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Geoff Millener with white bread he baked

Geoff's White Bread

Geoff Millener
Geoff Millener shares his white bread recipe in CityScope magazine's annual Southern Gentleman issue. This an overnight white made with a poolish, a 1:1 flour-to-water pre-ferment, and ingredients straight from the grocery store. It has some of the character of a good sourdough — if not the deep complexity you can coax out of wild yeast — as well as a richness, almost as though each slice has been smeared with warm butter.  The recipe has been scaled down from Ken Forkish’s excellent white bread with poolish recipe from Flour Water Salt Yeast. (See recipe notes at the bottom before baking.)
Total Time 20 hrs
Course Side Dish
Cuisine French, Italian

Equipment

  • Two large (6-qt) mixing bowls or tubs with lids
  • Instant read thermometer
  • Kitchen scale
  • Dry and liquid measuring cups and spoons
  • A medium-sized bowl or banneton
  • Clean kitchen towels
  • Heavy-duty oven mitts
  • Wire cooling rack
  • Optional: Parchment paper
  • Optional: Bench scraper, silicon spatula

Ingredients
  

For the poolish:

  • 250 grams all-purpose white flour
  • 250 grams water, barely above room temperature (about 80℉)
  • 0.2 grams instant dried yeast (or about 1/16 tsp.)

For the final dough:

  • 250 grams all-purpose white flour
  • 10.5 grams fine sea salt (not iodized/table salt)
  • 1.5 grams instant dried yeast
  • 125 grams lukewarm water (about 105℉)
  • 500 grams poolish

Instructions
 

Step 1: Making the poolish

  • I recognize that amount of yeast is comically small. You will be amazed what just that scant amount can do in twelve hours, though; time is a crucial ingredient. The temperature is also a little finicky – too warm, the yeast will activate too quickly; too cool, it may not activate at all (or at least set you up for a very long wait). 80℉ is about what a dip in the pool should feel like. An instant-read thermometer is really going to help you out.
  • Mix the 250g of flour, 250g of water, and 0.2g of yeast together by hand in a tub or large bowl and let rest at room temperature. It is going to expand substantially, so make sure it can at least triple by volume within the container.
  • Cover and let rest for 12 to 14 hours. When you open the lid, it should have a sharp, yeasty smell and the look (and jiggle) of a loose porridge, with lots of little air bubbles dotting the surface. If you watch the poolish for a few seconds and see one or more of those bubbles actually pop, you’re in good shape.

Step 2: Mixing and folding the final dough

  • Add your 250g flour, 10.5g salt and 1.5g yeast into an extra-large tub or mixing bowl (your dough is going to expand to more than double its size; I use 6-qt tubs for up to two loaves, 12-qt for when I’m making more) and mix together by hand.
  • Pour the 125g warm water around your bubbling 500g of poolish to help loosen it up; pour both into the bowl or tub with your dry ingredients and mix by hand. I start by stirring as much as I can together, and then start working in the remaining flour from the sides. Ken Forkish’s pincher technique works well and won’t leave you with overworked dough: Once the flour is incorporated and the mass starts look a bit more uniform, you basically grab part of the dough, bringing your thumb and fingers together in an ‘O’ and then squeeze together to make a fist, working your way from one sideof your mixing vessel to the other.
  • Alternate this pinching with folding – pulling dough from the edge of the mass, stretching it and pushing it down over the top. This is not going to form a neat ball (yet), but you’ll be amazed at how subtly the texture changes. Your dough will still be sticky at the end, but mixing should all take about five minutes, maybe a bit longer. When it feels uniform and a bit stretchy (no salt grains, no pockets of flour), it’s time for the next step.
    (Note: If you keep a bowl of warm water next to you, you can dip your hand in occasionally to help keep this mix from sticking to your hand too much. You’ll get a sense of how much mixing you can do before it starts sticking again, which is useful for finishing this step with the maximum amount of dough in the bowl, the minimum still on your hand. I’ll sometimes use a silicone spatula, too, to help scrape all of the poolish in and down the sides of my mixing vessel to get those last bits of flour, but I mostly do this with one hand, keeping the other clean for crisis management and drinking coffee.)
  • Once the dough has come together, you’re going to fold it all together three times over the next hour. Let your dough rest for fifteen or twenty minutes after you’ve mixed it prior to the first fold.
  • If you imagine the dough has four sides, take one, stretch it out until you feel resistance (you might see a little tearing on the sides during the first fold, but don’t completely rip your dough; be gentle), and then fold back down on top of the whole mass. Do this for the other three sides, and then flip the whole ball over, so the seams end up on the bottom. That’s one ‘fold.’ Put the lid back on before doing this whole process again fifteen or twenty minutes later (fold two), and again fifteen or twenty minutes after that for your third and final fold.
    Each time, you’ll notice that the dough gets a bit less sticky and keeps it shape a bit longer when you put it back down in the bowl. And each fold takes all of 30 seconds, completed over the span of an hour.
  • After your third fold, you’ll get a bit of a breather again — the dough needs to rest for another hour or two, so it could take up to three hours in total before you shape your bread following mixing in the poolish. (The timing on this bulk fermentation is a bit dependent on environmental factors: If your kitchen is warm or it's a humid day, it will be on the shorter end; if it’s cool – closer to that full length of time.) It’s ready to be shaped when it’s two-and-a-half times its original size.

