of hours. Bread enthusiasts who are eager to create the best texture and flavor may pay attention to every single details such as mixing method, gluten development, dough temperature, proofing temperature and humidity and so on. “It’s just a loaf of bread!” you may say. But honestly a perfect loaf of bread is really worth the time and effort to make and I’m gonna explain to you my bread making process in a minute. If you don’t mind me being too wordy then please keep on reading.
I’m gonna talk about how I use my stand mixer to mix my bread dough and also how I make a poolish starter. Similar to sponge, poolish is a type of pre-ferment that is made of equal parts flour and water (by weight) and a small amount of commercial yeast. Because of the high water content it is quite wet and has a paste-like consistency. It is pretty easy to prepare as all you need it to stir everything in a large bowl with a pair of chopsticks or a spatula. Sponge, on the other hand, is a lot stiffer due to its lower hydration level. Typically 30 to 40% of the total flour in a bread recipe is used to make the poolish starter. To convert a straight dough recipe to one with poolish method, calculate 30% of the total flour weight in the recipe and add an equal amount of water. The amount of yeast used is 10% of the total yeast in the original recipe. Mix these three ingredients to form a paste then let it ferment, covered, overnight. And these amounts will be deducted from the original recipe when the main dough is mixed the next day. Actually I would usually further reduce the yeast amount when I use the poolish or sponge method, but this is just personal preference so will not be discussed here. Furthermore, to compensate for the wear and tear, you could add a bit more or flour and water while making the poolish and usually a few grams of each will do. Recipe conversion requires you to extract a certain portion of ingredients from an original recipe according to baker’s percentages. I’ve provided examples in my two blog posts, Basic White Bread Pain de Mie (Sponge Method) as well as Basic White Bread Pain de Mie (Tangzhong Method). With the same principles and just different ratios, I won’t spend time with another illustration here.
Bread made with tangzhong, poolish and sponge are all very soft, fluffy and has a longer shelf-life. Bread would remain fresh even on the third day. I personally like Tangzhong bread the least because the bread sticks to my teeth when chewing. Poolish and sponge pre-ferments have a more complex flavor after an overnight of rest and could actually shorten the bulk fermentation time to just a short 30-minute bench rest when mixed with the main dough (note that tangzhong contains no yeast so it not a type of pre-ferment and have no contribution to the final bread flavor. You still need a bulk fermentation of 1 to 2 hours after mixing the main dough). Bread made with the poolish method is softer and have a tender and cottony texture whereas one made with the sponge method has more oven spring. I don’t need to let the dough rise that high to get a loaf with 4 perfect square corners. Its soft and springy texture is what I like most but my daughter prefers the fluffiness and tenderness of bread made with poolish. My son basically likes any type of bread as long as the crust is super soft and for hubby he doesn’t really care (are all husbands like this by the way?) After all, it’s all personal preference. If you have time I would recommend that you try to use the same bread recipe and convert it to different methods and explore on your own and see which one you like most.
One final word, if you are still reading, is that my North American brand pullman loaf pan has the size of 9”x4″x4″, which is slightly bigger in capacity than the Asian brand 450g-toast box. Please multiply my entire recipe by 0.9 in order to adjust to a 450-g toast box.
Basic White Bread Pain de Mie (Poolish Method)
For 9”x4”x4” Pullman loaf pan
For the Poolish
93 g bread flour
93 g water
0.3 g instant yeast (I use SAF gold instant yeast)
For the Final Dough
180 g poolish
210 g bread flour
90 to 105 g water (add 90 g first then add more later as needed)
24 g dry milk powder
21 g granulated sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
2.7 g instant yeast (I use SAF gold instant yeast)
4.5 g salt
21 g unsalted butter, softened
For the Poolish 冷藏液種
Place the poolish ingredients in a large bowl and stir well to form a thick paste. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours until bubbly and doubled in size then refrigerate for 12 to 18 hours.
