Brian's Photo Blog — Article 492
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The Beginning of an Artisan Bread Adventure
Friday 13 November 2015   —   Category: Cooking & Food
Over the past few months I have been experimenting with recipes from two cookbooks by Portland-based food writer Andrea Slonecker — see Gourmet Chef Wannabe Not Ready For Prime Time and Making Pretzels At Home for all the details.

More recently, I bought a third Portland-based cookbook — Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by master baker Ken Forkish.

As I have been reading through this interesting and informative book, I have been overwhelmed with the bread-baking techniques presented in it. I thought I knew quite a bit about making bread, having started when I was in college about 30 years ago. But after reading what Ken has to say, I realize I am an ignorant novice! He is turning upside down everything I had previously learned!

Well, rather than being overwhelmed and discouraged, I decided to take it slow and easy, one step at a time. As with many other things in life, I can’t expect to quickly or easily master a complex technique. It will take a lot of time and experimentation, but I have the time to devote to it, and desire to persevere and succeed.
There were two new kitchen tools I needed in order to follow Ken’s method of baking bread.

On the left is a proofing basket (a.k.a. a banneton or Brotform) — I bought a nine-​inch round by Kasskonnen.

On the right is a Lodge four-​quart cast-​iron Dutch oven.
Regarding the use of a Dutch oven, in his book Ken explains:

“In the past, I struggled to bake bread in my home oven that had the texture, crust color, and oven spring we get at my bakery using the 15,000-​pound Italian deck oven, with steam at the push of a button.... previous techniques for home-baked hearth bread, most often baked on a pizza stone with myriad methods for producing steam, were insufficient for recreating the oven steam we enjoy as professional bakers....

“Simply placing a loaf in a preheated Dutch oven and baking with the lid on allows the moisture from the dough to steam the loaf as it bakes. The results are decidedly superior to those attained using a baking stone, yielding great oven spring and a dark and beautiful crust with the right texture — thin and crisp.”
Here’s my first loaf of bread from a recipe in Flour Water Salt Yeast, made with the Overnight 40% Whole Wheat Bread recipe.

I think I must have had some old yeast, because the dough hardly rose at all during bulk fermentation (first rising) even though the recipe said it should have tripled in bulk!

During the overnight proofing in the fridge, it was supposed to double in bulk, but once again, it seemed to have hardly risen at all. I was very disappointed!
I was tempted to throw the dough away because of its failure to rise, but figured I might as well try to bake it and see what happens. The above-​mentioned “oven spring” gave the dough a good boost, so that the loaf wasn’t a total disaster.

Unfortunately, the oven was too hot, so the outside was done before the inside, which was undercooked. After eating some of the moist, chewy bread, we ended up throwing the rest of it away.
Because it didn’t seem like the first loaf was going to be edible, even before I baked it I started to make a replacement.

Since I didn’t have time for an overnight bulk fermentation, I opted for Ken’s Saturday White Bread recipe.

I like the white pattern made by the above-​mentioned Brotform.
I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made with the first loaf by under­cooking it. Unfortunately, I went to the opposite extreme with this second loaf. Not only was the crust a bit burnt, but the inside was dried out. Well, that’s how you learn — experiment, adjust, and try again.
Later in the week I made my third loaf, using the White Bread With Poolish recipe. When you have time, an over­night bulk fer­men­ta­tion at room tem­per­a­ture will result in a superior dough with good consistency and good taste.

Ken has an unusual method for getting the crease in the middle of the loaf, which you can read about in his book.
Having learned my lesson with the previous two loaves, this time I lowered the oven temperature. I think I am starting to get a bread-​baking technique that works for me.
Well, this is just the beginning of my artisan bread adventures. There are many more recipes and techniques to explore in Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. And as the title indicates, there is the whole pizza side of things as well. My first artisan pizza attempt is scheduled for tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 492
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