Step 3: Shaping and proofing the dough

  • To shape the dough, sprinkle some flour out on your counter. If you have a banneton, flour it now; otherwise, put a clean tea towel inside a medium-sized bowl and dust it with a good amount of flour.
  • Gently ease out your dough onto the floured surface; it will be really stretchy and might stick just a little to the side of the container, but should pull away cleanly with a little coaxing. You can use a bench scraper to help move it around on the counter. Give your dough one more fold, pulling each side out and onto the top, before flipping it back over; it should now look a bit tighter and vaguely round.
  • To make it into a ball ready for proofing, move your dough ball off of the floured section of your counter onto a clean, unfloured section. You actually want the dough to stick just a little bit for this. (YouTube has lots of videos on shaping, which is a bit tricky to describe.)
  • Your hands are going to make a cage to cradle and pull this dough ball towards you, across the counter – keep your pinkies touching each other, and in contact with the countertop. Your other fingers can rest gently around the dough ball, with your thumbs in front. Now, draw the whole ball toward you a couple of inches, across the counter. Don’t roll it; you’ll feel it stick a bit, but your pinkies, as they slide along the counter, are going to help tuck the stretching surface of the dough ball underneath it.You’ll feel the ball get tighter as you do this. After each pull, give the dough a little turn and do it again.
  • At the end of two or three full turns of the dough ball, depending on how much pull you got from your counter, you should be done; it will feel tight, keep its shape and look smooth. This is the annoying part of the recipe where I have to say, “If it doesn’t feel right …” — it is amazing how this quick little movement transforms the dough, though, and you really will feel it change right under your hands. You can repeat this process, or just do quarter turns, if it still seems a bit saggy; this tightening process helps give the bread its shape and keep the gasses in, so you get those big, Instagrammable air pockets.
  • Once you’ve got your dough ball, put it seam side up in your floured bowl with a tea towel/banneton. Sprinkle a little bit more flour on top of the dough and cover gently with a tea towel. (Or, instead of draping a towel, I actually put the whole bowl/banneton inside a produce bag from the grocery store.) You want it covered, but very loosely, for proofing, or the final rise; your dough needs another 45 minutes or so before it’s ready to bake.
  • While your dough is proofing, turn your oven on to 475℉ and put an empty 5-qt cast iron dutch oven, lid on, in to preheat. Lodge makes a great one for this. Enameled cast iron does not love being treated this way and will discolor over time — you also don’t want anything with a plastic handle in the oven at this temperature.

