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Brasserie Bread – Poolish & Soakers class

March 19, 2013

crunchytiger attended this class as a guest of Brasserie Bread

My homemade ciabatta

Can you believe… I’ve been baking sourdough for almost a year now, ever since I attended my first Brasserie Bread Art of Sourdough class. There’s something addictive about baking it… the strange alchemy that turns flour, water & salt into something crackly, crunchy, fluffy and oh so delicious. I love not knowing how a loaf will exactly turn out until it’s baked. There’s always a new technique to be learnt, a better way of scoring the dough, a different hydration, or changing up the resting times to get those lovely airy holes. It’s really easy to fall down the rabbit hole of bread forums (Reddit’s BreadIt subreddit is currently my new favourite)

But as lovely as sourdough is, it does take a lot of time. Lately I’ve been branching out into other bread recipes that use yeast to speed up the process. Some recipes can even be mixed, baked and eaten within a couple of hours! (And after baking sourdough which typically needs to be rested for 12-14 hours… anything that can be eaten on the same day it’s started seems crazy fast to me!)

So when Sarah from Brasserie Bread asked if I’d be interested in attending the special Poolish and Soakers class they were running for the Crave festival last year, I jumped at the chance! (yep… this is a super suuuuuper late post!)

The class was run by the head of training at Brasserie Bread, Matt. As I’d already done a Brasserie Bread course before, a lot of the introduction was familiar to me, but it’s always nice having a reminder of good dough mixing technique!

Multigrain Struan

The first dough we made was a Multigrain Struan bread recipe. So many ingredients compared to my humble sourdough loaves!


This bread recipe uses two different techniques – a biga and a soaker.

The soaker is a mixture of flour, grains and milk which has been rested for 12 hours. This serves two purposes, firstly to hydrate the grains so they’re not too hard & tough in the final loaf, and secondly to develop flavour.

The biga is a type of pre-ferment. In this case it’s a dough mixture that’s been made the day before (or in a bakery it might be leftover dough from yesterday’s breadmaking!)  which you add to today’s dough to give it a more developed flavour.

So many ingredients!

Stretchy Biga!

Some boiled grains 

Adding honey to the loaf


The Brasserie Bread Struan loaf includes a mixture of: sunflower seeds, linseeds, barley, oats, millet, cracked wheat and polenta. So delicious! I’ve never mixed dough with so many different ingredients, and it was quite hilarious seeing the little seeds ricochet around the room as we threw our dough onto the mixing table.

Our loaves before resting

And after resting! Look how much they grew!


While we waited for our dough to rest, Matt demonstrated making Ciabatta. I love ciabatta with its airy crumb structure and pure tastiness.

Ciabatta uses another pre-ferment method called a poolish. Like the biga from the struan loaf, a poolish is another way of adding flavour to your bread. The poolish Matt shows us is much runnier than the doughy biga. In fact, the bubbly shiny surface and slightly acidic smell reminds me a lot of Mr Stay Puft, my sourdough starter!

It’s aaaaallliiiveee!

The ciabatta dough is extremely wet, and is easier to mix using an electric mixer with a dough hook, rather than being mixed by hand.

Matt shows off his super heavy duty mixer that would put a lowly Kitchen Aid to shame.

Super wet dough! Being transferred into the biggest mixing bowl I’ve ever seen, which has been lined with EVOO.

The ciabatta dough gets folded a few times to develop the gluten structure and incorporate the olive oil.


After resting, it’s tipped out onto a big floured board.


And cut into pieces


Lifting the extremely soft dough takes a bit of practiced hand. The ciabatta doesn’t need to be shaped as aggressively as a baguette. The idea is to lift and stretch the dough before placing it onto the baking tray.


Matt makes it look a lot easier than it is!

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One by one we all get to try the lift & stretch!


Last but not least, Matt goes through some basic dough shaping techniques. He brings out a giant tub of preprepared and rested Pain Blanc dough for us to practice shaping with.


Giant dough! With a giant bubble!

