flour water salt yeast…

Okay, I SWORE I would finish this damned post this weekend because it's been in the pipeline since I began this blog–9 posts already, people, NINE! And this was supposed to be Post #2–but it's been one thing after another. Finally I told myself can't go any further in the book until I hit that "Save and Publish" button. So herewith…

A Love Story…or What I Did on My Summer (Non) Vacation. Flour Water Salt Yeast being a book, THE book by Ken Forkish (marry me!), the genius behind Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland, Oregon.

I. Love. This. Book. Love. Truly madly deeply. Lurve. Puffy heart. If I were a high school girl, I'd be drawing little hearts with "Mrs. Ken Forkish" on my notebooks. I've owned this book for about two years, mainly because I'm obsessive about my hobbies and like to acquire stuff, with all good intentions of using them. Someday. So this book joined about a bazillion other bread-baking and cook books on my bookshelf, most of which I'd look through briefly, mark a couple of interesting recipes, make plans to make them and then…oooh look! Something shiny! I've got the attention span of gnat, apparently. When I wanted to bake a particular kind of bread, somehow I'd ignore my numerous (and expensive!) Post-It festooned books and head straight for the interwebs instead. But then two things goosed me and made me give this book a serious look.

Goose 1: I had enrolled in Peter Reinhardt's online artisan bread course on Craftsy, and one of the other students posted pictures of some of the beautiful breads he'd made, mentioning that he was using Ken Forkish's method. The name hardly rang a bell but I decided to google Mr. F. to see what his method was all about. Hmmm. Intriguing. I checked out the videos on Ken's website, decided to give his method a try (completely forgetting that I actually owned his damned book already) and then…oooh look! Something shiny! Again.

Goose 2: I was inspired to take up the challenge thanks to another blog, Karen's Kitchen Stories, which I've mentioned on MY blog about a bazillion times. (I'm not stalking you or anything, Karen. Honest! But your blog really DID give me a virtual kick in the butt.) Karen's breads are so beautiful and her blog features many from FWSY. She, along with other bakers, has talked about the exercise of baking through a book and I thought, why not me too? I had a long summer ahead of me, I was getting into baking more and more seriously and I thought it would be a great learning experience. So I took another look at FWSY, watched the videos again and decided this would be the book for me.

I had originally intended to keep a project notebook and did so for the first few breads, but I actually have a lot of trouble with the physical act of holding a pen and writing these days. It HURTS! I'm on the computer all day and I'm just not used to writing anymore. I usually just dictate or type into my iPhone/iPad and rarely resort to actually jotting something down–and when I do, I can only write a few words before my hand starts to cramp because I've got the pen in a death grip. (First world problem or what?) But I did still take copious notes in the beginning. Until the dog ate my notebook. Really, she did. That's when the idea of blogging came up, and here we are. Of course, I was well along into the project before I started this blog so I'm playing catch-up now. Breads 1 through 8 all in one monster post. Hang in there.

I actually read through the entire book and watched all the videos on Ken's site before beginning my project because more than anything, I really wanted this to be a learning experience (lots of margin scribbles and Kindle highlighting–because I've got both the physical book AND the Kindle version). Much to my dismay (because…more stuff) I only needed to buy one thing–a 12 qt Cambro–so I was pretty much good to go after that. And I began at the beginning with…

Saturday White Bread (or in my case, Sunday White Bread): Who would have thought that such a simple white bread with only four ingredients could be so good? This is (or was, since I've now baked further into the book) probably the best artisanal-type white bread I've ever baked. I got EXCITED over this bread. Since it was my very first from FWSY, I took tons notes and took the temperature of my dough more often than a helicopter mom would do for a sniffly child. Ambient temps in my kitchen were pretty much spot on so I didn't have to break out my proof box (You need one. Really.) Timing went according to plan, no adjustments needed. My oven can be a bit fiddly so it took a bit of work to get it just right but I was able to get the breads out of their bannetons (without any sticking–YAY!) and into the HOT cast iron dutch ovens (without giving myself 3rd degree burns) and finally into a perfectly heated oven…and then I waited.

Covered baking always adds an element to suspense to the whole affair. Will the oven spring be all it's cracked up to be? Will I get those much sought-after rips in the crust? Will it look as spectacular as the photos in the book? Will it, huh? Will it? And…drumroll. After the first 30 minutes when the lids came off? You betcha! At the halfway point, even without that final deep golden color, I could tell that these looked like beauties. I probably should have let them go just a bit longer in the home stretch to achieve that really dark-dark crust that Forkish recommends but they were still darker than other breads I've baked. And when I took them out of the oven, they sang to me–that wonderful crackly pinging sound hot crust makes as it hits the cooler air. I probably paced a trench in the floor waiting til the bread had cooled enough so that I could take a taste and…oh my. The crust was thin and crispy, the crumb open and creamy and–like I said, it was the best artisanal white bread I'd ever made.

I brought one loaf into work the next day for the boys and without being asked–because I ALWAYS ask for critiques–they all volunteered that this was a spectacular bread and their favorite to date. I couldn't imagine that things could get better, but with this book, they could and did.

Now my original plan was to go through the book and bake a new bread each week, post about it that same week, and move on to the next and so on and so on, but things haven't quite worked out as planned (big surprise). So while I COULD play catch-up and blather on even more than I am now, I'll just say that I've baked–in succession–

  • Saturday White Bread
  • Saturday 75% Whole Wheat Bread
  • Overnight White Bread
  • Overnight 40% Whole Wheat Bread
  • White Bread with Poolish
  • Harvest Bread with Poolish
  • White Bread with 80% Biga
  • 50% Whole Wheat Bread with Biga

Basic bread or ones using a levain, once you get to the mixing stage they all follow pretty much the same procedure: rough mix, autolyse, stretch-and-fold, bulk ferment, shape and proof, bake. Each and every bread has been superb. I'm now up to the levain breads and about to start building my levain (stock up on flour because the build uses a LOT) and I can't wait.

I think what sets FWSY apart from other books I've read and baked from is that while it's an in-depth exploration of Forkish's method, it's also completely accessible and devoid of the intimidation factor in other books that can be off-putting for many, especially novice bakers. This is a book for EveryBaker (as are the his videos–he just seems like a very laid-back, easy-going kind of guy–no Mr. Snootypants here). Because FWSY has such a logical progression–unlike others that are more like a random collection of recipes or scholarly tomes that go 100 pages in before you GET to an actual recipe–each bread builds on the one before it–from the simple to the more advanced. You get a thorough understanding of the method and a real feel for the dough–literally, because this is truly a hand-on book. No mixers here, everything is done by hand, and working with those big blorps of wet dough is a bit of a challenge in the beginning (and if blorp isn't a real baker's term it damned well should be). You can taste the difference in the breads as you bake through and learn to recognize how and why long fermentation and levains develop complex flavors, and in the end, you'll gain tremendous freedom and the confidence to create something that's uniquely your own. This book WORKS.

There are so many breads I've tried once and never wanted to go back to. (Yes, I know it's blasphemy and I'm sure it's just me, but after working on building my levain for weeks, I baked the basic Tartine bread several times and thought it was just "meh" for both taste and texture. Definitely not "all that" and certainly not the bag of chips either. I will go back and try again though because everybody else can't be wrong about its wonderfulness, can they?) The breads in FWSY, however, are ones I'll go back to many times–in fact, I already have. And I think I'll actually have the sads when I've finally baked my way though. That's the one thing I'm NOT looking forward to.

Go. Buy this book. Bake. Enjoy. NOW.