***For same-day use, let dough rise at room temperature until the surface is covered with small bubbles and almost tripled in size. The interior would look like a honeycomb with lots of holes if torn apart. Go by the appearance of the dough instead of time to determine if the poolish is ready to use
For the Final Dough 主麵糰
Remove the poolish from the fridge (use it immediately during the summer and let sit for 10 minutes in winter). In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the poolish and all ingredients of the main dough except the butter and salt. Mix with low speed until the dough comes together. Raise speed to medium-low and beat until the dough is somewhat smooth, not tacky and forms a thick membrane when stretched. If the dough feels dry then add more water a little bit each time.
***In general if the dough suddenly comes off the hook and spins around it while the hook is turning it means that it could hold more water. Usually more water can be added during winter time. Always reserve some water to be gradually added later. If all the water is dumped in all at once in the beginning, the flour will be shocked and the dough will be sloppy
Add in salt and softened butter and continue kneading with low speed until all the butter is incorporated. Raise speed to medium-low and beat for 2 minutes. Check the dough consistency and add more water if necessary. Continue kneading and checking every minute until the dough is soft, smooth and forms a thin and translucent membrane when stretched. Raise speed to medium to medium-high and beat for 15 to 20 seconds to strengthen the gluten structure. At this point you should be able to feel that the thin membrane is stronger and less likely to tear than before and that the hole will be very smooth. Remove dough and divide evenly into three pieces. Shape each into a ball and then an olive. With the seam side down, place shapes on a pastry mat (lightly flour the surface if needed), cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
***Monitor the final dough temperature to below 26℃ for the best result. Dough with warmer temperature tends to be stickier and would cause the dough to rise too soon which affects the final bread texture. Warm room temperature (especially in the summer) and extended mixing time both contribute to the heating up of dough. If at any point the dough is heating up, wrap the mixing bowl with a cold damp towel to lower the temperature and use cool or even cold water in the summer.
***Pay attention to the dough consistency and texture instead of mixing time while adjusting the mixing speed as stand mixers vary in power
***I found it more effective and organized to divide and preshape the dough right after mixing. If done after bench rest, at least 15 minutes of extra bench rest is needed for the gluten to relax again before I can do my final shaping
Gently flatten a dough and roll it into a long rectangle. With the smooth side facing down, roll up the dough into a log. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Gently roll to stretch the logs to about twice the width of the bread pan then fold in half like a U shape. Transfer the logs, seam side down, into the pullman loaf pan with an “u n u” arrangement. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place like a microwave or an oven with the keep warm function switched on for a minute. Place a cup of hot water inside to add humidity and exchanging when cool, and, with temperature maintained roughly at 86℉/30℃ and a humidity of 70 to 80%, let rise until the dough fills up about 90% of the pan, about 1.5 to 2 hours. Remove plastic wrap and slide on the lid. Let rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes until you feel resistance when the lid is pushed slightly (i.e. the dough is already touching the lid). Resist the temptation to open the lid to peek inside as this will tear the dough surface. While waiting, preheat oven to 325℉/165℃.
***dust mat surface with flour and use a bench scraper to pick up the dough if it is too sticky
***pay attention to the dough size instead of time while determining if the bread is ready to bake. This is based on a dough with 1% yeast in bakers’ percentage. Bread can be baked sooner if more yeast is used or the oven temperature is set higher.
Bake for 38 minutes (40 to 42 minutes for darker crust). Remove from the oven and tap it on the countertop to release hot air. Take off the lid carefully and wiggle the pan several times to loosen the edges. Immediately transfer the bread to a cooling rack to cool completely before slicing.
***Baking time is for reference only. Bread is done when the crust is lightly golden brown with an internal temperature of at least 190 to 195℉ (88 to 90℃) on an instant-read thermometer.
***small over with top elements close to the bread pan may cause the top crust to brown unevenly. If that happens tnen tent the pan with aluminum foil half way during baking next time;
See the following video for my dough shaping process.
The same bread recipe with the traditional log shaping. The unu shaping method is my preferred method as it is faster.
Left: control the final dough temperature.
Right: the membrane could be this translucent but it is not absolutely necessary