Deflating the dough

Matt shows us how to shape baguettes, dinner rolls and plaited bread

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My little doughlings

While we waited for our shaped dough to rest & rise, we were treated to a tour behind the scenes at Brasserie Bread – a similar tour to the one I did during my Sourdough class. But it’s always fun to have a peep behind the curtain because I’m nosy like that!

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Sleeping croissants!

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A giant mixer that I could probably sit in…
Matt showing us the unused dough offcuts kept in the refrigerator to be used as tomorrow’s biga. Nothing is wasted!

After our tour of the bakery, our breads were ready to be baked!

Matt shows us a final trick on the baguettes to turn them into an epi (wheat-stalk shape)
Super fancy!

After our breads are in the oven, it’s time for everyone’s favourite part… BREADUCATION!



So delicious. This is definitely the best kind of learning.

Our struan loaves out of the oven! Mine is the extremely white one. Guess who got a little over-enthusiastic when flouring their bannetton.

My Pain Blanc bread rolls & loaves 🙂

Our Ciabatta loaves! My two are the closest to you. I love the subtle patterns the stretched dough creates. 

As always, this Brasserie Bread class was a complete pleasure to attend. I really enjoyed learning some more advanced techniques, and really hope they offer more classes like it in future. Matt mentioned that he’d love to run the class again (It was created especially for the Crave Sydney festival), but would probably like to give it a slightly more accessible name than Poolish & Soakers hehe.

(And guess what! After I finally finished eating all the bread I baked in the class… I had a go at baking ciabatta at home. It’s the one in the photo all the way at the top of this post! Not quite as pretty as the ones we made in class, but definitely happy for my first attempt! My poor little breville mixer definitely had a good workout.)

19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2013 2:09 pm

    Love this Mel. This would have been a really worthwhile class. I agree…sourdough is great but it does take a little planning. I have tried baking ciabatta before, you have inspired me to try again. The one you made at home looks great by the way 🙂

    • April 17, 2013 12:20 am

      Thanks so much Jane! I do love making sourdough, but sometimes it’s fun to try new things. Definitely let me know if you try making ciabatta again, would love to see your results! 🙂

  2. March 21, 2013 11:18 am

    I love ciabatta but never tried to make it myself. I had no idea the dough was so wet! Will have to give it a go one day 🙂

    • April 17, 2013 12:21 am

      Yeah! Apparently the wetter the dough, the bigger the bubbles (in general). And ciabatta has really big bubbles!

  3. Tina @ bitemeshowme permalink
    March 23, 2013 8:36 am

    This is some serious bread porn. I’m
    Such a sucker for freshly baked bread (though have yet to make it myself).

    • April 17, 2013 12:22 am

      Ohh you should definitely try! It’s so worth it!

  4. March 23, 2013 9:05 pm

    Grain bread is my fave. I need to do this class 😀

    • April 17, 2013 12:22 am

      Me too! Never realised how much prep went into it… I thought they just chucked the grains in and off they went! whoops

  5. grabyourfork permalink
    March 25, 2013 11:34 am

    omg so much dough! and bread! And teehee at the bubble!

  6. March 29, 2013 12:55 pm

    Man that looks all so good! Must have smelt amazing when the bread was all baking 🙂

    • April 17, 2013 12:23 am

      Sooo amazing! Makes you really hungry haha

  7. April 9, 2013 9:53 am

    OMG!!! All those freshly baked bread is making me hungry!!!!!

  8. April 15, 2013 12:43 pm

    What a fantastic class that would have been. Just watching through a window would have been pretty special for me. 🙂

    • April 17, 2013 12:24 am

      It definitely was! What’s even better is watching the real bakers at work. So fast and deft!

  9. April 16, 2013 4:21 pm

    ive always wanted to attend a brasserie breads baking class but havent had the time! your ciabatta looks amazing!

    • April 17, 2013 12:23 am

      If you can find the time, it’s so worth it! I definitely recommend them 🙂

  10. April 17, 2013 8:53 am

    Great post and lovely looking breads. I recently did a sourdough class at Bourke St Bakery and have to say, it makes all the difference to get in there and get your hands dirty! Nice work.

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