is all you need to make artisan bread.
When there are only four ingredients in a recipe, it turns out that they make a great title for a cookbook. Ken Forkish decided to put them in descending order by the weight of the ingredients used for the artisan breads for his. Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast (FWSY) was my choice for a first book on the subject. Why did I pick this one?
At the time, I was working for a large bookstore that had 50 or so options from which to choose. Although we didn’t have FWSY in stock, I made my choice based on an online review of artisan bread books. As I recall, the reviewer suggested that if one were to have only a single book on the subject, this would be it.
If the exquisite boule on the cover wasn’t alluring enough, Forkish’s lucid and logical introduction to artisan bread baking had me on page one. He provides nice detail in his explanations of basic bread chemistry and the variables that influence a levain culture (aka sourdough starter), but not so much that you’re overwhelmed. The photography is also noteworthy. The photos illustrating mixing and folding techniques in chapter four, “The Basic Bread Method,” were particularly helpful for a beginner such as myself.
I couldn’t get enough of it. Each day I would sit down, read, and reread the material in the first few chapters, stopping at the chapter that introduces levain breads – those that use wild yeast as the leavening agent. I did this on purpose, as working with commercial yeast is usually more predictable. The concept of using a preferment, such as a poolish (French) or biga (Italian), to change the flavor profile was completely foreign to me. When a mixture of flour, water, and mere 1/16th teaspoon of yeast is allowed to ferment for about 12 hours before mixing it into the final dough, the character of the loaf changes dramatically. Note the gas production and the slightly domed shape – indications that this biga is just about ready:
While these two preferments are typically comprised of the same three ingredients, there is one big difference – the ratio of water to flour, or hydration. Forkish describes generally how each provides different taste profiles. Poolish (usually 100%) gives bread a more buttery and nutty flavor, while a biga (usually 50-60%) provides earthy and musky flavors. My first taste of the 50% whole wheat with biga was a game-changer:
Given that I was mainly baking breads ideal for morning toast that lean more toward the whole grain end of the spectrum, I primarily focused on the overnight wheat and 50% whole wheat with biga, although I did make whiter breads well. The 50% whole wheat with biga is probably my favorite recipe that exclusively relies on commercial yeast as the leavening agent. After an excruciatingly difficult, but necessary 20-minute cooling period, a warm slice of this bread either plain, with butter, or with almond butter is sublime. The crumb is tender and open, but not so open that a spread would fall through it:
My positive experience with this book does not mean that there aren’t several other great artisan bread books out there that could have easily been the focus of this post. Each baker brings something unique to his/her book given differences in background, training, and personalized approach to baking. On top of that, readers have their own level of baking experience, as well as preferences for the layout, number of photos, and illustrations in cookbooks.
That being said, I found Flour Water Salt Yeast to be a great introduction to artisan bread baking for someone who is a moderately serious home baker, but has not yet explored yeasted breads. Thank you Ken! ·