Step 4: Baking

  • At the end of your 45 minutes, the quick test is to stick your finger about half an inch into the dough and pull it back out: If the dent springs right back to where it was, it needs a little longer; if it comes back about halfway, it’s perfect. (And if it doesn’t come back at all? You could have waited a little long this time, and your bread might be a bit dense or taste yeasty, but bake it anyway: It may also come out great.)
  • Once your bread is sufficiently proofed, it’s time to bake. This part does involve a very hot, fairly heavy dutch oven, though, so please be careful. These are the exact steps I follow, as I keep an eye out for pets that may be underfoot and other tripping hazards:
  • Take the dutch oven out of the oven, and place it on a trivet or the stove top (I can’t speak to induction or glass; the grates on a gas cooktop are definitely safe). Take the lid off, and set it on another trivet or burner. (Note: If you have round parchment paper for cake pans, you can use one in the bottom of the dutch oven; the rectangular pieces tend to get stuck in the dough – honestly, though, it’s so hot and the dough will have a flour layer on its surface, this is just to make cleanup a bit easier.)
  • Tip your proofed dough out onto a floured surface (if you didn’t clean up the counter earlier, very convenient). The top of the dough as it was proofing will now be the bottom as it bakes. It should have a nice domed shape on the counter, but be quick here – it will start to spread fairly quickly.
  • Grasp the loaf gently, supporting the bottom and sides with splayed fingers, lift it off the counter, and place it in the bottom of the dutch oven. Do not touch any part of the dutch oven with your hands or arms!
  • Optional: You can use a paring knife or razor to cut a few quick slashes in top of the loaf, but I follow the Forkish method and let it crack naturally.
  • Replace the lid, remembering it is also very, very hot, and return the dutch oven to your oven.
  • Let your loaf bake for thirty minutes with the lid on. After thirty minutes, take the lid off (and enjoy the smell) before baking for another fifteen to twenty minutes. I tend to spin the dutch oven after removing the lid, to even up baking on the bottom.
  • After 45 to 50 minutes, your loaf will be beautiful and crusty brown and the kitchen will smell amazing. Pull it out of the oven and tip the dutch oven gently over a waiting wire rack. (I sometimes have to give the dutch oven a little shake to release the bread.) And here’s the magic that nobody told me about: Fresh bread smells incredible, but it also has a sound. The crackle of cooling bread is amazing. After it’s cooled for a couple of minutes, you can also tip it up and give the base a little tap —there’s a hollow sound you start to recognize in a good loaf, as well.
  • Let it rest at least thirty minutes before slicing it. And, if you are not going to eat the whole thing that day, I recommend slicing the whole thing and freezing what you won’t eat; fresh bread keeps its flavor really well, and this loaf in particular makes delicious toast.

Notes

One advantage in baking bread is that recipes double (or triple, etc.) perfectly, so you can make as much as you want; the dough itself makes an excellent pizza crust, so if you do double up, consider saving some to roll out for dinner.
A couple of pieces of advice before starting this recipe, which is deceptively long and absolutely worth the effort (especially if you spent at least part of quarantine futzing around with sourdough starters):
1.) Once you start this recipe, there are about 20 hours and a few minor tasks between you and fresh bread. I tend to start the process Friday after work, do the second stage of mixing with my coffee the next morning, and bake around lunch on Saturday. I also write out the schedule, how many folds I’ve done, etc. on a sticky note on top of my mixing container.
2.) 20 hours sounds intense, but the active time is really only about 30 minutes. There is no kneading required, although mixing still offers a good forearm workout if you want one.
3.) You’ll notice the measurements below are in grams, and there’s a good reason for this: A cup of all-purpose flour, depending on what brand, how you scooped it, the humidity, etc., can contain surprisingly different amounts of flour. If the only thing you’d ever use a kitchen scale for is baking this bread, though, just search online for conversions.
4.) Like a scale, certain tools are going to make your life easier; others are non-negotiables; and some, like banneton, are just for showing off. You can probably just get away without a thermometer, for example, but I don’t think this recipe will work without the dutch oven.
5.) Despite so few ingredients, there are plenty of factors which can and will have an effect on your final loaf. You could take this to mean a lot can go wrong, but my experience has been that bread is actually fairly forgiving. While still stricter than cooking, there’s room for some experimentation, purposeful or by accident (letting the dough rest an extra thirty minutes, a few degrees difference in water temperature, etc.). This is all to say that, if you do something a bit differently or ‘make a mistake,’ it’s not necessarily a reason to start over. If you want perfect bread, Bread & Butter is on Dayton Boulevard; if you want your kitchen to smell incredible, I think this recipe is a great place to start.
Keyword bread, Flour Water Salt Yeast, Ken Forkish, overnight white, poolish, white bread