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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 496
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Artisan Baker Wannabe Not Ready For Prime Time
Wednesday 25 November 2015   —   Category: Cooking & Food
Recently I have posted two articles about my new forays into the realm of artisan bread-making and artisan pizza-making, as inspired by the cookbook Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Portland-based master baker Ken Forkish.

This past weekend I made my fourth loaf of bread from one of Ken’s recipes in the book: White Bread With 80% Biga. As you can see from the two photos to the right, further down the page, it turned out very nice looking. As usual, you can click on the photos to see a larger version.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the method to Ken’s bread-making madness. His doughs are VERY wet, which make them VERY hard to work with. I suppose I’m simply wimping out, because I end up adding quite a bit of flour to his recipes, which ends up altering the results significantly.

There is some great information in Flour Water Salt Yeast. The poolish and biga overnight pre-ferments are interesting, old-fashioned European techniques. Baking the loaf in a dutch oven at high temperature goes a long ways towards developing an artisan-bread flavor. Ken says that keeping the lid on the dutch oven, which keeps in the moisture, simulates the steam in professional deck ovens.

However, I am encountering some difficulties. My crusts are turning out thick and chewy, despite Ken’s statement that his techniques produce light and crunchy crusts. I think that the crust quality is greatly influenced by how long I leave the lid on the dutch oven. Ken recommends 30 minutes, but in future experiments I’m going to try a shorter time, like 20 minutes. Of course, this will affect the overall baking time, so that will require further trial and error.

Because I don’t want to use my wife and daughter as guinea pigs for my bread experiments, I have just ordered a 1.5-quart dutch oven to bake smaller loaves, instead of the 4-quart dutch oven I have been using so far. This will make it easier to experiment in small quantities, and to eat the results of those experiments on my own without inflicting them on other family members.

I still don’t see how I’m going to reconcile myself to working with ultra-sticky, almost-batter-like bread doughs. But instead of adding lots of extra flour late in the process, I’m going to change my approach by using less water earlier in the process. And by making smaller loaves in a smaller dutch oven, I will be able to perform bread experiments more frequently, without being stuck with large, heavy loaves of bread.

Just as earlier this year I had to confess that I am merely a gourmet chef wannabe not ready for prime time, so now I must also confess that I am only an artisan baker wannabe not ready for prime time. Because Ken is a professional, renowned baker, and because he successfully tried at home all the recipes in his book, the only conclusion I can reach is that the problems are on my end, and not on his. But practice makes perfect, and I’m not ready to give up yet. Hopefully courage and perseverance will prevail!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 496
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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 496
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