For Christmas, SuperMan got me a cookbook I had been dying to get.
(he is awesome that way)
It’s Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish – I’d heard him speak on Martha Stewart radio one day while I was waiting in the carpool line. I was impressed with his story – leaving the tech industry to pursue his passion – and with the fact that he says even the home cook can make excellent home-cooked, artisan breads. I went home and added his book to my wish list.
Thankfully, SuperMan read the wish list 🙂
The Adventure Begins
His book is both a cookbook and a teaching instrument. The first few chapters are dedicated to his story, the principles of artisan breads, familiarizing the reader with different types of breads (levain, poolish, etc.) and then the recipes. I took the book with me to Mom’s house with plans to read it cover to cover before beginning any baking.
My brother, on the other hand, took one look at the book and decided we were baking a loaf THAT NIGHT. He’s adventurous in the kitchen like I am and so we decided to go for it. Or rather, I decided to let HIM go for it and watch the results.
He decided on a basic overnight bread recipe and we ended up staying up until well after midnight (which was fine for his pacific time zone body, but not so nice to mine) waiting for the final steps to complete before we put the dough to “bed” for the final long, slow rise in the refrigerator overnight.
We had quite the adventure making the bread at Mom’s without all of the suggested tools but we made do. One thing you absolutely need to make bread via the “Forkish method” is a cast-iron dutch oven. The proofing baskets, dough tubs, scales, etc. that he suggests I’ve managed to do without (or work around) and we did just fine that first time without them, too.
But, the dutch oven is required because it’s what you use to capture the steam from the bread baking and create a fantastic, crispy crust and light, springy bread. The bread we ate the next afternoon was some of the tastiest home-baked bread I’d ever eaten. We devoured it, all two loaves of it, in a matter of a few minutes. The kids loved it. The adults loved it. And we began to contemplate our next foray into artisan bread baking.
Continuing to experiment: success and disappointment
After our initial attempts, I stepped back and read the book. Not cover to cover, but the first four or five chapters where he goes over technique and tools and the basic recipes. I have to say, this is the best book I’ve ever read for explaining the process of making bread. He explains the whys, wheres, and hows… in great, but very interesting, detail. He provides beautiful pictures – with step-by-steps just where you need it and pictures of “this is what this is supposed to look like.” Which is great when you’ve never, ever made bread this way before.
I kept referring back to those pictures over the next two weeks as I made a few more batches of bread. The first I made at home I used my own, home-ground wheat. It was good, but heavy. The next batches I made using store-bought flours. It was much lighter and tastier. The kids and SuperMan loved it. (Ken doesn’t say anything about using home-ground wheat flour. I just decided to experiment with it to see how it would come out)
I want to emphasize that the most important ingredient for making good bread is plenty of time…
Chapter 2: Eight Details for Great Bread and Pizza
Me? I wasn’t quite as in love with it as they were. It didn’t have anything to do with the flavor, though. The flavor was spectacular. Like something you’d get from a fancy bakery. It was the time involved. It took me about 2-3 days to bake a loaf or two of bread. That’s a LONG time. Granted, Forkish does not make any promises of quick bread production. As a matter of fact, he cautions that good bread takes time. A lot of time. And he wasn’t kidding.
Working from home, I originally thought it wouldn’t matter that the process took time, and for the most part, it didn’t. Up until I wanted to plan for fresh-baked bread for a dinner party I was hosting. My head hurt reading his suggested time-tables and trying to back into when I would need to start the process (the day before) in order to have hot bread at 5PM on Sunday night. I gave up. I went to Publix and bought some of their whole grain bread. Everyone was happy. No one knew any different.
But I was dissappointed. I love, LOVE to bake for people. What’s the point of not being able to share this goodness with folks? I mean, I’m sure I can. I just need to figure out the timelines (or be happy serving not-fresh-out-of-the-oven bread) I am not, by any means, giving up on the book or the recipes. The bread is simply too good to do that. I just need to figure out a timeline that works for me and my schedule.
The good news is most of the time that is required is not active time, but fermenting, rising, and proofing time. You just have to be around when it’s time to move to the next stage.
The bread I made was a pre-fermented dough (poolish) which fermented for 12-14 hours before being mixed into the final dough. From there, the dough had a rise of about 2-3 hours and then a final proof about an hour. So, if you start the poolish at dinner the night before, you can expect to have bread around lunchtime the next day. What I haven’t tried (or figured out) yet is whether or not I can extend that ferment or rise time (or a rest between) so that I can have the dough ready at dinnertime instead. I plan to do just that, but need to wait until I’m not baking for company to experiment.
The poolish bread was excellent. Really, really, really good. And it kept a lot longer on the counter than a traditionally baked loaf of bread. I think it has to do with the fermentation process giving you some extra preservative factor, but the true science of it escapes me. I got close to a week on the counter before the bread started to mold. I think it would’ve gone even longer if it hadn’t been 100% humidity (with 4 days straight of monsoon-type rain) and stored in ziplock bags. That’s a sure recipe for mold if you ask me.
And my plans for the future
Next, I want to try the Levain breads. Levain is the French word for “sourdough.” I’m thrilled to have an “official” guide to creating these as I’ve been wanting to make sourdough breads for about a year now and have been intimidated by the whole process. With this book, I feel much more equipped and those little ferments don’t frighten me quite as much. No more nightmares of sourdough starters taking over the refrigerator while I sleep. 🙂
Overall, I have to say, I am really glad I got the book. I am looking forward to baking my way through the recipes this year, which include pizza and foccacia recipes as well.
I’ve been continuing to experiment in baking artisan breads and in my next installment I’ll share the other cookbook that’s got me baking and serving artisan breads every.single.night. And loving it.